5.1 Abusive Police Raids on Romani Settlements 104
5.2 Ill-Treatment of Roma at the Hands of the Police 116
5.3 Failure to Prosecute or Otherwise Adequately Discipline
Perpetrators of Police Abuse Where Roma are Victims 129
5.4 Summary: Police Racism 148
6. Exclusion of Roma from the Education System 153
6.1 Racial Segregation in the Greek School System 153
6.2 Collusion of Local Authorities in the Failure to Attend School 156
6.3 Denial of Romani Identity in the Education System 164
6.4 Summary: “Agrammatos” 168
7. Barriers to Access to Health Care and Other Social Support Services 174
8. Anti-Discrimination Law and Government Programmes on Roma 178
8.1 Anti-Discrimination Law 178
8.2 The 1996 “National Policy Framework for Greek Gypsies” 184
8.3 The 2001 “Comprehensive Programme Action for the Social
Integration of Greek Gypsies” 190
8.4 Government Loan Programmes 199
9. Conclusion: Cleaning Operations 203
10. Recommendations 206
11. Bibliography 210
12. Summary in Romani 217
13. Appendices: Some Documents from the ERRC/GHM Archives 220
This report was produced by the European Roma Rights Center(ERRC) and the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM). Panayote Dimitras and Theodoros Alexandridis wrote drafts of the report based on ERRC/GHM research as well as other ERRC/GHM documentation. Anne Burley, Claude Cahn, Savelina Russinova and Heather Tidrick copy-edited and expanded one or more drafts. Dimitrina Petrova and Panayote Dimitras copy-edited the final version and authorised the publication of the report. In addition, the following ERRC and GHM researchers, consultants, interns and staff members contributed significantly to the production of this report: Dimitris Angelides, Tara Bedard, Anita Danka, Maria Dimitriou, István Fenyvesi, Orestis Georgiadis, Demetra Kassimis, Georgios Kloudas, Spyros Kloudas, Angeliki Kotsantoni, Mariana Lenkova, Sophia Nikolaidou, Antonia Papadopoulou, Nafsika Papanikolatos, Terry Platis, Christina Rougheri, Demi Sakellaropoulou, Apostolis Stragalinos, Orsolya Szendrey, Sundy Topidou, Georgia Tsaklaganos, and Mary Elen Tsekos. Mayra Gomez of the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) read the chapter on residential segregation of Roma in Greece and provided comments on it in light of international housing rights provisions. Historians Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, specialists in Romani history and culture, commented on the history chapter.
In compiling this report ERRC and GHM have also extensively drawn upon reports, research and expertise of Minority Rights Group-Greece (MRG-G), a close collaborator of GHM. ERRC and GHM are particularly indebted to those Roma who were willing to spend their time and describe the problems they were facing. In addition, many persons (both in their professional and personal capacities) provided invaluable assistance and up-to-date information, including in particular: Vasso Christopoulou, Leonidas Dandrakis, Mimi Firogeni, Makis Nodaros, and Michales Vasilakis. A number of Greek state officials were also very helpful in compiling material on the human rights situation of Roma. Last but not least, ERRC and GHM are thankful to Thanasis Triaridis of DROM Network for Roma Social Rights whose tireless commitment in recent years helped change the situation of Roma in Greater Thessaloniki and contributed to the defence of Roma rights throughout Greece.
“The unchecked, without permit, encampment of wandering nomads (Athinganoi [Gypsies], etc.) in whatever region is prohibited. [...] The lands for the organised encampments of wandering nomads must be outside the inhabited areas and in good distance from the approved urban plan or the last contiguous houses. [...] Encampment is prohibited near archaeological sites, beaches, landscapes of natural beauty, visible by main highway points or areas which could affect the public health (springs supplying drinking water, etc.).” Common Ministerial Decree of the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Minister of Health No A5/696/25.4-11.5.83, “Sanitary Provision for the Organised Relocation of Wandering Nomads”, Official Gazette B’ 243.
1. Executive Summary
ERRC/GHM monitoring of Roma rights in Greece – ongoing without interruption since 1997 – has established that large numbers of Roma in Greece live in racially segregated ghettos which stand in stark contrast to any other residential areas of Greece. While many Greek Roma live in conditions close to the standard or standard for Greece, a substantial part of the Romani population live in inhuman conditions. This very exposed segment of the Romani population inhabits substandard housing or has no housing at all. Racial segregation not only imposes on Roma inhuman and degrading conditions but also denies Roma the enjoyment of a range of other fundamental human rights. Exposed Romani settlements are often targets of abusive police raids based on racial profiling which subject numerous families to brutal interference with home and private life, ill-treatment and harassment. The lives of many Roma are further disrupted by forced evictions the execution of which leaves many Romani families homeless. Ghetto life condemns Roma to ghetto schools or deprives them altogether of access to school as well as of access to health care and other social services available to the public. Systematic discrimination against Roma in all spheres of social life, which persists without any meaningful effort on the part of the Greek state to counter it, is responsible for the deepening exclusion of Roma from Greek society. In the extreme case, some Roma in Greece are stateless, having never been provided with the most fundamental recognition of participation in society – citizenship. Although human rights abuses of ethnic Greeks and others also often go unpunished in Greece, Roma suffer an especially high number of human rights violations, disproportionate to their percentage in the Greek population. This creates a climate of impunity that breeds further violations.
