Romanian Roma: Two Years After the Adoption of the Government Strategy, No Visible Change

10 May 2003

Tara Bedard1

According to the preliminary results of the Romanian census conducted in March 2002, 535,250 people out of a total population of approximately 21.7 million declared themselves to be Romani. This figure is widely held to be a gross underestimate. Unofficial estimates of the number of Roma in Romania put the population between 1.8-2.5 million Roma.2 The discrepancy between the census figure and the estimated number of Roma in Romania is unquestionably influenced by strong anti-Romani sentiments ingrained in Romanian society which dissuade many Roma from officially acknowledging themselves as such. In October 2002, the ERRC undertook a ten-day field mission to Romania, covering a large area of the country following a noticeable increase in media reports of anti-Romani actions in Romania over the summer months. In course of the ten days, the ERRC did not enter a single Romani community that was not effected by a number or all of the concerns described below.

Romani Parents Informed Only After the Adoption of Their Children

International law stipulates that the adoption of children must be approached from the standpoint of ensuring the best interests of the child. Article 21 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Romania on September 28, 1990, states, "States Parties that recognize and/or permit the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration and they shall: (a) Ensure that the adoption of child is authorized only by competent authorities who determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures and on the basis of all pertinent and reliable information, that the adoption is permissible in view of the child's status concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned have given their informed consent to the adoption on the basis of such counselling as may be necessary; [?]."

In meeting with Romani parents in Romania, the ERRC discovered that Romani children in state institutions in Romania are being put up for adoption without the knowledge or consent of their parents. In the Patarăt Romani settlement, outside of Cluj in northwestern Romania, Ms Titilia Kolozsi, a 38-year-old Romani woman, testified to the ERRC:

Seven and a half years ago, I put one of my sons in a pre-school children's home in Cluj, when he was six months old, because I was unable to care for him properly. I visited my son every week while he was at the home in Cluj. Then, he was moved to another home in Ghęrla because he was preparing to enter school. I couldn't visit him there because it was too far and I couldn't afford to go. In 2001, I went to visit my son at the home in Ghęrla to ask for him back. I was told that a Spanish couple had adopted my son. I never consented to his adoption. While I was at the children's home last year, the people working there told me that I'd better leave or they would call the police because they said that I had abandoned my son.

Similarly, Ms Lia Calo, a 31-year-old Romani woman stated:

Seven years ago my six-month-old son Alexandru was ill so I brought him to a hospital for treatment. At the hospital, the doctors told me that I should put my son in a children's home because he would get better care there than he would from me. So I put my son in the pre-school children's home in Cluj. I visited my son whenever I was able while he was in the home in Cluj. Then, when he reached school age, he was moved to a home in Ghęrla because it offered education. I was informed of the move, but I was never able to afford to go to Ghęrla to visit him. Some time ago, there was a trial. The Child Protection Office wanted to prove that I had abandoned my son. At the trial I was asked if I wanted to give up my right to my son and I said I did not. I didn't sign any papers. I don't know about a decision. In 2001, I went with Titilia Kolozsi to ask for my son back and was told that he had been given away to a family from Turda, Romania. I was never told before I went to the home that my son had been given away.

This practice contravenes Romanian domestic law, notably Ordinance No. 25/1997 of the Government of Romania, which states, in Article 7(1), "For an adoption to be acceptable, the following are necessary: (a) the expressed consent, duly certified, of the parents, or, as the case may be, of the parent, to the adoption of the child by a person or family proposed by the Commission for Child Protection." Article 7(2) states, "If the child's parents lost their parental rights, are deceased, laid under interdiction, or are judicially declared as dead, unknown or found in any situation that determines the impossibility of expressing their will, as well as in the case in which the child is judicially declared as abandoned by final judicial decision, the consent stipulated in para (1) letter a) is not necessary."3 Neither Ms Kolozsi nor Ms Calo were aware of any judgements against them. The failure of Romanian authorities to secure their expressed and informed consent for the adoption of their children therefore violates both domestic and international law.

In a related case of children arbitrarily kept separated from their parents, in the Ponorâta Romani neighbourhood of the village of Vălenii Lăpuşului, near Târgu Lapus in northern Romania, Ms Maria Lingurar, a 32-year-old Romani woman told the ERRC:

My husband and I placed our eleven-year-old son Kereci NeluĹŁu in the Zimbrani Children's Home in Arad when he was ten. Our house there had burnt down. We visit him every three months in the children's home and we used to get him back for holidays. Last Christmas, we had him here and he got into a fight with some of the other kids and was hit in the eye. We brought him to the hospital and the people at the hospital called the police. The police came and took him away. Since then, we have visited every three months and asked for him back each time, but the people at the children's home tell us that we aren't allowed to have him.

