Open letter to the Prime Minister of Greece

20 September 1999

Open letter to the Prime Minister of Greece

Mr. Costas Simitis
Prime Minister of Greece
Athens, 20 September 1999


Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

The co-operating non-governmental organizations Doctors of the World, Drom Network for Roma Social Rights, European Roma Rights Center, Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece were pleased to hear the following statement you made concerning the housing of the quake-stricken people:

"This is a temporary arrangement that will last a few weeks. Then there will come a second phase, with more permanent constructions, which, however, we are also going to limit as much as possible, because we do not want to create a class of citizens that lives next to and outside society. In no way indeed does the government wish to let the matter of the quake-stricken people, people facing hardship and worse luck than the rest of us, lie over"("Eleftherotypia" 11/9/1999, p.4).

The statement of Minister of the Interior Vaso Papandreou was also welcome:

"It is the intention of the Ministry of the Interior to have the quake-stricken people settled in tents for the next three weeks; afterwards we are going to adopt the temporary solution of prefab settlements in areas that each municipality will indicate. For this to happen, roads will have to be cut and power/water supplies must be connected so as to ensure proper living conditions for the dwellers. However, these settlements too will be of a temporary nature, as it is planned to have the quake-stricken people back in their homes within a period of three months" ("Eleftherotypia" 14/9/1999, p.50).

Equally welcome was the government's promise that:

"Apart from the tents, the settlements will have chemical toilets, drinking water, electricity either through the public power supply or through army generators, as well as medical staff and army ambulances" ("Avgi" 10/9/1999, p.7).

We believe that these correct views, which are being implemented at a quick pace today, despite the difficulties that arise because of the usual inefficiency of the public administration, led you three years ago to announce a similar plan for the improvement of the situation of the Roma tent-dwellers in Greece.

Unfortunately, as it is evident today, only few kilometers away from the earthquake camps of Ano Liosia (just like in numerous other settlements throughout the rest of the country), Roma tent-dwellers live Ťnext to and outside societyť and continue Ťto face hardship and worse luckť to quote the above statement. They are Ťsociety-strickenť fellow citizens, obviously victims of extensive racism against them, which you yourself denounced in public two years ago. It is possible that you have not been informed that certain municipalities which immediately found sites for their quake-stricken citizens, only a month ago denied that there were such sites available for the socially outcast Roma.

Today the state declares and shows its ability to implement Article 21.4 of the Constitution for the housing of the homeless at a quick pace. This reinforces the impression throughout the world that the pending Roma settlement problem stems from lack of political will to fulfil your declarations in conjunction with strong racism on the part of some local authorities. Racism is unfortunately evident these days also in the attitude of certain people towards quake-stricken, until now settled, Roma that has been reported by media all over the world.

We would like to point out that, in March 1999, our organizations along with the Progressive Left Coalition political party, submitted to the Prime Minister's Office for the Quality of Life a draft law -product of their long experience with settlements- for the creation of self- managed Roma settlements with every requirement for the improvement of their living conditions and their smooth integration into society. This proposal is already being implemented, even with considerable delay and after a lot ofpressure, in the settlement of Agia Sofia Gonou (Thessaloniki). Unfortunately, the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for tabling such a bill in Parliament, has not looked into the matter and has arbitrarily cancelled even the formation of a Committee for the Problems of Roma Tent-Dwellers which was decided by government officials, non-governmental organizations and Roma organizations, after a meeting in the Ministry of the Interior, in mid-June 1999.

In view of the above, we hope that you will personally make sure that society-stricken Roma are treated on an equal basis as our recently quake-stricken fellow citizens and that there is no discrimination between them. Thus, in three, or even six or nine months, all these Greek citizens can have homes and the impression that the Greek state and society are indifferent, if not accessory to the marginalization of thousands of Roma will be dispelled.

We hope, therefore, that on Wednesday 22/9/1999, when the matter is again discussed at the OSCE Review Conference 1999 in Vienna, the government will give convincing and strictly binding answers to this request.

Yours sincerely,

The representatives of the organizations:
Doctors of the World (Yannis Boukovinas)
Drom Network for the Roma Social Rights (Thanassis Triarides)
European Roma Rights Center (Dimitrina Petrova)
Greek Helsinki Monitor (Panayote Dimitras)
Minority Rights Group-Greece (Nafsika Papanikolatos)

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