Roma unwanted again in Fejér County, Hungary

10 September 1998

Ten Roma families, 18 children and 14 adults have been living in the Cultural House of Zámoly in Fejér County, Hungary, since October 1997. They ended up there because their apartments, owned by the local government, were in a building which had become uninhabitable. Instead of repairing that building the mayor decided to pull it down, as was also the case in Ózd in May 1997 and in Székesfehérvár in November 1997.

In view of the desperate situation Mr József Krasznai, head of the Gypsy Minority Self-Government of Székes-fehérvár, stated in April 1998 that if any of these people decided to emigrate, as they were already considering, he would help them in every way possible.

The Governmental Office for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKH) suggested that the Székesfehérvár Local Government apply for funding from the county council for local housing development, but the city representatives rejected the idea. According to Mr Krasznai, the mayor has been rejecting every suggestion on the basis that these families do not deserve to be helped by his office.

However, the only requirement to receive housing funding from the regional development office is that the families already have 20% of the amount needed. The National Gypsy Minority Self-Government (OCKÖ) offered its help in paying this 20% from the support they had received from the Ministry of Regional Development and Environmental Protection for exactly such purposes.

Meanwhile the Zámoly Local Govern-ment issued a decree (No. 78/1998) on March 26, 1998 "terminating the temporary residence of the Roma families in the Cultural House from July 31, 1998." The Local Government ordered the temporary residents to return the facilities in their original shape to the inhabitants of Zámoly for their original use. The Local Government found that the time period defined by the decree is enough for the Roma families living in Zámoly unregistered and lacking personal property to find housing either on their own or with the help of the national government. Finally, the Local Government Representatives an-nounced that it is unable to provide any financial support for solving this problem and ordered the mayor to apply for governmental reimbursement of the expenses which occurred in connection with the temporary housing of the Roma families.

On April 29, 1998 Ms Éva Orsós-Hegyesi, president of NEKH, addressed a letter to Mr József Gelencsér, head of the Fejér County Public Administration Office, pointing out that the situation could only be solved through continuous co-ordination with the families concerned. Ms Orsós-Hegyesi expressed her concerns about the legality of the decree and suggested that it might be in conflict with the social welfare and child protection laws. She also emphasised that evicting the families to other villages, which was suggested by the mayor of Zámoly, would not solve the problem, and would generate tension in the region similar to that generated by the events in Székesfehérvár. (As ERRC reported in the Winter 1998 issue of Roma Rights, villages in Fejér County collected signatures and called public meetings objecting to any of the Roma families' relocation from Székesfehérvár to their municipality).

By July 31, 1998 the situation remained unsolved. The families refused to move out of the Cultural House, while Mr János Horváth, mayor of Zámoly, announced that the local government would shut down electricity and water supply in two days time, and would evict the families. However, an eviction can be carried out only with a valid court decision, and, due to the summer recess of the courts, such a decision cannot be issued yet.

In an interview with the Roma Press Center (RPC), Mr Horváth said that the local government of Zámoly received HUF 500,000 (approximately USD 2,500) from the National Gypsy Minority Self Government for purchasing a building plot in the village for the needy Roma families. However, as the national Roma organisation did not agree to the local suggestion of purchasing building plots in other villages, the mayor decided to return the above amount, saying that a local decree explicitly forbids building apartments for socially disadvantaged people, and that there were no building plots available for Roma in his village.

In a press conference held on August 17, 1998, the Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minorities, Jenő Kaltenbach informed journalists that he had requested prosecutorial investigation into the case of the Roma families. "The investigators found", said Kaltenbach "that hardly any measures were taken which were in accordance with the laws."

The decrees concerning the initial demolition of the building where the Roma families used to live violated a number of fiscal and procedural rules, and the measures taken by the local mayor were also illegal. For example, it became evident that - although the mayor repeatedly stated that there were no available building plots in Zámoly - the Local Government made decisions on selling such plots to non-Roma residents of the village in closed sessions, without informing the Roma families already living in the Cultural House about such possibilities. When the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government transferred HUF 500,000 to the mayors office for purchasing building plots, the office refused to proceed. Finally, the NGMSG did manage to buy one plot for a family, and a second purchase is in progress.

The Ombudsman urged the local government to review its anti-constitutional practice and act in accordance with its duties as prescribed by the law on social welfare, i.e. ensure the accommodation of the families on the territory of the village until they receive permanent housing. Mr Kaltenbach made legislative recommendations to the Minister of Family Affairs, to the Minister of Agriculture and of Regional Development, and to the Minster of Internal Affairs. In a letter he requested that the Head of the Fejér County Public Administration Office annul the decrees on demolishing the houses of the families in question and initiate an investigation.

It remains to be seen whether the court will allow evictions; court decision may come as early as mid-September.



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