Mr Alexandru Başa, Deputy Director of the Salaj County Office for the Protection of Children, stated during an interview with the ERRC that sixty percent of the children in state institutions in Salaj county were Romani. According to the results of the 2001 census in Romania, Roma account for only 0.2 percent of the Romanian population. Despite the disproportionately high number of Romani children in state institutions, Mr Başa told the ERRC that there were no programmes specifically aimed at remedying the gross over-representation of Romani children in state institutions, nor programmes aimed at placing the Romani children back with their natural families.

Inhuman Living Conditions

In 1974, Romania ratified the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (ICSECR), which states at Article 11, "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." Nearly every Romani community visited by the ERRC was characterised by markedly substandard conditions.

At the Patarăt Romani settlement, around three hundred and eighty Roma live in around seventy shacks made from old wood, scrap metal, cardboard and/or mud. The one water source for the settlement was located on a hill beside a farmer's field. Mr Ioan Florin, a 23-year-old Romani man, told the ERRC that the government had done nothing to improve the substandard living conditions in the settlement. Ms Titilia Kolozsi stated that most of the Roma in the settlement did not have personal identification cards and therefore could not get access to social aid or social housing. Ms Kolozsi said that they did not have any food.

Similarly, the ERRC visited a Romani community on Păcii Street in Zalău, northwestern Romania, with the Zalău-based Romani organisation Equal Chances. The Roma lived in an apartment building with four entrances. Roma inhabited apartments accessible through three of the entrances, while Romanians lived in apartments accessible through the fourth entrance. A wall had been constructed between the Romanian entrance and the Romani entrances to the building, in an apparent attempt to segregate the Roma from the Romanian inhabitants. There was no source of electricity, heat or water in the Romani portion of the building, Equal Chances reported to the ERRC, because the Romani inhabitants could not afford to pay for these, while the apartments owned by the Romanians did have electricity, heating and water. There were large amounts of garbage accumulated around the area of the building inhabited by Roma and the façade was black, as if it had been on fire. According to Equal Chances, this was due to the Romani inhabitants burning whatever they could find to heat their apartments. Each apartment reportedly accommodated three or more Romani families, and in one flat, there were twenty-seven people residing.

The Ponorâta Romani neighbourhood of the village of Vălenii Lăpuşului near Târgu Lapus in northern Romania, was so far removed that the village was not even visible. The settlement was situated on municipal land, and the residents reportedly had temporary permission to be there, although the residents were concerned that they could be evicted at any time. Around seven hundred Roma reportedly lived in the settlement, in houses that appeared to be constructed from mud and/or clay. Many of the houses did not have glass in the windows or doors covering the entrance; the floors in the houses were the ground that they were built on and some houses did not have roofs. There was no source of electricity in the settlement, and some of the houses did not even have a wood stove for heat. According to Mr G.L., a 50-year-old Romani man, in the middle of September 2002, Mr Ioan Faur, the Mayor of Vălenii Lăpuşului, visited the settlement and when asked by the community for help, said that there was nothing he could do. Mr G.L. testified that Roma from the settlement offered to pay 500,000 Romanian lei (approximately 15 Euro) per person for electricity, but Mr Faur stated "Never. You will never get light here." Additionally, there was no water source in the settlement, and the Roma reported that they gathered water for drinking and cooking from a stream in a farmer's field adjacent to the settlement.

Romani community on Păcii Street in Zalău,
northwestern Romania. photo: ERRC

At the time of the ERRC visit, there were cows grazing in the stream. Despite the cold weather, many of the children were only half dressed and some did not have shoes or pants because, according to the Roma, they could not afford to buy food to eat, let alone clothing.

Failure to Provide Adequate Alternative Accommodation for Evicted Roma

At the time of the ERRC mission, only the wall of the former apartment building that faced the street was standing in the "Casa Calăului" Romani settlement in Cluj. Shacks stood inside the wall, built of cardboard and scrap wood, on the land where the apartments of the approximately twenty Romani families used to be. Mr Gelu Alexandru Czuli, a 32-year-old Romani man, told the ERRC that approximately eighty people lived in the settlement. There was no water source, no heating except for wood stoves, no sanitary facilities and no electricity.

