Nea Zoe Romani Settlement Again Threatened with Eviction in Greece
29 October 2003
On May 11, 2003, according to information received by the ERRC, in partnership with the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), from Ms Dionysia Panayotopoulou, Mr Nikos Aristopoulos and Mr Georgios Panayotopoulos, members of the Romani umbrella organisation Coordinated Organisations and Communities for Roma Human Rights in Greece (SOKADRE) in the Nea Zoe Romani settlement in Aspropyrgos, near Athens, a Greek police (ELAS) patrol car with three police officers, a jeep with three to four police officers, and a police van with about eight police officers in military style police fatigues, visited their settlement at around 4:00 PM. The three police vehicles entered the settlement and some police officers asked several Roma, including the above-named witnesses, how long they had been staying there for. Then the police officers told the Roma that they should leave because "the mayor has decided that you should leave". The police officers did not present the Roma with any eviction protocols and left the settlement shortly thereafter.
Earlier, at around 3:00 PM on April 21, 2003, two police officers entered the Nea Zoe Romani settlement and threatened eviction to Roma living in the settlement, according to ERRC/GHM research. On the same day, Ms Pana-yotopoulou told the ERRC/GHM that the officers informed the Roma that the owner of the land on which they lived without legal permits planned to clean up the area and fence it off. The police reportedly did not present the Roma with an eviction order, but gave them a two-week deadline to gather their personal property and vacate the land. According to Mr Aristopoulos, several days earlier, a man claiming to be the owner of the land had visited the settlement and ordered the Romani inhabitants to leave within twenty days, or he would be forced to turn to the police. On April 22, 2003, a representative of the SOKADRE called the Aspropyrgos Police Station to ascertain whether the actions of the officers had been authorised. The SOKADRE informed the ERRC/GHM that the officer-on-duty was unaware of the incident. The officer-on-duty added that the police frequently received complaints by residents in the surrounding area, asking the police to take actions to drive away Roma in the area. Without prior authorisation by a competent authority, the actions of the officers would have been illegal. On April 23, 2003, the SOKADRE submitted a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman's Office, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, Greece's European Parliament Member Ms Anna Karamanou and Greek Parliamentary Member Ms Maria Damanaki. The complaint informed the recipients of the threatened eviction and recollected the promise made by the Greek State to the Council of Europe to take all necessary measures to ensure that the Romani settlement at Aspropyrgos is provided with all public facilities. On April 24, 2003, the Commander of the Aspropyrgos Police Station informed the SOKADRE that he was unaware of any such action by officers under his command. The threat of eviction came just fifteen days after the publication of the joint ERRC/GHM Country Report: "Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece", launched at a press conference in the settlement. The Nea Zoe Romani settlement was a major focus of the report.
On May 15, 2003, the ERRC, together with the International Helsinki Federation, sent a letter to the Greek Prime Minister, Mr Constantine Simitis, expressing concern about the ongoing threats of eviction made towards the Roma from Nea Zoe. As of September 18, 2003, there had been no response to the letter. However, in an unprecedented action, on May 27, 2003, Mr Dimitrios Kontopou-los, Deputy Director of the Western Attica Police Directorate, under whose jurisdiction the Aspropyrgos Police Station is, informed the ERRC/GHM that he was conducting an unofficial investigation into the first incident and requested to be put in contact with the Nea Zoe Romani settlement. On May 28, 2003, Mr Kontopoulos, together with the ERRC/GHM, visited the Nea Zoe Romani settlement and held extensive talks with the residents. Mr Kontopoulos invited the Romani residents to the Aspropyrgos Police Station to identify the officers who had threatened them with eviction. On May 29, 2003, Mr Kontopoulos, Ms Panayotopoulou and the ERRC/GHM went to the Aspropyrgos Police Station. Ms Panayotopoulou identified one of the two police officers involved in the first incident, who claimed that he was "merely joking" and that the Roma should not have taken him seriously. Ms Panayotopoulou stated that the threats were very serious. During the meeting, Mr Kontopoulos suggested the appointment of an officer that the Roma trust as their main contact at the Aspropyrgos Police Station.
On June 5, 2003, Ms Panayo-topoulou received a letter from the Western Attica Police Directorate, which stated that following the completion of the unofficial investigation, disciplinary measures had been taken against police officers involved. The letter further stated that the Western Attica Police Directorate is ready to address any problem that may arise in the future concerning relations between the Roma and the police, and that as of the date of the letter, the police had not received any official documents or written submissions by private individuals concerning the Nea Zoe settlement. On June 9, 2003, the SOKADRE sent a letter to the Western Attica Police Directorate, thanking them for their investigation and requested to be informed about the exact nature of the disciplinary measures initiated against the police officers. On June 9, 2003, the Western Attica Police Directorate responded that it could not provide the information requested as the disciplinary measures constituted "sensitive personal data" and hence could not be disclosed.
In news related to the substandard living conditions in the Nea Zoe Romani settlement, following the launch of the joint ERRC/GHM Greek country report, during an April 10, 2003 parliamentary session, Ms Damanaki tabled a question to the Minister of Interior as to whether any steps had been taken to ensure the supply of water to the settlement. Ms Damanaki informed the ERRC/GHM that in a letter dated April 24, 2003, the Ministry of the Interior stated that it has repeatedly informed the Mayor of Aspropyrgos of the need to address the problems the Nea Zoe Romani community "immediately". The letter also stated that in 1999, the Ministry of the Interior had given the Municipality of Aspropyrgos 29,000 Euro to carry out infrastructure work in the Romani settlements within its jurisdiction. On May 15, 2003, Ms Damanaki tabled another parliamentary question, asking whether the Ministry of the Interior has asked the Municipality of Aspropyrgos to account for the allocation of the 29,000 Euro. On June 2, 2003, the Ministry of Interior responded that responsibility for dealing with the problems of the Roma rests with the Municipality. Furthermore, the Ministry of Interior stated that it could not force municipalities to adopt a particular course of action. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Interior acknowledged that the Municipality of Aspro-pyrgos had not taken steps to address the problems of Roma within its jurisdiction and stated that it would, in conjuction with other agencies, examine ways of implementing measures aimed at improving the Roma's living conditions. The written statement of the Ministry of the Interior followed a February 26, 2003, request by the ERRC/GHM to be informed of the various infrastructure projects scheduled to take place in various localities around Greece in which there are Romani settlements, including, inter alia, the Municipality of Asporpyrgos. As of June 5, 2003, the Ministry of the Interior had not responded to the request, so the ERRC/GHM referred the matter of non-response to the Ombudsman's Office and asked that the Ombudsman take steps to ensure a response from the Ministry.
(ERRC, GHM, SOKADRE)