Report

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GHM REPORT TO ERRC NO 37: 6/6/1998

MAY 1998 ACTIVITY REPORT OF THE GHM ROMA OFFICE

May 2. On Saturday May 2, the Greek Helsinki Monitor, and the European Center for Roma Rights, visited the Roma settlement of Evosmos, Thessaloniki, maybe one of the biggest in the country. This visit took place in the framework of a 10 day tour around Greece whose aim was to find out the problems of the Greek Roma. In the settlement we met M. P. Frangoulis, vice president of the Association «Macedonia» of the Thessaloniki Gypsies and M. P Sabanis, secretary of the Association, who spoke to us about their problems.

The first thing they pointed out was the delay of their re-installation. They are being evicted from the place where they now live by the Mayor M. Alexandridis and the private owners of the area, and will be transferred to the Gonos camp provided by the Ministry of Defense. The Prefecture has promised that they will all be installed there by September, but the sewerage works have not started yet. The Gypsies ask to be transferred during the summer, because when it gets cold things will be very difficult. Apart from the well known problem of the absence of water, electricity, hygiene conditions etc. another serious problem is that education. In a population of 6000 only 50 children go to school! Acute problems are posed by the police blocks raised on a daily basis at the entrance of the settlement. All Gypsies who do not have a work permit or a driving license (and this is the majority) are loaded with fines. The municipal and prefectural authorities don’t provide them with vendor permits which are required for selling legally and they don’t have driving licenses because the majority of them are illiterate and they cannot pass the necessary exams. We shall address ourselves to the authorities and ask that Gypsies pass only visual exams.

May 2. After our visit in the Evosmos settlement, we went to the Gypsy neighborhood of Dendropotamos. Here the Gypsies are not distinguished from the other inhabitants, their main occupation is trade; many of them are pedlars but their most serious problem is that the majority of them don’t have a work permit, and therefore they don’t have social security. The percentage of the children going to primary school is 50%. The same is true for the first class of the secondary school but then the children cease to attend school and follow their fathers’ profession. Their complaint is that the mayor gives priority to other neighborhoods and does not construct works in their area which is called «gypsyland». Thus the area is not being upgraded. The origin of the Dendropotamos Gypsies is from Istanbul, Turkey. They came to Greece during the population exchange. There is racism in the area, but not as manifest as elsewhere.

May 2. Then we visited the Halastra settlement, inhabited by 38 families of Muslim Gypsies. The Muslims, have come from the Tin Town of Komotini, and live here in Halastra for the last 35-40 years. They live in miserable conditions - their life is much worse compared to that of other settlements. They are mainly porters and most of them are occupied in agricultural jobs, especially jobs for which there is no demand by other Greeks. Recently, with the advent of the economic migrants in our country, mainly the Albanians, the Gypsies have lost almost all their jobs, as shrewd employers prefer to use the Albanians, an even cheaper working force. They employers are offering humiliating day’s wages. Here as well, nobody has social security. There is no running water in all the shanties, there is a common water tap but the mayor permanently threatens to cut off the supply. There is no electricity or any other services..

May 3. On Sunday May 3 we visited the Menemeni settlement, where 24 families live. On the part of the state it is somehow considered a model settlement, nevertheless conditions are miserable. Despite the fact that the inhabitants do have water, they live in a very small area literally one on top of the other. There are only two toilets in the settlement and the inhabitants are obliged to steal electricity from a public lighting pillar, putting their own life in danger. The Menemeni settlement is part of the Dendropotamos Municipality. During the population exchange the grandfathers of the present generation were sent to Asia Minor, but they returned to Greece with the Greek refugees from Asia Minor. Until the 1960s they were Muslim in religion; from then on they became Christian Orthodox. In the settlement we heard complaints about police violence. When Gypsies are arrested and kept in the police stations they are beaten up.

