Mayor of Greek city makes racist comments about Roma; more evictions of Roma in Greece

07 December 1999

On September 12, 1999, the Greek daily Avgi reported that Mr Apostolos Zervas, the mayor of the Zefyri municipality on the periphery of Athens, had made racist statements about Roma following the massive earthquake on September 7, 1999. According to Avgi, while commenting on the action taken by the municipality after the quake, Mayor Zervas stated, "We only faced problems with the Gypsies. They looted tents, made business by selling them, engaged into fights with the citizens or the municipality, attacked municipal employees and created problems with the aid distribution. We were forced to bring in the Special Police Forces to help us do our job." On September 14, Mayor Zervas made similar anti-Romani comments during a press conference when, according to the Greek daily Eleftherotypia, he stated, "Gypsy stories. Do not bother me with the Gypsies. Because of them, the aid mechanism is inefficient. They have been robbing the whole world." According to the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor, the mayor‘s statements were reflective of the general sentiment of the public towards Roma following the earthquake. There were several news reports in the Greek press that alleged that Roma were stealing tents and food supplies intended for victims of the earthquake. The mayor later retracted his statement in Eleftherotypia, stating that he had been misquoted. The issue was brought before the September 22 meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna. In response, the Greek delegate again stated that Mr Zervas had been misquoted.

More evictions of Roma have been reported recently in Greece. On August 16, 1999, police evicted thirty-five Romani families from a camp in the town of Ioanina, in the Epirus region of Greece. According to the August 18 edition of the Greek daily Vradini, the Roma had been living on the site for four years and had been paying monthly rent to the owner. The eviction reportedly took place without the presence of the District Attorney and without the presentation of any eviction order. According to Vradini, after authorities had expelled all of the Roma from the site, a bulldozer entered the camp and razed all standing structures to the ground. Mr Emmanouilides, the mayor of Anatoli, the municipality which governs Paralimni, declared that Roma were not welcome in the region, that they were troublemakers and were not keeping the settlement clean. The camp had been participating in a pilot project of the Greek government for the education of Roma. There had been a previous attempt to expel the Roma from the camp in Ioanina in May 1999, but following the intervention of human rights groups, authorities backed off and promised not to proceed with the expulsion, unless there was another viable site to which the Roma could be transferred. At the time of the eviction, such a site had not been provided. Evictions of Roma and the destruction of Romani property by municipal authorities is frequently reported in Greece.

Other evictions of Roma have been ordered by the Municipal Council of Rio, near the town of Patras in southern Greece. The Council took a decision to evict Roma from three settlements in the area on October 6, 1999, according to a report in the weekly paper, Week in Rio. The Council reportedly took the decision following protests of local residents and rumors regarding the involvement of Roma in criminal acts. As of November 30, the evictions had not yet been carried out, and there has been no public discussion of where they should resettle should the eviction take place.

(Avgi, Eleftherotypia, ERRC, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Week in Rio, Vradini)

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