Mr Czuli told the ERRC that, at the beginning of 2000, municipal officials in Cluj and the police began telling the residents to leave without ever showing them an eviction protocol. A private company near the settlement also reportedly threatened them several times before April 2001. On April 4, 2001, there was an explosion in the building at around 2:00 AM. One woman reportedly sustained minor burns on her back. Soon thereafter, Mr Czuli stated, the building collapsed, apart from the wall facing the street. According to the report of the fire department, all furniture, clothing, appliances in the building were destroyed, as well as the personal documents of some of the inhabitants. Following the fire, at around 4:00 PM on April 7, 2001, fifteen police and gendarmes came to the settlement with a representative of the mayor's office and attempted to evict the Roma without prior notice and without an eviction warrant. According to Mr Czuli, they were brought to a privately owned piece of land outside of Cluj where they were to live in stables with military style beds. Mr Czuli argued with the authorities that they shouldn't simply be left on someone else's property and, eventually, they were brought back to the Casa Calăului settlement, where they built the shacks that they were living in at the time of the ERRC visit. On May 22, 2001, the Roma in the settlement applied for social housing. Several adults also applied for social aid and were told by a representative of the mayor's office that social aid is not given to persons living at their address, according to Mr Czuli.

Following the ERRC visit, on November 5, 2002, a representative of the mayor's office informed the Roma living in the Casa Calăului settlement that, on November 6, 2002, they would be evicted and moved outside of the city. In a telephone interview on November 7, 2002, the Cluj-based Romani organisation Amare Phrala reported to the ERRC that on November 6, 2002, fifty police, gendarmes and representatives of the mayor's office went to the settlement to evict the Roma. Following negotiations between the mayor's office and Amare Phrala, the Roma were given a one-month contract at a bomb shelter in the basement of an apartment building in the city, in which there were no windows but heat, electricity and one water source per six families. On November 9, 2002, residents of the building in which the Roma had been moved into published a protest in the Romanian national daily newspaper Curentul. The building residents claimed that they were not informed that the Roma would be moved into their building and that they had collected signatures from building inhabitants for a petition requesting that the Roma be evicted.

On November 29, 2002, less than one month after they were originally moved, Cluj-based Romani organisation Resource Center for Roma Communities (RCRC) informed the ERRC that the Roma were evicted from the bomb shelter to the Patarăt Romani settlement outside of Cluj. Police officers and public guardians, together with representatives of the mayor's office, evicted the Roma, without showing an eviction order. The Roma reportedly did not protest because they were aware that their stay in the bomb shelter was temporary and they were afraid of violence by the police and the building residents if they resisted. Sixty-two Roma were moved into eleven barracks made of thin metal at the Patarăt Romani settlement where there is no source of electricity, one source of running water, no sanitary facilities and no source of heat except what the residents can find to burn. The mayor's office reportedly gave the evicted Roma rechargeable batteries to power small heaters that supposedly were to last for one month. However, three days after the eviction, the batteries were already dead and the Roma did not have an electrical source with which to recharge the batteries. On February 3, 2003, the RCRC informed the ERRC that since the first eviction, Romani children from the Casa Calăului settlement had been attending school irregularly because it was too far for them to travel, and two of the children had been enrolled in a local special school for mentally disabled children.

The failure of Romanian authorities to provide adequate alternative accommodation to forcibly evicted Romani communities and families, such as the Roma from Casa Calăului, is a blatant violation of the standards set down in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the committee which monitors the compliance of States Parties with the obligations set out in the Covenant, stated, in paragraph 4 of its General Comment 7, "the term 'forced evictions' [?] is defined as the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from their homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection." Paragraph 17 provides that "Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State Party must take all appropriate measures [?] to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available."4 Further, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights affirmed in its Resolution 1993/77 that, "[?] the practice of forced evictions constitutes a gross violation of human rights [...]" The Commission further urged governments "to take immediate measures, at all levels, aimed at eliminating the practice of forced evictions [...] to confer legal security of tenure on all persons currently threatened with forced evictions."5  

Substandard living conditions in the Patarăt Romani settlement outside of Cluj, northern Romania. Approximately four hundred and forty Roma live in such shacks in the settlement.
Photo: ERRC