May 3. After Menemeni we visited New Halkidona in Thessaloniki, a neighborhood near the industrial zone. Fifty families live here, who have built houses on their own land. They live here for over 30 years now and are of the same origin with the Menemeni Gypsies. They too were Muslims before but then they became Orthodox. We came here to check the charge that a month ago the police killed the Gypsy Angelos Jelal. We met his wife and his father-in-law and spoke to them. We contacted their lawyer and we will be present at the trial when it takes place. They denounced to us that policemen continuously raise road blocks, oblige them, men, women and children to get off the car, stick the gun on their temple, press them down with the feet on their back to keep them lying on the ground, while at the same time they empty the car of all their belongings and trading goods.

May 3. On Monday May 3, our mission reached the village Drossero of Xanthi where mainly Muslim Gypsies live. We visited the primary school of the neighborhood and spoke to the 9 teachers. 240 children are inscribed but only 170 did follow the classes at the beginning of the school year. Then, from March on, the number declined to 120, as the time came for the asparagus, and the families had to leave to work in the fields for the harvest. This is why the windows and the doors of many houses are not just locked but boarded with tin-plates or built with concrete. Their inhabitants are afraid that while away (for several months) others may lift their belongings. The school is been functioning for the last 4 years, and the teachers do not get a special training in order to work with Gypsy children. They follow the normal education schedule, and they give 1,5 hour extra classes in the afternoon, to assist the children with their homework as nobody in the family can help them. All the lessons of the national curriculum are taught in the school, except for religion, as the majority of the children are Muslims and only a 10% are Christians.

Then we visited the Family Care Center belonging to the National Social Welfare Organization and spoke to the Director Mrs Athanasiadou. It is called Family Care Center and employees were supposed to work in groups with each Gypsy family, but there is no personnel to offer such services. Only the Director works there on a daily basis. Another employee Mrs Mastrafi comes from Xanthi twice a week and a cleaner comes once a week. Actually the Center, which was planned to include a nursery school where the children could eat, has become a playing ground for all ages. As the responsible lady told us «we have nothing to offer them, neither paper or colors to paint, nor pencils or plasticine. These activities are not supposed to be funded. Ball pens for those children are what a computer is for ours». The only expenses funded are electricity, the rent and some cleaning products. The following day, the Greek Helsinki Monitor bought papers, colors, pencils, ball pens, plasticine, little bricks and biscuits and took them to the Center. Moreover, we must point out that the Center does not have a telephone!

Here the most common disease is hepatitis and, from a sample of 35 persons, half were proven positive to the Australian antigen. A doctor visits the neighborhood twice a week (not always the same doctor). The nurse Mrs Mihailidou who comes once a week (the other days she visits other areas), does not have the time to see to everything. She visits the houses and shows the women how to wash their children and take care of disabled persons who cannot move. She also informs them about contraception. Mrs Mihailidou took us to a house where we met a 17 year old youngster, Salim. He is the only one in the neighborhood who goes to high school and wishes to become a teacher.

May 3. In the afternoon we went to the village Kimeria, (Koin Kui in Turkish), near the city of Xanthi, where 50-60 Christian Roma families live. The majority of the inhabitants of the village are Muslims. Here the Roma have nice houses but they complain because they don’t have their own land to built on. They mainly work as vendors but here too they face problems as they don’t have work permits and therefore do not enjoy social security rights. They told us that the president of the community M. Badak has not built proper sewerage in their neighborhood, and when it rains the torrent waters flood the area.

May 4. On Monday May 4 we visited Purnalik (Remvi in Greek), a neighborhood of Gypsy Roma in the town of Komotini. They have problems with their houses because a road is planned to pass across their area, and the houses will be demolished. The State has not yet told them where they will be transferred to. Only those with property titles will be compensated. They are in a very difficult position, as many of these titles are either in Istanbul since the days of the Othoman Empire, or have been destroyed.