Anti-Romani racism permeates discourse about Roma in Greece and infects nearly all aspects of interactions between Roma and non-Roma in Greece. The Greek government has done little to nothing to acknowledge – let alone address – anti-Romani racism in Greece. Although the Greek government has denied at international fora that there exist any Greek laws furthering racial discrimination, a 1983 Ministerial Decree entitled “Sanitary Provision for the Organised Relocation of Wandering Nomads” – in effect today – sanctions segregation and ghettoisation of Roma. Article 1(1) of the Decree states:
The unchecked, without permit, encampment of wandering nomads (Athinganoi, etc.) in whatever region is prohibited.1 Pursuant to the Decree:
The lands for the organised encampments of wandering nomads [...] must be outside inhabited areas and in good distance from the approved urban plan or the last contiguous houses.2 The link between “wandering nomads” and “Athinganoi” is informed by racist presuppositions about Roma as a mysterious wandering folk with no links or loyalties other than to kin and clan, and with a propensity to crime and fraud – a not-quite-human category requiring government action for the protection of “normal people”. Hence the remedy brought by the 1983 Ministerial Decree: racial segregation.
Reinforcing a policy of racial segregation in the field of housing are also high numbers of forced evictions of Roma, frequently accompanied by wholesale destruction of property belonging to Roma. Authorities engaging in such actions frequently deny that evictions or destruction of property has taken place, and in many cases state that they have indulged merely in “cleaning operations”. By claiming that the massive and often violent police and municipal actions in places where Roma live are only “cleaning operations”, authorities in Greece assuage a racist popular opinion into the comfortable view that such actions are harmless. In addition, the justification built around the idea that a massive raid and forced eviction is a “cleaning operation” absolves Greek authorities of the need to comply with existing procedural guarantees. ERRC/GHM monitoring indicates that “cleaning operations” have become a by-word for efforts to expel Roma from the places in which they live. The number and extent of such expulsions, combined with an explicit policy of shifting Roma to the extreme perimetre of Greek society, have compelled ERRC and GHM to conclude that Roma in Greece as a whole are being held in a state of artificial remove, kept in permanently circulating exclusion from the mainstream of Greek society. “Cleaning operations” is the euphemism for the actions perpetuating that state of exclusion.
In response to criticism after a major police raid on a Romani settlement in February 1996, in June 1996 the Greek government announced a programme on Roma entitled “National Policy Framework for Greek Gypsies” consisting of a series of measures aimed at alleviating some of the problems Roma in Greece face. Many of the measures referred to in the document, such as the establishment of five temporary but adequately equipped settlements, were to be implemented immediately. However, the 1996 Programme failed to meet many of its aims. According to the government’s “Implementation Review for the Years 1996-1999”, no relocation of Romani settlements had taken place by the end of 1999, even of the five settlements that were to have been relocated “immediately”.3 In May 2001, the Greek Minister of Internal Affairs Ms Vaso Papandreou announced the “Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Social Integration of Greek Gypsies”. This Plan appears even more ambitious than its predecessor. Certain aspects of the Plan can be welcomed. For example, priority is rightly accorded to projects aimed at alleviating the suffering of those Roma living in the most appalling conditions. The Plan, however, contains some troubling aspects. Most notably, while the distinctive ethno/cultural characteristics of the Romani community are referred to in many of the provisions of the Plan, one of its principles is the avoidance of the term “minority” when referring to Roma.
Greek authorities have to date undertaken no efforts to ensure that Greek domestic law is brought into conformity with Council of the European Union Directive 2000/43/EC“implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin”. The equal treatment of any person legally on the territory of the country is guaranteed by the Greek Constitution. However, Law 927/1979 (amended by Article 24 of Law 1419/1984 and Article 39.4 of Law 2910/2001), Greece’s principal implementing legislation on the prevention of acts or activities related to racial or religious discrimination, is inadequate in the extreme. Elements missing from current Greek anti-discrimination law include:
· The concept of, as well as provisions banning, indirect discrimination;
· Provisions requiring that the alleged perpetrator bear the burden of proof in cases in which a prima facie case of racial or ethnic discrimination has been established;
· Adequate specification of fields in which racial discrimination is banned;
· Sanctions for violators of the principle of equal treatment;
· Damages to victims of racial or ethnic discrimination;
· A ban on “victimisation” or “harassment”.
Further, there is no implementation body on anti-discrimination in Greece. Although reference is frequently made in this context to the Greek Ombudsman and the National Commission for Human Rights, neither body has any formal powers to sanction discriminators and both are dependant entirely on the police, the administration and the judiciary to see justice served in racial discrimination cases.