Discriminated against in the Allocation of Social Aid

Article 9 of the ICESCR states, "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance." On January 1, 2002, the Law on Guaranteeing Minimum Income came into effect in Romania. In accordance with the law, Romanian families with an income below a set level would receive supplemental income from the Romanian government. Since the adoption of the law, the ERRC has heard disturbing accounts of Roma being discriminated against in its application. Under Article 8(2) of the law, the mayor shall take into consideration the rent or other products of any land, buildings or other goods, when making the final decision on the amount of social assistance to grant. During the ERRC field mission, Mr George Andreescu, the Mayor of Gura Văii, in Bacău County, central eastern Romania, stated that nearly all local councils throughout the country had taken decisions based on this article. In some cases, the decisions, which in effect arbitrarily limit the amount of social aid allocated, affected Roma disproportionately. In Braşov in central Romania, the ERRC met with a Romani man named Mr Tibor Gabor. Mr Gabor told the ERRC that it was his impression that the lower the representation of Roma in local councils, the greater the limitations placed on social aid payments. Mr Gabor was in possession of various decisions taken by local councils regarding the allocation of social aid. According to the minutes of Hearing 35 on July 31, 2002, the Maerus Commune Council in Braşov County decided that "People who have horses and not land use the horses to steal." Because of this, according to the decision, horse-owners who receive social aid were assumed to earn 2,000,000 Romanian lei (approximately 57 Euro). As this amount is higher than the maximum payment allowable under the Minimum Income Law, no one with a horse will receive social aid. Mr Gabor told the ERRC that there were no Romani council members in the Maerus commune. However, in the Budila Commune in Braşov County, there were reportedly four Romani council members. Here, according to Mr Gabor, the Budila Commune Council passed a decision that horse-owners are assumed to earn only 150,000 Romanian lei (approximately 4 Euro) and the government supplements people's income beyond this amount (for additional information on such decisions, see Mr Gabor also reported that, in the communities surrounding Braşov, Roma were not being paid the benefits to which they were entitled.

Similarly, in accordance with the law, social aid recipients are expected to engage in community work in order to receive their payments. All of the Romani recipients of social aid with whom the ERRC spoke reported that every morning, they gathered outside of the local municipal office, where they were assigned their work for the day. In the Calea Mireşului Romani settlement in Somcuta Mare in northern Romania, the ERRC spoke with Ms Tatiana Jurcut, a 32-year-old Romani social aid recipient. Ms Jurcut reported that she had never seen Romanians gather in front of the municipal office in the morning to be assigned work under the Minimum Income law, but that when she picked up her payment, Romanians were also present to receive the benefit. Ms Jurcut also stated that despite having performed the work, she had not been paid her benefits for the months of August and September 2002. None of the other Roma in the community had reportedly received payment either. In the same settlement, Mr Boldijar Gherman, President of the Romani organisation Foundation Som Rom, told the ERRC that employees of the mayor's office originally did not want to accept Romani applications for social assistance. After some time, Roma were allowed to submit their applications, but when a mayoral commission visited the settlement to decide who qualified for the benefit, not all of the applicants were visited. Despite this, the commission decided that none of the Romani applicants at the time qualified for social aid. Mr Gherman stated that he filed a complaint about this in late August 2002, but had not received a response at the time of the ERRC visit.

Segregated Education

Article 6 of the Romanian Law on Education Nr. 84/1995 states that education is compulsory for the first nine classes. This requirement however ends when the student reaches 17 years of age. Order Nr. 4747 of October 16, 2001, of the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research, based on the Romanian Law on Education Nr. 84/1995 and Government Decision Nr, 23/2001, states, at Article 3 of Chapter 1: "Every Romanian citizen has equal right of access to all levels and types of education, regardless of their social and material condition, sex, race, nationality, political or religious affiliation, without any restriction that can constitute discrimination or segregation."6 Among numerous international law provisions to which the Romanian state has agreed to be bound guaranteeing the right to education free from segregation,


  • Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) 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."
  • Article 28(1) of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states, "States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; [?] (e) take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates."

Despite these and other commitments, in many communities in Romania, the ERRC found that Romani children were educated in segregated schools within their communities. Such schools had substandard facilities and provided inferior education that left graduating students ill prepared to advance to higher levels of education in integrated environments. Education in such schools led to a large number of Romani children unable to proceed to higher (beyond grade four) educational institutions outside the communities.

