Roma community segregation still plaguing Romania


Local authorities in a northern Romanian city refuse to yield to protests over a concrete wall that will isolate the local Roma community.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest – 18/07/11


Children play in front of an apartment block where a concrete wall will be erected between a Roma neighbourhood and the main road in Baia Mare. [Reuters]

A round table meeting in Baia Mare, a city in northwestern Romania, brought no alternative to a controversial local project that will see two blocks of flats, mainly inhabited by the Roma, encircled by a concrete wall. Local authorities pledge to go ahead with the plan.

Mayor Catalin Chereches sparked reactions a few weeks ago when he announced the building of a 3m high and 100m long concrete wall to separate the 600-strong Roma community from the rest of the neighbourhood.

He argued the fence is only meant to bring "order and discipline" to the neighbourhood, and to prevent Roma children from being hit by cars on a nearby busy street.

"The wall will be built of concrete so that no one is left with the impression it can be destroyed. We will only create one access way so that we can limit any debacle," the mayor said in a statement that further infuriated NGOs.

Human rights groups were quick to accuse the mayor of segregation and racism.

"This initiative of the local authorities in Baia Mare is profoundly discriminating and has as effects the humiliation and ghettoisation of Roma, by subjecting them to a degrading treatment," representatives of Romani Criss, Equal Chances Association, and Amnesty International said in an open letter. "Adopting Roma integration policies by the Romanian government remains only a bureaucratic illusion," if such projects are implemented, the three NGOs concluded.

The National Anti-Discrimination Council also warned it would take legal steps against the mayor's initiative, which it called "unacceptable".

"The mayor of Baia Mare said he was afraid of nothing when it comes to law and order. But, by doing so, the mayor ignores the discipline and the sense of responsibility that are proper to a representative of a public institution when it comes to observing the Romanian law and international conventions," Magdalena Matache, executive-director of Romani Criss, told SETimes.

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"Both decisions to raise the wall and build social dwellings for Roma next to the local water cleaning station are illegal and are not meant to support the local Roma community, but easily control it. We will make all effort to ensure the city hall changes its discourse, actions and decisions to comply with the legislation," Matache concluded, calling on political parties to take a firm stand against what she called a "racist practice".

Marian Mandache, head of the Romani Criss human rights department, attended the round table Baia Mare's city hall organised last week. "We explained to the mayor first that, whatever problems there are, he has to consult the community before making a decision. Secondly, a concrete wall will not settle the problems in the respective community. We have suggested other alternatives, such as iron rails or speed limits to protect children from car accidents," he told SETimes.

He voiced concern about another controversial project. "Some 2,500 Roma from various locations within the city are to be deployed outside the city social neighbourhood. That amounts to nothing but a ghetto. Again, the [Roma] people have not been consulted," Mandache added.

"City hall argues it wants to eliminate the poverty hotbeds, but instead it creates a larger poverty hotbed outside the city and risks spurring more social problems within that artificial community," he warned.

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