Roma driven to homelessness across Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Roma panhandler. Brussels, September 2015. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

Roma are being evicted from their homes across the European Union in systematic forced evictions. What is needed is the political will to use EU anti-discrimination laws to sanction member states guilty of leaving Roma homeless. 

Opinion signed by European Network Against Racism, Amnesty International EU Office, European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network, European Roma Rights Centre, Open Society European Policy Institute, ternYpe International Roma Youth Network, Integro Association (Bulgaria), Equal Opportunities Initiative Association (Bulgaria), National Coalition Intellect (Bulgaria), Central Council of German Sinti and Roma (Germany), Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (Hungary), Associazione 21 Luglio (Italy).

Isn’t home the first place where you should feel safe? Yet for many Roma in Europe, systematic forced evictions and demolition of their houses have been tearing their lives apart.

As the cold winter weather sets in, the urgency of this situation is becoming all the more acute. The settlement Le Samaritain in Paris was dismantled by the French police in August without prior warning, leaving nearly 80 Roma families homeless – who still have not been provided with alternative housing. A total of 3,947 Roma were forcibly evicted in France during the first half of 2015. On 20 October, the Roma inhabitants of a settlement in Turin, Italy were thrown out of their homes. Following anti-Roma protests in Bulgaria over the summer, around 160 Roma houses were demolished and more than 50 Roma forcibly evicted, affecting many children and single mothers. In July 2015, around 450 mainly Roma families were asked to vacate their homes in Miskolc, Hungary.

These systematic forced evictions take place without early warning and without providing any alternative adequate housing solutions, leaving the majority of eviction victims homeless. This is an unacceptable situation in EU countries, which are supposed to respect international human rights obligations and European Union anti-discrimination laws.

Evicting Roma from their homes reinforces their exclusion and leads to discrimination against them in other areas such as education and access to healthcare. It also increases stigmatisation and can fuel violent anti-Roma racist attacks.

Despite the existence of EU anti-discrimination laws and of a European framework for national Roma inclusion strategies, forced evictions of Roma are an ongoing practice in several EU member states. More worryingly, this practice has lately passed without official reactions from decision makers or the European Commission.

A hearing on forced evictions of Roma in the European Parliament on 14 October finally raised attention to this issue at European level. The tools are there, including the Race Equality Directive that could be used to sanction member states as well as specific conditions that need to be met to keep on receiving EU funds. What we need now is real political will to use them to end the practice of forced evictions of Roma.

The European Commission, members of the European Parliament and individual member states can and should contribute to improve the situation of Roma in the EU. At a time when inclusion of minorities is crucial for Europe’s future, the EU must live up to its commitments and ensure that Roma can have a home and live in dignity – without which there is no inclusion.

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