Racism here is very manifest, especially in the school. Many children attending the Greek school have told us that the other children insult them saying «fuck your Turkey» or «go away, you are a Turk». This is why they don’t go to school every day. They also told us that in school, during the lesson of religion, they are not allowed to go out, while in the morning they have to attend the morning prayer. As soon as they finish primary school children start working. The problem of unemployment is very acute here too and they all complain that their jobs have been taken away by the Pontians who came from Russia. We must note here that by government decision, employers who hire Pontians are being subsidized.

May 5. On Tuesday May 5 we visited the Tin Town of Komotini, where Muslim Roma live. It was Saint George’s eve with the old calendar. Despite the fact that it is a Christian feast day and despite the poverty and the misery, the inhabitants of the Tin Town (who have no houses, toilets, water, or jobs) celebrate this day with great enthusiasm. They call it «Romani festival». When we arrived, all the inhabitants, men, women and children were out on the streets. At the same time two bands at two different points of the Tin Town played music (apart from Saint George’s day, the people were also celebrating two marriages) and we felt the irresistible urge to start dancing. The men were slaughtering sheep, two or three sheep for each family, hanging them and skinning them. They were going to stay awake overnight and at 5 o’ clock in the morning everybody would go to the river to get the «good water». The following day the festivities would continue until the night.

May 5. After the Tin Town we went to the village Kalkatza (Kouvet in Turkish) which means strength. Kalkatza is at the outskirts of Komotini, on the road towards the University. The inhabitants deny their identity, despite being Gypsies. Their central problem in unemployment because the State only subsidizes those employers in the area who hire Pontians. The State has brought the Pontians here, in order to alter the population composition. The issue of social security is also a very central one. In a population of 7000 inhabitants only 50 have social security.

May 6. On Wednesday we visited the village Evlalos of the Xanthi Prefecture. The majority of the inhabitants are Muslim and only 50-60 families are Christian Roma. Most of the Roma are vendors and work in folk festivals. Their houses are good, yet they complain that too many people live in each house. They spoke to us about the problem of unemployment and they also said that the prefectural authorities don’t issue work permits for them and so they are unable to work all over Thrace. We also visited the school and spoke to its director M. Papamichail. «Thirty gypsy kids are inscribed in our school» he said «and for the first time this year one of them will attend high school». He told us that the president of the Community, Arif Hussein, is not interested about the school despite the fact that the school’s maintenance is part of his responsibilities (this was obvious, as the school yard was full of weeds). The director of the school has brought the library, the desks and the basic equipment necessary for the school to function, from his own house.

May 7. On Thursday May 7 we arrived at the city of Larisa where many Gypsies are properly installed, like the Rudari or Romanian-Vlachs, but there are also settlements where the so-called Fitziria live, that is the tent-dwellers. We first visited the area of Nea Smyrni where 300 Rudari families live, 3000 persons in all, installed in their own houses. Their origin is from Rumania. The president of the Land Association M. Efthymios Skenzas, told us that some of the inhabitants are traders and they move very often to Sparta to get oranges and to Manolada to get strawberries and potatoes, and others are agricultural workers. Very few of them have social security. Of those who move around, some do use the special card issued for moving pupils, so their children are able to continue school in the new places, and some do not. He complained that here too people don’t have work permits and the police arrests them, and brings them to court. The result is that they have to pay large fines. Some Rudari denounced to us that in many cases policemen use violence against the Roma, both in the settlements and on the streets when they stop them to check them. In this visit we were accompanied by Mrs Voula Apostolou, secretary of the MP of Synaspismos Mrs Nitsa Loule, by the teacher Mrs Vaso Tsiourganou, and by the president of the Uptown Council M. Dimitris Thetvanzis.

