Case GRE 050203. ESCR

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Right to Adequate Housing/Racial Discrimination


February, 6, 2003



Brief description of the situation


The International Secretariat of OMCT World Organisation Against Torture has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM), a member of the OMCT network, of the arbitrary seizure, by the Nea Alikarnassos Municipality (adjoining the city of Heraklion in Crete), of a resettlement site destined for the local Roma community in Greece.


According to the information received, in mid January 2003 the Mayor of the Nea Alikarnassos Municipality, Mr. Sissamakis, authorized municipal employees to break into a site attributed to the resettlement of the local Roma community, including forcing the entrance lock and placing iron props inside.


The site in question has reportedly been selected for the resettlement of the Roma community living within the administrative borders of the Nea Alikarnassos Municipality. In this respect, it is reported that part of the necessary infrastructure has already been constructed, while it is planned to build prefabricated homes on the site. Overall, the whole project of resettlement is managed by the Eastern Crete Development Organisation (O.A.N.A.K.) and is funded by central government resources.


According to the information received, Mr. Sissamakis is opposed to the resettlement of the Nea Alikarnassos Roma community in this site, arguing that it belongs to the municipality and that it is simply not possible to create a Roma settlement next to a basketball court constructed with the budget of the 2004 Olympics. In place of the Roma settlement, Mr. Sissamakis reportedly proposed the construction of a parking lot for the adjoining basketball court.


In addition to its opposition to the resettlement, Mr. Sissamakis stated in an interview to the daily "Eleftehrotypia" (27.01.03) that Roma blemish one's sense of good taste, that they deal drugs, that he does not want them in his municipality and that they should not be accorded any privilege -such as the creation of a settlement-, that they could rent houses in Heraklion or Nea Alikarnassos.



Background Information


This arbitrary seizure of the resettlement site destined for Nea Alikarnassos Roma reportedly occurs against the background of ongoing attempts to drive the Roma away and to oppose any resettlement plan that would take place within the Nea Alikarnassos administrative borders.


The resettlement plan, opposed by the newly elected Mayor Mr. Sissamakis, concerns around 500 Roma who are currently living in a camp situated within the Nea Alikarnassos municipality's administrative borders in the locality of Dyo Aorakia, between the highway and the industrial zone, about 500 meters away from the nearest habitation in the municipality. According to the information received, this camp was created around 15 years ago by a decision of the Heraklion Prefecture with the idea of reassembling all the scattered camps into one large one. This move was reportedly tolerated by the municipality of Nea Alikarnassos.


This camp is reportedly made of shanty houses with no water supply, electricity, sewage system or organised garbage collection. This absence of basic services has been reportedly used as a siege tactic, by the municipality authorities, in order to get rid of the Roma. Indeed, it is reported that since the establishment of the camp, the Nea Alikarnassos authorities are doing their best to drive the Roma away. For instance, the authorities refuse to have the Roma registered in the municipal list even if most of them live there permanently and despite the fact that 200 children were born there. Roma children were also reportedly not able to attend local schools from 1987 to 1998 because the camp was not within the enrolment boundaries of any school. Following 1998 and the efforts of the Heraklion Prefecture, a school for Roma children was eventually founded away from the municipality of Nea Alikarnassos, as part of the 34th Elementary School of Heraklion. In 2002, some children who attended the school for Roma went to regular schools in the municipality of Nea Alikarnassos but most of them dropped out very quickly; no Roma child of the camp has graduated from elementary school.


According to the information received, the Nea Alikarnassos municipality took a firmer stand, since 1999, regarding the Roma community living in the camp. It is reported that on December 17th 1999, the municipality issued an order of administrative eviction, claiming that it owns the land where the camp is located and asking 102 Roma families living there to vacate the area within 30 days. The families reportedly challenged the eviction order before the Heraklion County Court, which found the order abusive and cancelled it in its decision 975/1999 of November 12th 1999. The Court acknowledged that while in principle the municipality, as the owner of the land, had the right to issue an eviction order, its move was abusive because the affected Roma were living therein expecting their relocation that has been announced by the State.


This scenario was reportedly repeated in August 10th 2002 when the Roma were again served with an eviction order dated June 20th 2002 (Ref. 3754), asking them to vacate the area within 30 days. Again, the Roma challenged the eviction order before the Heraklion County Court, which, as in 1999, found the order abusive and cancelled it.


Since 2000, no other eviction attempts have been reported, although the police reportedly performs regular raids in the camp.



The Roma Situation and the 2004 Olympic Games


The arbitrary seizure of the resettlement site destined for Nea Alikarnassos Roma is also related to the preparation of the 2004 Olympic Games. Indeed, the Mayor of Nea Alikarnassos Municipality, Mr. Sissamakis, clearly stated that the establishment of a Roma settlement was inappropriate next to a basketball court built with the budget of the 2004 Olympics.


It is not the first time that Roma communities are facing threats of eviction, actual evictions, or violations of their right to adequate housing as part of the preparation for the 2004 Olympics. For instance, the Roma communities that have settled in the various areas of Athens and surroundings (area of Aspropyrgos) have been facing repeated threats of, and actual forced evictions, notably in July 2000 and September 2001. Moreover, the local authorities in Aghia Paraskevi, Ano Liosia, Halandri and Marousi have openly claimed that they want the land on which the Roma have settled, or were meant to be settled, to build sport facilities for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. In this respect, the National Commission for Human Rights noted in its 2001 report that "It is a fact that with the opportunity of the Olympic Games the eviction of the Gypsies from many areas has been organized."


There are fears, therefore, that as the date for the Olympics draws nearer, municipalities that want to evict their Roma communities will increasingly invoke the Olympics in order to evict the Roma without causing public censure or reactions from the Greek central authorities. With respect to this situation Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles - the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner- requested the Olympic Organising Committee to publish the list of the sites that have been selected for the 2004 Olympic games in order to prevent that pressure is being put on the Roma that have settled or wish to settled in those areas. According to the Greek Helsinki Monitor, this request remains, so far, unanswered. Similarly, OMCT's appeals to the International Olympic Committee in this respect (May 2001 and February 2002), have so far remain unanswered.