Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Roma expulsions

A Roma woman & her child watch an excavator demolish 30 illegally built homes in Maglizh, a suburb of Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. A succession of European countries, including Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, France, England, Denmark, Romania & Serbia, have been breaking up Roma caravan sites, & illegal settlements & forcibly evicting residents. Many families have occupied the illegal settlements for decades, often without sewage or plumbing, & were never required by city officials to regularize their tenancy or the buildings they constructed. It is estimated that up to 70% of Roma housing in Bulgaria is  on public lands & formally illegal. In the last decade, municipalities began transferring title of the land to private investors for urban development projects which prioritize infrastructure projects over housing.

There is, of course, considerable discrimination against Romani in every sphere of life, not just housing, including segregated education, denial of social services & health care, massive unemployment. They endure racist harassment, racially motivated crimes, & attitudes which consider them lazy, thieving, dirty freeloaders.

Rights & Roma political groups denounce forcible evictions for violating human rights & international law, even calling them ethnic cleansing since thousands are made homeless, including elderly, infirm, disabled, & children. Many evictees have been forcibly deported, especially from Italy & France, which offered financial incentives to leave the country. In some countries (like Denmark), Romani have successfully litigated against deportation orders but if they prevail in the courts, find themselves subject to police harassment & arrest.

Since within European Union (EU) countries citizens are entitled to residence, employment, & free movement, appeals have been made to the European Commission (EC) to take action. The EC claims a majority of member states are compliant with free movement rules & that the commission will take action if arbitrary infringements of free movement continue. It has begun legal action against 10 countries, including the UK, Germany, Spain, Poland, & the Czech Republic for not adopting the EU free movement directive into law. Of course, France which is now expelling thousands of Roma, does have laws against arbitrary expulsions. Interesting how the EU can exercise such dictatorial powers when it comes to imposing austerity programs on countries but is completely ineffectual when it comes to human rights.

It is probably not irrelevant that the European Investment Bank (EIB) imposing the IMF austerity programs, is bankrolling a multi-million dollar urban development program in Stara Zagora, as well as other cities in Bulgaria. When an EIB project in Serbia came up against a Roma community, it was bulldozed.  (Photo by Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

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