Romani Housing Issues in Turkey
29 October 2003
An ERRC field mission to Turkey in March 2003 revealed that Roma in Turkey experience difficulties exercising their right to housing. The Sormasik neighbourhood in the Umraniye area of Istanbul is home to approximately sixty Romani families, comprising about six hundred people. Roma in the neighbourhood live in small houses and makeshift shacks made of scrap wood and metal, only some of which were built with legal permit. A Romani man from the neighbourhood, who wished to remain anonymous, told the ERRC that every summer, most recently in August 2002, the houses built without legal permission in the settlement were destroyed by municipal authorities. The Romani man stated that Roma in the neighbourhood first receive a notice from the municipality that their homes are to be destroyed. Reportedly, the army comes soon thereafter and surrounds the neighbourhood until the Roma leave their homes, at which time bulldozers come in and destroy the homes. According to the Romani man, the Roma whose homes have been destroyed were only allowed to take the personal belongings that they could gather before the bulldozers reached their home - there was no time actually allotted for this. The authorities reportedly collected the material that the homes were made of, in an apparent effort to ensure that the Roma would not rebuild their homes on the same area. The ERRC was informed that no alternative accommodation had ever been provided to Roma whose homes were destroyed and that many Roma have left the settlement due to the annual destruction of their homes.
The ERRC also met with Roma living in the Gundogau Romani settlement in the Yakupulu area of Istanbul. Roma in the settlement lived in a recently constructed block of three-room flats provided by the state at a price of 60,000,000 Turkish lira (approximately 35 Euro) per month per flat for five years, at which time, the Romani residents will take over official ownership of the flat. Roma reported that the water pressure was so low in the new flats that they basically lived without a source of water, and that there was only one small heater in each flat, which did not suffice to heat the entire flat. Additionally, a segregative wall approximately two metres in height surrounded the settlement. In the architectural drawings of the site, which the ERRC viewed, the wall was not visible, but the company employed by the local authorities built it nonetheless. There was only one entrance through the wall into the settlement. Only the roofs of the flats are visible over top of the wall. The settlement in which the Roma had previously lived was destroyed when the new one was erected. Most Roma whom the ERRC met with expressed the concern that they could not afford the monthly payments because they were unemployed. One Romani man, who refused to give his name, stated that the Romani men in the neighbourhood who have managed to get factory jobs still do not earn enough to pay for the flat and simultaneously maintain their families. Additionally, the man reported, the factories in the area are increasingly becoming mechanised and Romani workers are the first to lose their jobs. According to the Romani man, the Roma had been better off in their previous homes because they all had yards and were able to survive by raising chickens.
The clearly segregative intention and effect of the construction of the wall around the Romani settlement is in violation Turkey's obligation under Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which states, "States Parties particularly condemn racial segregation and apartheid and undertake to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories under their jurisdiction." The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey to be in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (prohibition against torture) in numerous cases of destruction of property by state officials. Furthermore, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires States to ensure a certain degree of security of tenure and protection against forced evictions. In its General Comment 4, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) stated at Paragraph 7, "[?] the right to housing [?] should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity." Paragraph 8 delineates that "Tenure takes a variety of forms, including rental (public and private) accommodation, cooperative housing, lease, owner-occupation, emergency housing and informal settlements, including occupation of land or property. Notwithstanding the type of tenure, all persons should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats." Paragraph 18 further states that "[?] the Committee considers that instances of forced eviction are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances [?]." In its General Comment 7, the CESCR stipulated at Paragraph 16 that "Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State party must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available."