ERRC protests government destruction of Romani dwellings in Greece - press statement

01 March 1999

On February 16, 1999, municipal authorities of the town of Aspropyrgos, Greece, razed five Roma barracks in a local camp and destroyed other property belonging to Roma living there. The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Greek Helsinki Monitor have interviewed victims; the ERRC has written to the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court urging for a prompt investigation. The ERRC expresses its solidarity with the Romani victims and protests against such degrading treatment.

According to information made available to the ERRC, on February 16, 1999, authorities in the Greek town of Aspropyrgos, approximately thirty kilometres southwest of Athens, entered the Romani settlement of Nea Zoi and destroyed dwellings and property. The camp has about 100 inhabitants; basics such as water and electricity supply, or a sewer system, do not exist. According to reports, six employees of the Aspropyrgos municipality, approximately twelve local police officers, as well as Deputy Mayor Mr Constantinos Tsiggos took part in the raid. Upon entering the settlement, the officials told the Roma that five of the barracks must be evacuated so that they could be destroyed. The barracks were then crushed by bulldozers and the remaining debris set on fire, while the Roma protested. The Roma were not shown any document authorising the action. The inhabitants of the destroyed barracks were reportedly not given enough time to remove all of their belongings from their homes. The inhabitants of some of the barracks were not in the camp at that moment. One woman who was present while her dwelling was destroyed was critically ill. The police watched the proceedings but did not interfere. The Roma present were allegedly told by raiders that the other barracks would also be destroyed and that the Roma would be evicted from the entire region.

The Roma of the Nea Zoi camp have previously been promised water supply, a sewer system, a water heater etc; nothing has materialised. In 1996 the government announced a plan for the creation of decent settlements for Roma living in similar conditions. Last year the local authorities urged them to move to a camp in an adjacent municipality, but did not offer them any housing there. Had they agreed to move, the Roma would have had to build themselves new makeshift barracks of the same sort they already inhabited. The Roma refused on grounds that the conditions in the camp to which they were supposed to move (placed next to a dump) were worse than in their present location. In addition, they argued that their children would be too far from the school which they are now attending.

Instead of having their conditions improved, the Roma of Aspropyrgos camp are having their dwellings destroyed in order to evict them. Property belonging to them has been destroyed by public servants.

The way to solve the problem of homeless Roma is not by destruction of illegal housing. When done in winter conditions this amounts to inhuman treatment. Government policies should be directed towards creating the necessary conditions for legalising all unregulated housing property which meets sanitary and safety standards. The same standards should be observed when, as a provisional measure, the government offers temporary housing to homeless citizens. The ERRC urges the Greek government to take the steps necessary for the prevention of similar acts of local authorities and for a fair and humane treatment of Roma in Greece.

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