In the Ponorâta Romani settlement Mr G.L. informed the ERRC that about one hundred and fifty children from the Romani community attend the school in the settlement from kindergarten through grade four. At the time of the ERRC visit, there was no class being held, although a teacher was present. The school consisted of two small rooms approximately four metres squared each in size. Both classrooms had seating for approximately fifteen children. Only one classroom was functional during the winter because the other did not have heating. There was also no electricity in the school, making it difficult to see by early afternoon. While there were some textbooks in the school, there did not appear to be nearly enough for all of the students. Mr G.L. told the ERRC that children attending grades one through four received milk, cheese and a roll under a government programme. However, this is not provided to kindergarten children. This reportedly created problems because the kindergarten students are in the same classroom as the older students and have to watch the older children get food while they stay hungry. Mr G.L. also told the ERRC that none of the Romani children from the settlement attend school after grade four because the school is in another town seven kilometres away. The bus that picks up all of the students from the villages reportedly does not stop to pick up the Romani pupils from the settlement.

Similarly, in the Calea Mireşului Romani settlement, Mr Boldijar Gherman told the ERRC that Romani children from the settlement attend a segregated school in the settlement until grade eight. Most students that graduate from the school are unable to attend high school afterwards, reportedly because they are incapable of passing the entrance exams with the education that they have received at the school in the settlement. According to Mr Gherman, the teachers at the school were constantly on break. Romani parents in the community reportedly complained about this to the teachers. The teachers reportedly replied by saying that they took many breaks because the children could not learn. During the 2001/2002 school year, two students from the settlement apparently had problems enrolling at the high school in Somcuta Mare. School administrators reportedly did not receive them well and told them that there was no room for them in the school. Mr Gherman told the ERRC that the students were only enrolled after he met with the school director.

In Gura Văii, the ERRC visited the segregated school for Romani children in the Morii Street Romani settlement, in which all Roma in Gura Văii live. Roma from the settlement reported that, in 2002, eleven Romani children who had graduated grade four in the segregated school in the Romani settlement had been prohibited from attending the school which offered further education outside the settlement in Gura Văii. The eleven students, aged twelve through eighteen, were not attending school, and accordingly, their parents informed the ERRC, they did not qualify for child allowance. (further details relating to the education of Romani children in Gura Văii is available at: Romanian Law 61/1993 on Child Allowance, stipulates at Article 1(2) that all children in school are entitled to receive child allowance until they reach the age of 18. Article 5(1) states that children over the age of 7 who do not attend school are not entitled to receive child allowance, unless they do not attend school due to medical reasons proven by a medical certificate.

The intentional exclusion of Romani children from educational opportunities and their segregation into school environments that offer substandard education, effectively bars them from higher educational levels, which directly impacts on their material well-being in the present as well as in the future as they are unqualified for all but the most menial employment.


On April 25, 2001, the Romanian government published the "Strategy of the Government of Romania for Improving the Conditions of the Roma." The document committed the Romanian government to ensuring the necessary conditions for Roma to equal opportunities to obtain a decent standard of living and to prevent societal and institutional discrimination against Roma. Nearly two years after the publication of the Strategy, little appears to have changed in terms of the discriminatory attitudes met by Roma in Romania or their grossly inadequate standard of living. Based on the results of the ERRC's field mission, the situation of Roma in Romania continues to be one of exclusion and segregation and degradation. Romanian authorities do not seem to hear Roma who seek to improve their living situation and, in fact, make decisions that negatively affect their access to fundamental rights and freedoms, in many cases, without even consulting them. The Romanian government, in dealing with Roma, fails to meet its obligations under international law, and in many cases, under its own domestic law. This trend must be reversed if the situation of Roma in Romania is to see any substantial improvement.


  1. Tara Bedard is Researcher/News Editor at the ERRC.
  2. See, for example, Liegeois, Jean-Pierre and Nicolae Gheorghe. Roma/Gypsies: A European Minority. London: Minority Rights Group, 1995.
  3. Unofficial translation by the ERRC.
  4. See CESCR, General Comment 7, Sixteenth Session, 1997, "The right to adequate housing (Art.11.1): forced evictions: 20/05/97", available on the Internet at: "UNHCHR.
  5. United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Resolution 1993/77 entitled "Forced evictions", adopted on March 10, 1993. The resolution is available on the Internet at:
  6. Unofficial translation by the ERRC.




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