Roma Experience Difficulties Accessing Adequate Housing in Greece
29 October 2003
On March 2, 2003, the ERRC, in partnership with the Athens-based non-governmental organisation Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), conducted field research in Lamia, approximately three hundred kilometres northwest of Athens. The ERRC/GHM found that no actions to provide infrastructure, needed in two Romani settlements in the area, had been undertaken by local authorities. Living conditions in the settlements continued to be highly substandard (further information on the living conditions in these settlements is available at: Tenuous Living Conditions for Roma Throughout Greece ). In addition, Mr Pantelis Tsakiris, a 52-year-old Romani man living in one of the settlements, informed the ERRC/GHM that local authorities planned to relocate both communities to a plot of land located around ten kilometres from Lamia on top of a hill next to the national highway, on an unspecified date. There is no public transportation connecting the proposed site to the city. Mr Tsakiris also reported that the local authority is planning to build a segregated school inside the settlement. According to Mr Tsakiris, the municipal authorities had previously rejected several alternative relocation sites suggested by the Roma, although the sites would reportedly have met all the needs of the communities. They felt forced to agree to their relocation to the area outside of town. ERRC/GHM research revealed that the only work that had been undertaken to prepare the site for the new inhabitants was the erection of a sign reading "Municipality of Lamia: Gypsy settlement".
In other news, according to a January 24, 2003 press release of the Nea Alikarnassos-based non-governmental organisation Cultural Association of Athinganoi of the Herakleion Prefecture "Elpis" ("Hope"), the newly-elected mayor of the Municipality in Crete, Mr Vangelis Sissamakis, issued a decision authorising municipal employees to break into the fenced plot of land on which a settlement for local Roma was planned and plant iron stakes in the tarmac. In an earlier meeting with Elpis, Mayor Sissamakis stated that the allocation of the land (which has already cost approximately 590,000 Euro) should not have taken place, as the land belonged to the Municipality. Mayor Sissamakis reportedly stated that he would not allow the relocation to take place. According to the Athens-based daily newspaper Eleftherotypia of January 27, 2003, Mayor Sissamakis stated that it was not possible to create a settlement next to a basketball court constructed with the budget of the 2004 Olympics because, in his opinion, Roma "blemish one's sense of good taste" and deal drugs. Mayor Sissamakis was further quoted in the daily as having stated that he did not want Roma in his municipality and that Roma should not be accorded privileges such as living space, since they could rent houses in Herakleion or Nea Alikarnassos. According to Eleftherotypia, Mayor Sissamakis planned to convert the land on which the settlement was to be located into a parking lot for the adjoining basketball court. Mayor Sissamakis further stated that while ethnic Greeks perform their duties as citizens, Roma are criminals.
On January 28, 2003, the umbrella organisation Organisations and Communities for Roma Human Rights in Greece (SOKADRE) submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman's Office, asking that any measures necessary be taken to ensure the relocation. Mayor Sissamakis' predecessor, Mayor Paterakes, previously made several attempts to intimidate Roma in the area to leave their settlement (for background information, see: Tenuous Living Conditions for Roma Throughout Greece, ERRC Letter to the Prime Minister of Greece Simitis Megaro Maximou and Expel first: housing policy for Roma in Greece ). In reaction to the racist statements of Mayor Sissamakis, the General Secretary of the Crete Region, Mr Thanassis Karountzos, stated that the Greek government's plan for the integration of Roma would be implemented regardless of the objections of "a mayor" - an obvious reference to Mayor Sissamakis, according to Eleftherotypia of January 29, 2003. On May 22, 2003, a meeting on the relocation of the Roma to the new site took place between Mayor Sissamakis, Mr Karountzos and Roma from the settlement. According to a May 25, 2003 press release of Elpis, the Roma were treated disrespectfully and were not allowed to take part in the meeting, instead being forced to wait in the hallway outside of the meeting room. According to the same press release, the meeting yielded no results. During a June 18, 2003 meeting with a representative of the Prime Minister's Office for Quality of Life, Mayor Sissamakis again refused to permit the relocation of the Roma, according to ERRC/GHM research. As of July 22, 2003, no punishment had been brought against Mayor Sissamakis in connection with his racist statements and the relocation of the Roma to the new site had been stalled. The rights of Roma in Greece in the area of housing is the theme of the recently released joint ERRC/GHM Greek Country Report: "Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece", available on the ERRC's Internet website at: Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece or Greek Helsinki Monitor.
(Cultural Association of Athinganoi of the Herakleion Prefecture "Elpis", Eleftherotypia, ERRC, GHM, SOKADRE)