Thursday, September 1, 2011

US, rights groups slam Romanian plan to evict Roma


BUCHAREST — The US ambassador in Bucharest and rights groups including Amnesty International on Wednesday slammed plans by a Romanian mayor to evict hundreds of Roma and pull down their improvised homes.

"Ambassador Mark Gitenstein notes with concern plans to hurriedly demolish buildings in Baia Mare primarily inhabited by Roma," the embassy said in a statement.

"City authorities have declared their intent to evict these people without regard for their health or safety", it added, calling on the mayor to "find ways of improving the housing conditions for all in Baia Mare while respecting the rights of everyone."

Rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Romani Centre for Social Intervention and Studies (Romani Criss) said that hundreds of inhabitants, Roma for the most part, were threatened with eviction by Mayor Constantin Chereches, a member of the opposition Social-Liberal Union.

The plan targets people who live in informal settlements on the outskirts of Baia Mare, in northern Romania, or who have no documents to prove they are residents of the city, the groups said.

"Carrying out this plan would violate international human rights standards and the European Social Charter."

Chereches said both the US embassy and the rights groups had been "misinformed" and condemned an "unacceptable attempt to put pressure on local authorities."

But he admitted having launched legal proceedings to pull down unlawful buildings.

"We want to uproot these pockets of poverty," he said.

"The 300 people who have migrated to Baia Mare over the last few years will be free to return to their places of origin, while the remaining 2,000 will be relocated in modular shelters set up by the cityhall."

The mayor added that he planned to start tearing down the settlements on September 19, to coincide with a visit by US ambassador.

Chereches sparked an outcry in June when he erected a 100-metre (330-foot) long wall segregating a Roma neighbourhood, officially to protect children against traffic accidents.

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