May 7. Then we visited the Roma settlement in the area of Neapoli near the Old Peoples’ home. Presently 10-11 families live here. Normally there are about 50 families staying in the settlement but most of them are away for various jobs. When they’ll finish they’ll come back. They don’t have water or any other services and three time a day policemen pass by, tell them to leave and threaten them to evict them by force. They live in the area for the last 30 years. The area where they stay belongs to the municipality and it is the mayor who sends the police to threaten them. His declared position is «I don’t care where you’ll go». The day itself when we visited them, six policemen had already passed by to tell them to leave. «When the policemen come here we know that some inhabitant of the nearby block of flats has called them. You see as we don’t have toilets, the place gets dirty» they told us. When we asked them if they would prefer to stay in proper houses instead of their tents they replied: «Is there a blind man who does not wish to see?». Speaking of the school, they say that their children are «luckless» and don’t go to school because them parents are often obliged to move around. They also spoke to us about the police violence they experience when arrested or stopped on the road for control. We have recorded the personal testimonies of two Gypsies who were beaten up by policemen.

May 7, Tyrnavos. We arrived in Tyrnavos in the afternoon, accompanied by Mrs. Apostolou, secretary of the MP Mrs. Loule, and the professor Mrs. Tsiourganou. 400 Gypsy families live here for the last 6 years, about 2000 people in all. They have bought the land with their own money and each one of them has his ownership titles, yet they live in shanties made with nylon and wood and they cannot build houses because the Municipal Council refuses to include the area in the urban plan. In this way the Council puts pressure to force the Gypsies to leave and move to the rubbish dump in the area of Mavrolithos near Tempi. They don’t have water, electricity or toilets. If someone tries to build a toilet the urban planning authorities come and bring it down. They characterize it an «illegal» building and impose fines to those who raised it. The fines range between 80.000 to 150.000 drachmae. Recently the State authorities understood that it is in their interest to impose larger fines because they get higher revenue and at the same time hey discourage the people from building. Only 20 children go to school, for the first time this year. They were inscribed with great difficulty, because last year they experienced racist reactions by non Gypsy parents. These parents closed down the schools for three days refusing to send their children to the same school attended by Gypsy children. The Gypsies retreated in front of the pressure and did not inscribe their children. We promised that next year we will assist them and make sure that all children are inscribed to attend the school. Here as well we recorded personal testimonies denouncing basic rights violations by the police. Roma are beaten up in police stations, the excuse being «they are Gypsies, they are prone to steal». We must point out that not 35 years have passed since the authorities issued identity cards for the Roma. Until then the Roma were considered «alien».

May 8, Trikala. On May 8 we visited the Gypsy settlement in the Raxa area of Trikala, the so called «camping», accompanied by the municipal councilor and candidate mayor of Trikala M. Y. Spathis, and the municipal councilors Mrs. Maria Mouliota and M. Petros Karaphotis. The representatives of the Ecological Movement of Trikala M. Giorgos Lepeniotis and M. Hristos Papageorgiou also accompanied us. 100 families live here, in an area provided by the Municipality of Trikala. When we arrived they told us that both water supply and electricity were cut off for the last 20 days and that nobody had showed up to repair the damages and re-connect the supply. Here as well nobody wants the Roma, despite the fact that in the surrounding area there are no houses, only fields. A week ago, as the Gypsies themselves denounced, peasants came with tractors and tried to bring down their shanties. Also 10 days ago, in the presence of a district attorney, the police surrounded the settlement at night and invaded the shanties waking up the little children to carry out a search, with the guns stuck at the people’s temples. The children were screaming, terrified. They told us that this happens very often. Sometimes during these invasions women are searched by policemen. The children don’t go to school. Some of them participated at the program against illiteracy organized by the Prefectural Committee of Popular Training (NELE). A bus transported them to attend the classes. But this program is now completed. The problem of unemployment is of great concern for the inhabitants of this settlement as well.

