Government Forced to Explain Housing Rights Abuses of Roma

11 October 2004

Press Release

Strasbourg, October 11, 2004. The widespread segregation of Roma in Greece was today scrutinised by the Strasbourg-based European Committee on Social Rights.

The Greek government was forced to defend its entire policy and practice on the housing conditions of Roma. The collective complaint against Greece was brought by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), alleging systemic violations of the right to adequate housing.

Even during the recent Olympic Games, a score of Romani families were brutally evicted from their settlement in Riganokampos, Patras. Their shacks were razed to the ground by the municipality without any prior proper warning.

"Greece's comprehensive failure was today laid bare. Half of the Romani community in the country lives in mud shanties rife with disease, fully excluded from any public services," said Claude Cahn, ERRC Programmes Director.

The eminent experts on the Committee were visibly impatient with the Greek government's responses to detailed questioning. The Government avoided replying to the Committee's queries on cases of forced evictions, why there are no sufficient protections against violations of housing rights, and what concrete measures can be taken to make sure housing programmes were implemented.

Prominent Greek human rights activist Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) said after the hearing, "The government says it is taking action on this issue. But in 25 of the 27 communities we are monitoring, we have seen little or no progress." Mr Dimitras cited the example of the Spata community (near the Athens airport) which, under the government's programme for improving Romani housing, had been expelled from town and relocated to the back of an olive grove, on the top of a former waste site.

The ERRC is particularly disturbed that local governments throughout Greece openly flaunt their unwillingness to implement existing housing policies intended to improve housing conditions for Roma. The national government has repeatedly indicated that it will not act to challenge non-compliant local authorities who segregate Roma.

The complaint attracted the attention of a number of other concerned parties: In a statement to the Committee, Member of the European Parliament Livia Jaroka said, "The conditions I have seen in Romani settlements in Greece are among the worst I've seen anywhere".

Malcolm Langford, Senior Legal Officer of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) said at the hearing, "The legal framework in Greece is completely inadequate. All Greeks are threatened. But the Romani community bears the full brunt of Greek evictions policies. We expect far-reaching changes."

Contacts: Claude Cahn, ERRC, Mobile: +36 20 98 36 445
Panayote Dimitras, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Mobile: +30 69 44 43 19 41
Malcolm Langford, Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions, +49 163 820 1133, +41 765 113 291

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