By Barbora Černušáková, Amnesty International researcher on Hungary and Áron Demeter, campaign coordinator of Amnesty International Hungary.
Tibor is wearing black and his eyes are watery.
He is one of the first residents of the “Numbered Streets” neighbourhood in the city of Miskolc in the north east of Hungary, to have received a court order confirming the date he and his family will be evicted.
The local authorities are planning to build a football stadium in the area although some believe the real reason behind the evictions is to “clean” the city of Roma who make up 80 per cent of the population of the “Numbered Streets” area.
“We used to be part of the city but now they are turning us into ‘unwanted’, into scapegoats,” said one of the activists protesting against the way Miskolc municipality treats the Roma.
“Eventually, all the families from ‘Numbered Streets’ will be made homeless,” predicted another activist.
Tibor now has little more than a week to find somewhere else for him, his daughter and her three children to live. By 9am on 28 August 2014 they could be made homeless after 25 years living in the neighbourhood.
According to residents we have recently spoken to, there are approximately 50 other families, nearly all of them Roma, in the “Numbered Streets” who may soon face the same desperate situation. In the past three years, the municipality initiated eviction proceedings against people who have either incurred housing debts or lacked a formal tenure in the neighbourhood. They are not being given compensation or alternative accommodation.
For several years now, most of those living in “Numbered Streets” have been severely affected by the closure of factories in the town. After loosing their jobs, many struggle to cover basic needs and have started accumulating debts.
“I worked in the nearby factory for 30 years. The only type of work that I managed to get since was a temporary job for the municipality (varosgazda),” Tibor explained.
When his wife passed away recently, things turned for the worse. “I had to sell many things for her funeral and was left without money left for rent.”
Unemployed and having to support his daughter and her children, aged 14, seven and four, Tibor now has rent arrears of around 200,000 Forints (630 Euros). When he tried to negotiate a re-payment calendar with the municipality, the answer was no.
According to Zoltan, another resident of “Numbered Streets”, around 80 per cent of families living here either have rent arrears or are at risk of incurring them. Their eviction seems to be only a matter of time.
Erasing a neighbourhood
The local authorities and the media refer to the neighbourhood as a “slum”. But that is a far cry from what we saw.
“Numbered Streets” is made up of several rows of nice albeit poor conditioned, brick built houses that used to home the workers of the factories that surround the area. The streets are clean, full of women of various ages keeping an eye on small children playing and riding their little bicycles.
The authorities began their attempts to erase the neighbourhood from the map on 8 May 2014 when they adopted an amendment decree to terminate rental agreements. The decree states that those who don’t have housing debts and have a valid contract can receive compensation (approximately 1.5 to 2 million Forints, between 4,800 and 6,300 Euros) if they move out from Miskolc.
The majority of residents from “Numbered Streets” are currently at risk of being rendered homeless by the evictions without receiving any compensation. The municipality hasn’t involved the residents in a meaningful consultation.
The evictions have already started. Two weeks ago an elderly disabled women lost her home and on the same day a mother with her three small children were turfed onto the street. She claimed that she paid back her debts and had a verbal agreement with the municipality that her contract would be renewed. Even so this was not enough. The other eviction case involved an elderly woman.
As we continued walking through the “Numbered Streets”, we met Mária. Her eviction date was set for 25 September 2014. Mária is non-Roma and lives in a house with her daughter and two young grandchildren. She finds the order unfair as she said she paid off her debtors. “They are turning us into homeless people. Why do they do that? Aren’t there enough homeless people already?”
The municipality’s plans are a human rights violation. No-one should be forcibly evicted unless there has been a meaningful consultation, and suitable alternatives have been offered. People should not be made homeless.
Amnesty International is calling on the mayor to halt all evictions and to start consultations immediately.
For more information:
Hungary: Mayor of Miskolc must halt evictions of Roma (Public Statement, 15 July 2014)