Housing Rights Violations Result in Death of Romani Baby; Ongoing Evictions of Roma in Turkey's Capital
18 May 2007
According to information provided to the ERRC by the Istanbul- based non-governmental organisation Accessible Life Association, on 27 November 2006, Zeynep Açbükena, a five-monthold Romani baby, died in the Yahya Kemal neighbourhood in Istanbul's Kağıthane district, reportedly as a result of exposure to extremely sub-standard conditions after the demolition of her family's house by municipal authorities in May 2006.
According to the testimony of Ms Sultan Eser, the baby's mother, on 26 November Zeynep fell ill and had difficulties breathing. She was taken to hospital, where a doctor prescribed medicine. She was given the medicine the same day. The following morning, however, the baby was found dead. According to the testimony of Ms Eser, municipal authorities destroyed the house of her family in May 2006. Following the destruction of their house, the family lived in a tent built with leftover material from the destroyed house. Ms Eser stated that they had no running water and heating as of 27 November. The family was not provided with affordable alternative accommodation following the destruction of their house. Compensation provided by the municipal authorities was reportedly enough to cover renting a house for a very short period.
Demolition of Romani houses in the Kağıthane district of Istanbul have been going on for at least one year, according to Roma from the neighbourhood with whom the ERRC spoke. In September 2006, the ERRC and partner organisations visited the Yahya Kemal neighbourhood and learned that the neighbourhood had some thirty-three houses, home to about seventy-five families. The Roma had lived there for the past fifty to sixty years. Since 2005, the Kağıthane municipal authorities and Istanbul metropolitan municipal authorities carried out several targeted actions to demolish the houses of the Roma, reportedly in order to transform the area into a green area. In some instances, the demolition of houses was reportedly accompanied by violent actions by special police forces who used pepper gas to disperse the Romani inhabitants. After the demolitions, many Roma continued to live in the neighbourhood, in shacks and tents, due to the lack of any other housing provisions.
On 29 November, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, copied to Mr Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipal Authority, and Mr Fazlı Kılıç, Mayor of the KaÄźithane Municipal Authority, requesting his intervention to secure adequate shelter for the homeless families during the winter months and to implement social programmes to find a durable solution to socially vulnerable Romani families whose housing had been destroyed in recent months. The ERRC also requested that Prime Minister Erdoğan ensure that the arbitrary destruction of Romani housing in Turkey is stopped without delay.
In related news, according to ERRC documentation, on 22 November the last Romani house in Istanbul's Küçükbakkalköy neighbourhood was demolished, together with several Romani families' barracks. The home housed a twentytwo- member Romani family who legally owned the property. This was the last Romani house in the neighbourhood; the only house spared by the bulldozers in the settlement belongs to a non-Romani family, who reportedly were promised that they would receive a flat in the new apartment complex to be built on the land.
The affected Romani individuals had previously been subjected to severe harms at the hands of public officials in the Küçükbakkalköy neighbourhood; on 20 July, police and municipal officials demolished 120 Romani houses in the Küçükbakkalköy neighbourhood as part of the Urban Transformation project of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipal Authority. Part of this neighbourhood used to be home to about 200 Romani families.
In the absence of adequate social support and/or alternative accommodation, the evicted families were forced into homelessness. ERRC documentation reveals that owing to their homelessness, a number of children cannot attend school. Several of the people affected by the forced evictions are sick and some are in need of constant medical attention. For example, Mr Aydogan Dalkoparan, who lives now in the street, was diagnosed with "chronic obstructive lung disease", which renders him 80 percent disabled.
On 29 November, the ERRC and the Accessible Life Association sent a letter of concern to Mr Selami Öztürk, Chairman of the Istanbul's Kadiköy Municipality, urging the municipal authorities to cease without delay its actions leading to severe human rights harms and to design and implement an acceptable solution of the housing situation of the affected Roma, in consultation with the communities concerned. The ERRC and the Accessible Life Association also asked that the Romani families whose homes were demolished be immediately provided with alternative accommodation as well as with due compensation for the loss of and/or damage to their property.