City authorities have again sparked vivid criticism at home and abroad after relocating Roma families to a contaminated area.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 19/06/12
The Roma community in the northwest mining area of Baia Mare is again subjected to controversial treatment. [Reuters]
The European Commission is the latest to criticise a decision by the mayor's office in Baia Mare to move a small community of Roma onto the premises of a former copper mining company that was not entirely decontaminated. European Commissioner for the Human Rights, Latvia's Nils Muiznieks, has asked the Romania government to respond to what he called "a flagrant human rights infringement."
The criticism came after about 100 Roma families were moved into the building of the former Cuprom Company, which, until 2006 when it closed down, was the second largest polluter in Romania.
After the group was moved, 21 Roma, including many children, were taken to hospital due to contamination from bottles of toxic chemicals that were not removed.
The decision to relocate the families from the Craica neighbourhood came just a week before the June 10th local elections. Moving the Roma was a core campaign promise made by social-democrat Catalin Chereches. He was re-elected with a stunning 86% of the votes.
"I think the Romanian authorities should start a serious investigation to establish exactly what happened and who is responsible for those people's health problems," Muiznieks was quoted by Mediafax as saying.
The US Embassy in Bucharest expressed similar concerns. "The current situation constitutes a failure by the city authorities to provide basic protections to its citizens. It also contributes to the strong perception of willful discrimination towards the Roma community," an embassy statement read.
The Anti-discrimination National Council said it was investigating the circumstances under which the families were moved.
Roma NGOs are outraged by the relocations. "We once again show Roma are treated as second-hand citizens, endangering their health and their civil rights," Romani Criss, a leading NGO, said in a statement to SETimes.
Others expressed concern that such anti-Roma attitudes are spreading. "Moving the Roma ... is just the latest manifestation of a policy of scorn towards the most elementary human rights, which is replicated in more and more settlements in Romania," Diana-Olivia Hatnean, executive director of the human rights organisation Apador-CH, told SETimes.
The mayor's office in Baia Mare defended its decision.
"The relocation to Cuprom's headquarters is a transitory measure until City Hall finishes the social neighbourhood it is building for the poor Roma," Dan Coarda, spokesman of the Baia Mare City Hall, told SETimes. "What we aim to do is to eliminate the four poverty hotbeds in the city where the Roma live in improvised and dilapidated sheds."
Coarda denied that the 100 families in Craica were forcibly moved and said social workers assisted with the relocation. Baia Mare City Hall hopes to finish moving the remaining 260 families left in the Craica neighbourhood by the end of the year.