Municipal authorities in Greece expel Roma
15 July 1999
The Group for Initiative against Racism and Xenophobia of Heraklion reported that on March 13, the municipality of Alikarnassos on the island of Crete had issued 102 Romani families with a protocol of administrative eviction on the basis of a two-year-old decision of the municipal council (no. 329/97) to evict all „tent-dwellers", a euphemism for Roma. Some 500 Roma have lived for about fifteen years on a site between a main road and the industrial zone in Alikarnassos, without access to water, electricity, the sewage system or rubbish collection. Now the municipality allegedly wants to turn the area into a sports centre and recreational site. According to the non-governmental organisation, the local municipality refuses to register Roma as residents, although some 200 children were born on the site, and, until a separate school was set up in Heraklion for the Roma four years ago, none of the children were able to attend school as the camp was not within the administrative area of any school. The Mayor of Alikarnassos has reportedly denigrated Roma in public on numerous occasions in the past, referring to the community as a whole as dirty, quarrelsome, drug dealers and criminals. The mayor also reportedly argued at a meeting of the Municipal Council for the expulsion on the grounds that the Romani settlement spoils the sight of the region - the settlement is adjacent to the national road which connects the town with the airport - and that the hotel owners have complained that the site is an eyesore. The mayor compared the Roma living in the town with „problems" of the town such as the existence of the airport, a prison and a refuse dump. On April 16, a coalition of local non-governmental organisations including the Greek Helsinki Monitor and the Drom Network for Roma Social Rights issued a statement warning the municipality against evicting the families. Local Roma have challenged the ruling and an initial hearing in the case was set to be held on May 10. This was, however, postponed until September.
In other news, the municipality of Halandri, a suburb of Athens, tried in absentia thirteen Romani families, who had been living in a settlement for up to twenty years, for trespass on private land, and ordered them to leave the site by April 20. The Roma negotiated a delay of ten days with the Mayor and the Public Prosecutor in order to allow the municipality time to find a viable alternative place for the Roma to live. On April 21, a round table was held at which the municipality agreed to ask the owners of the field where the current settlement was located to rent the field to the Roma for six months until a permanent solution could be found. Mr Freddy Stamos, the secretary of the Prime Minister's Office for Quality of Life, committed financial support from the Government for rental of the field and help in finding a permanent solution to the problem. However, at a second round-table on April 29, the municipality informed participants that the owner of the field had refused to rent it out. The municipality instead offered the Romani families money to rent a house or a field if they could find one elsewhere. The Roma accepted this offer as the only viable solution, and filed an appeal against the original court decision as it was made in absentia.
In March 1999, following a series of incidents involving forceful eviction of Roma from camps in Greece, and continuous reports of the appalling conditions in these camps, the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), the Drom Network for Roma Social Rights and Doctors of the World put forward a proposal for a draft law creating self-managed camps, in collaboration with Coalition of the Democratic Left MP Ms Stella Alfieri.
The proposal describes the inhuman conditions of current camps. The proposal then suggests that each prefecture where there are Roma camps be obliged to create a plan for a self-managed camp, and to set up a special surveillance office for each camp, including members of the camp population, to oversee the development of the dwelling area. The proposal goes on to list thirteen criteria which would ensure that the new camps would not become official ghettos. These include the provision of water and electricity, waste disposal, public transport and access to education and professional training as well as the setting up of a management council elected from the residents of the camp. According to GHM, the camp under construction at a former military barracks for the Roma of the Gallikos river in the Thesalonniki area (see „Snapshots from Around Europe", Roma Rights, 1/99) adheres to the conditions of the proposal.
In one of a series of incidents which preceded the proposal, following the destruction of Roma shacks allegedly by municipal authorities in the Nea Zoi settlement near Aspropyrgos in February (see „Snapshots from Around Europe", Roma Rights, 1/99), GHM reported in March that the Roma had rebuilt their barracks and continued to live on the site. On March 1, 1999, the ERRC sent a letter to the Chief Prosecutor of Greece, expressing concern about the raid. As of June 14, the Prosecutor had reportedly taken no action. GHM reported that the Deputy Minister of Public Affairs had twice declared to the Greek Parliament that the raid was carried out according to the law. Although the Roma were relieved to be able to remain on their site, they told GHM that they were afraid that the violent operation would be repeated.