May 8. Leaving the Raxa settlement we moved a few kilometers away to the area of Kokinos Pyrgos belonging to the Trikala Municipality. Here there are some Roudari Gypsies, that is Romanian-Vlachs who are installed in their own houses. In the near proximity, in a big piece of land there are Gypsies living in tents without water, electricity or toilets. When we arrived we found that the municipal police was present asking the Gypsies to leave by invoking a decision of the Municipal Council. We asked the head of the police force to show us the decision, but he did not have it. Thus we obliged them to leave and so the eviction was temporarily avoided. Three days ago the Mayor had sent bulldozers which brought down all the tents, yet the Gypsies raised them again. It is characteristic that the Roudari who live nearby don’t want the tent-dwellers. When their children saw us they started shouting «we want them to leave, we want a playground in this area, so that we may play ball». As the municipal councilors who accompanied us told us, if the Mayor had wished to face up and resolve the problem he could have provided other available areas to the Gypsies, for permanent installation. It is clear that the Mayor’s behavior is racist and it is not the first time he brings down the shanties to force the Gypsies away.

May 8, Sofades. On Friday afternoon we visited the Gypsy neighborhood of Sofades where 400 families live, about 5000 people. The neighborhood is 50 years old and the majority of the inhabitants have their own houses. Of course there are several of them living in shanties and the mayor has told them that council houses will be built in an area near the rubbish dump, called Terma Antheon. First the families having many children will be transferred there and then all those who wish to move. He has promised that the transfer to the new area will start after two years, by which time the rubbish dump will be moved two kilometers away. We must point out that there is a brand new school here with twelve classrooms able to host 300 children and an effort is being made by its director M. Dimitrakopoulos to attract more children by providing breakfast.

May 8, Damaria. Leaving Sofades and moving to the south to pass the night at Delphi, before reaching Lamia, we saw a settlement in a stream. The spectacle was shocking. We left the cars and approached. Here we met the worst conditions so far. Indescribable shanties made of nylon and wood near the river banks. Yet here as well in the midst of all this misery there is racist discrimination. A group of Albanian Gypsies have erected their shanties right by the river with great danger to get drowned if the river is flooded. At the outskirts of the settlement the poorest of the poor have raised their tents. As the president Pandelis Tsakiris told us since 1952 these people were living at the Sperhiada region and then they were transferred here. 60-70 families from Lamia live in the settlement, and 40 other families are from other areas. Near the shanties there is a tar factory and a quarry. At the exit of the settlement the Mayor of Lamia has installed an old train wagon used as a school by the Prefectural Committee of Popular Training (NELE). Lessons started a month ago. About 40 children participate and two teachers are coming, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Here as well the Gypsies complain that the State does not issue work permits and so they cannot work in the popular markets. They reported to us particular cases of police violence against them.

May 9, Messolongi. On Saturday May 8 in the morning we arrived at Messolongi where M. H. Prevezanos employee of the Aetoloakarnania NELE was waiting for us. He accompanied us to the Gypsy neighborhood. There are 25 houses here, but some of them are housing two families. If we count the 10 families living in shanties at the outskirts of the neighborhood the overall number is about 40 families. They mainly work as agricultural workers or as builders, they sell scrap and some of them are fishermen. Yet they all complain about unemployment. In the settlement there are no hygiene conditions for the families who live in the tents. Children have been vaccinated against polio, but not against hepatitis because the vaccination is expensive. There are people suffering from tuberculosis. The area where the shanties are built belongs to the State, but the authorities want to evict the Roma because the railway tracks are planned to pass across the area. 22 children are inscribed in the school, but many of them don’t attend the classes because they don’t get special assistance. NELE has organized many training programs against social exclusion and against illiteracy for the Gypsies, and has provided two halls where the Gypsy Association holds its activities.

In Messolongi we recorded the charges of two minor Gypsies, who were beaten up by the police the previous days. They had obvious marks on their bodies and we took them to the forensic surgeon who confirmed that they were beaten up. They are going to press charges against the police.

May 10, Patras. We visited the neighborhood of Aya Ekaterini in Patras in the so called refugee area. Here 110 Gypsy families live, since before 1922. The houses are very small. There are families with many children living in one room. The inhabitants are demanding better housing conditions. They work as traders, as employees or as workers. Some of them are civil servants and all their children go to school. They don’t speak romanesh anymore, they have forgotten the language.

