“We want decent houses in the city, not in the garbage dump”. This is the message that a young girl from Pata Rat wrote to the Eastern Caravan so that we would take it with us on Europe’s roads.
On December 17 2010, on a cold winter night, without notice or delay, more than 70 families (mostly Roma people) were forcefully expelled from the city centre of Cluj, where most had always (legally) lived and worked. This represented a breach of many international obligations guaranteeing the right to adequate housing without discrimination and a violation of basic human rights. More than three years later, at least two things have remained unchanged: unfortunately, the fact that they are still there; but also their will, energy and determination to fight for their rights.
Pushed to the margins of the city… and society
The land from which these families were expelled had supposedly been promised by city officials to a big phone company (Nokia) looking at expanding its business in the city, but as the deal didn’t succeed, it ended up in the hands of the Church.
The “lucky ones” were relocated to ten modular houses built on the hill of Pata Rat on Coastei Street, a very distant district of Cluj (9 km away from the centre) less than 200 meters from the city’s garbage dump and to an area where pharmaceutical waste is left to rot in the open air. Each family received a 18 m2 room and four families shared a bathroom, which amounted to less than 3 m2 by person in the room and about 40 people for a single bathroom. The houses were very badly isolated and it was a matter of weeks before water started infiltrating the walls. 36 families were expelled without relocation and had to build shelters by themselves. It goes without saying that many people (in particular children) fell ill.
The dangerous proximity to the garbage dump increased health issues. The expulsion had also harsh consequences on access to schools, to hospitals and to work places, notably due to cases of discrimination (research demonstrated that about 20% lost their main source of income – see Robert’s cartoon and Amnesty International report), as well as on access to shops to cover basic needs.
“Housing right is NOT a privilege”
Since the very beginning, people from Coastei Street have organised to fight for decent and non-segregated housing. An association was formed, the Roma community association of Coastei Street (Asociației Comunitare a Romilor din Coastei, ACRC), as well as a collective of civil society associations (GLOC) to help find short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions against the precarious and segregated housing conditions of the Roma families expelled to Coastei Street and more recently (March 2014) the Common Front for Housing Rights fighting against housing rights violations and to bring these issues onto the media and political agendas.
Numerous actions were organised both to fight against the expulsion and to try and find short-term improvements to the living conditions. As a symbol and message to the world, a big “SOS” sign was lit on the ground last December, three years after the expulsion. The most recent took place two weeks before the Caravan started from Cluj, for the International Roma Day on April 8th, when people gathered to demand dignity, justice and housing rights for all - you can find pictures and read messages here.
Voices to be heard
As Claudia (watch her interview here), who’s lived on Coastei Street since the 2010 expulsion, mentioned to us several times, the battle fought by Roma people in Pata Rat is a universal battle for human rights, justice, dignity and equality – in Rromani language, Roma means “person” (“rom = om” in Romanian). Decent housing is a right, regardless of your ethnic background.
Three years after the events, at the end of December 2013, a first sign of victory was finally reached: the Court of Appeal in Cluj found the municipality guilty for the expulsions to Coastei Street. As positive a step as this may be, the fight goes on, and will continue as long as there will be people living (or surviving) in Pata Rat. Beyond this case, the Common Front for Housing Rights has put forward series of demands to prevent any new “Pata Rat” to take place, among which the prevention of forced evictions according to international conventions signed by Romania, genuine consultation of people under the risk of eviction regarding the possibilities of avoiding eviction, and/or housing alternatives provided to them and locative re-integration of marginalized people and groups, with or without shelters, amongst them those pushed to the margins of the city by authorities.
Solidarity is still as necessary as ever to pressure officials at all levels to make a change, not only for the Pata Rata case, but beyond it. Let’s not forget the voices from Pata Rat.
This is not ethnic cleansing. This is genocide, but on such a slow, insidious scale that it is near impossible to notice at first. There can be no doubt that the removal of essential resources such as sanitation exposes a group to disease. Removal from education and proximity to jobs is a deliberate part of this plan. Negligible income kills decent diets, and so malnutrition rises as they live near cesspits. Finally, by cooping up the population together like battery hens, in a small cramped space, infection will spreading quickly through the targeted population. This is how work camps (not the camps designated as extermination camps) were used to kill Romanies and Jews in World War Two. Typhus got loads of them. TB spreads like this. Look at this photo. Look at the distance between this death camp and other places. It is not accidental. The Roma who live there are being socially engineered for death. How long will it be before the exclusively Romanian-populated state agency of the Police turn up on the quiet and sell these desperate people drugs which they will become addicted to? It would not be long before the ethnic Romanians accused the Roma of being drug dealers. Romanians are already accusing them of being smelly, dirty and uneducated. I wonder why (sarcasm). Draw a barbed wire fence around these building and you have Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Belsen. And this is 2014.