By Fotis Filippou, EU Team Campaigner for Amnesty International
Amnesty International recently visited Romania, where we met with a Romani community living behind a sewage treatment plant in Miercurea Ciuc, central Romania.
More than six years after they were forcibly evicted from their homes, around 75 Roma people, including families with children, are living in unsanitary conditions in metal cabins and shacks.
Back then they were told that the move would be temporary but it has started to feel very permanent.
Now living on the fringes of the city, the families are socially excluded and their living conditions are inhumane. The sanitation facilities are woefully inadequate, with only four toilet cubicles for 75 people and one tap for drinking water.
The metal cabins and shacks are overcrowded and provide no protection from heat and rain. The approaching winter, during which the temperature in Miercurea Ciuc can be below -25 °C, is a reminder of the need for an alternative site to be found without further delays.
Angela, a young Romani woman living by the sewage plant told me: “In the summer this barrack is still unbearable, it gets very hot inside. If we would not open the roof window, we would cook in it. In the winter it is so cold that the water in the bucket freezes. We even burn our clothes and shoes [in the stove] in order not to freeze in the barracks.”
A sign on the fence of the sewage plant warns of “toxic danger”. Romanian law stipulates that people should not live within 300m of potential toxic hazards, and the Romani families are living well within this danger zone.
The stench of human excreta fills the air around the cabins and shacks. Many families have told me how unbearable it is to eat or sleep with that smell and how afraid they are for their and their children’s health. Having spent only a few days there at a time during my several visits to Miercurea Ciuc, I can only begin to understand how it must be like to have that smell hanging over you 24/7.
Amnesty International joined Romanian organizations, such as the NGO Romani CRISS, which has legally assisted the community since they were forcibly evicted in 2004, in campaigning for a safe home – meeting international standards of the right to adequate housing – for the families living by the sewage plant.
Over the last six years the Roma have been trying to speak to the authorities, but to no avail. Their voices are still not heard by the local decision-makers.
During our last visit to Miercurea Ciuc three members of the community joined us in a meeting with the local authorities; they told the authorities that the only thing they needed was a safe home to live – away from the sewage plant.
At the meeting, Iren, a 27-year-old Romani woman, said: “We are also humans… We cannot be thrown out into nothingness.”
Unfortunately during the meeting no concrete plan was presented or promise was made by the authorities to redress the situation.
However, members of the community told us they felt stronger as Amnesty International activists from around the world have been campaigning on their behalf since January 2010.
Gabor, a Romani man wanted to share this message: “I would like to thank them for their help and ask them not to give up and continue their work.
“There are lots of children here and we would like them not to have to grow up in this smelly place and in such circumstances, but to have a better chance in life.”
Please take action in support of the Romani families in Miercurea Ciuc.
Amnesty International’s work on Roma is part of its Demand Dignity campaign