May 10, Patras. We visited the Makriyanni area in Patras, where 15-20 large families live. Each family counts 8-10 members. They live here for over 30 years now and the area belongs to the State. Conditions are miserable as they live one on top of the other and the place is extremely dirty and full of dead mice. Nearby there is a river called «Lefka» full of mosquitoes. It is called the «neighborhood of shame». The municipality is now building two toilets, but this is not enough. Apart from that the municipality wants to erect a barbed wire fence, scrape along the houses, in order to transform the rest of the area into a place. The children don’t go to school. They feel ashamed because the other children call them «gyfti». They all face the problem of unemployment.

May 10, Kato Souli. Then we visited the settlement of Kato Souli which is also in Patras. Here, near the rubbish dump, about 30 Gypsy families live, some for 17 years, others for 30 years now. Without water, electricity or toilets. They take water from an irrigation ditch. At the same time, quite nearby, a part of the rubbish dump where saplings have been recently planted is being automatically irrigated! As they told us, they were ready to pay 5000-10.000 each and they asked someone from the municipality who operates a bulldozer to clean the rubbish, but he refused. At the entrance of the settlement there is a gate and a sign-post saying: «The rubbish dump is out of use».

May 10, Vrahneika. At noon we visited the Gypsy neighborhood in the location «Pilalonia» where 30 families live in their own houses. They are basket-makers, of the few around who still know this profession. Some of them are agricultural workers and builders. Here too they complain that the Albanians are knocking down the wages and that now nobody prefers the Gypsies anymore. Some go away for one or two months to work for the potato harvest and then come back. From 20-30 children, only 5 go to the school which is 2,5 kilometers away.

May 10, Kato Ahayia. In Kato Ahayia about 2.100 people live according to a recent registration. They live here since 1970 as the president of the Association M. Athanasios Hinas told us. They used to live in tents before. They came to Greece during the population exchange. They complain because the State issues limited numbers of work permits. They don’t have other specific problems.

May 10, Sagaika of Ahaia. It was night and cold when we arrived at Sagaika. Many people have houses and live here for the last 40 years. The tent-dwellers live here for the last 30 years. They lived in Messolongi before. They are mainly occupied as agricultural workers especially in the potato harvest. The children don’t go to school despite the fact that they have acquired the special cards for moving pupils. They complain that the president of the Community M. Giorgos Palaeologos, regardless of the fact that they have lived here for so long, doesn’t register them. «I was born and baptized here, and I have neither papers nor identity card» a Gypsy woman told us. They denounced to us concrete cases of police violence and little Hristos re-enacted the scenes for us. The policemen when stopping them on the road, keep them lying down with their face on the ground, pressing them down with their feet.

May 15. On Friday May 15 M. Nikos Philipakopoulos from a Gypsy settlement near the Makriyanni area of Patras, Peloponnese, called us and denounced to us that workers and equipment of the Prefecture, together with a police force were trying to erect a fence two meters away from their shanties. Let’s point out that the prefabs provided by the Prefecture, are the one on top of the other. There is not enough room even for moving around.

We contacted the vice Prefect M. Karpis and told him to ask the police to leave immediately and not to proceed with the erection of the fence scrape along the shanties. He promised that he would leave a room of 8 meters or that the workers would return to fence the area after the place near the settlement was shaped. Finally the equipment and the police left without erecting the fence.

May 17. The journalist Stratis Balaskas contacted us from Mytilini and denounced to us that the priest of the parish near the Gypsy settlement refused to baptize two gypsy children with the excuse that they had no papers. The baptism was carried out the following Sunday by another priest. The teacher of the settlement was the godfather.

May 22. On Friday May 22 we visited the Aspropyrgos settlement of Attica. We found out that the Mayor did not implement what he had promised back in April, that is, he did not sent bulldozers to level out the ground, did not spread gravel, and most of all did not take any action to supply the settlement with water.

May 1998

Sofia Nikolaidou

 

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