To date, as late as four months prior to the deadline for full implementation of the EU Directive (July 2003), no serious discussion of amending Greek domestic law to comply with the Directive has taken place. Similarly, as of the date of the publication of this report, Greece had not ratified Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, nor made the declaration under Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, recognising the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to hear individual complaints.
Indeed, Greek lawmakers appear unable or unwilling to grasp the nature of the ban on racial discrimination. This reflects the view prevalent in today’s Greece that racism is a matter for the extremist margins, and that the average Greek would be incapable of acting – consciously or unconsciously – out of racial animus. As a result, at present individuals in Greece are not protected from the severe harm of racial discrimination by adequate laws.
In January 2003, the Greek government took up the Presidency of the European Union. In its statement on the priorities of the Greek Presidency, the government declared: “Our message reflects our objective of promoting a community of values which recognises the citizen’s right to security, democracy and a better quality of life; which will create institutions able to guarantee participation and equality; and which will make the European citizen sense that his or her voice is heard, that he or she belongs to a new single family, to Our Europe.”4The ERRC/GHM urges the Greek government to lead by its own example in the accomplishment of these objectives. To give effect to its own commitments, the government should immediately address the human rights situation of Roma in the Greece and ensure that anti-discrimination legislation and policy are adequately designed and effectively implemented. The current state of persistent human rights abuse against one particular ethnic group among citizens of the European Union – Roma in Greece – poses a serious threat to the principles of “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law”5 on which the EU is founded.
Intensive field missions conducted by the ERRC and the GHM aswell as regular reporting by ERRC/GHM monitors, revealed several patterns of human rights abuse against Roma in Greece:
1. Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Roma in the Field of Housing:Large numbers of Roma in Greece today live in a state of racial segregation from non-Roma, in violation of the unequivocal ban on racial segregation provided under international law. In addition, Roma in Greece frequently experience forced eviction and/or the threat of forced eviction. In recent years, a sharp rise in the number of forced evictions of Roma from settlements and the subsequent demolition of their homes, as well as the destruction of property belonging to Romani individuals or their families has been documented. These are the Greek “cleaning operations”. Some Romani families have been victims of several forced evictions in succession. The 2004 Olympic Games, which will take place in Athens, are being exploited by the region’s local authorities as a pretext for evicting Roma. Also, in a number of municipalities, authorities have refused to register factually residing Roma as resident, effectively precluding them from access to public services necessary for the realisation of a number of fundamental social and economic rights. Many Roma live in appalling material and environmental circumstances in Greece in settlements unfit for human habitation. Racist policies by Greek municipalities are implemented almost entirely unchecked, resulting in residential segregation and/or homelessness. In at least one instance, ghettoising practices are explicitly endorsed by existing national policy. This report examines the various elements that comprise residential segregation of Roma in Greece:
1. A 1983 Ministerial Decree which requires residential segregation of “wandering nomads”, a term explicitly referring to Roma;
2. Forced evictions of Roma without appropriate alternative provision being made;
3. Threatened expulsions of Roma by municipal authorities;
4. Discriminatory refusals by local authorities to register Roma as locally resident, effectively depriving them of access to a number of social and economic rights;
5. Harassment of Roma by municipal authorities in order to drive them from their homes; and
6. Failure to provide basic services and infrastructure, as required by Greece’s international obligations.
Ruling recently in a case in which Romani homes were destroyed by a mob in the presence of and with the acquiescence of state officials in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1995, the United Nations Committee Against Torture held that “[…]destruction of houses constitutes, in the circumstances, acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The Committee found that Yugoslavia violated Article 16(1) of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) which stipulates that, “Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [...] as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity [...]”. The European Court of Human Rights has also ruled that the destruction of houses and the eviction of those living in them constitutes a form of ill-treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.6 It seems only a matter of time before Greek practice in the area of housing rights of Roma is similarly ruled in violation of international human rights law.
2.Police Violence Against Roma: Abusive police raids on Romani settlements are commonplace in Greece. These raids are based on racial profiling of Roma by the police. Numerous allegations of Romani victims also indicate that ill-treatment of Romani individuals, amounting in some cases to torture, and frequently including physical and verbal abuse in police custody, is widespread. In the recent years, there have been at least three deaths of Roma in Greece due to excessive use of firearms by law enforcement officials. Police officers’ use of racial epithets in some cases of police abuse of Roma is indicative that racial prejudice plays a role in the hostile treatment to which officers subject Roma. The Greek state’s obligations under international human rights law notwithstanding, Greek authorities have failed to ensure that allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and impartially investigated, or that perpetrators are brought to justice and victims provided with adequate redress. Most incidents of police violence appear to be ignored or, at best, receive only a cursory, informal investigation by police, almost inevitably failing to result in adequate disciplinary action against the police officers involved.
3. Exclusion of Roma from the Educational System: Romani children in Greece are effectively denied access to education on a par with that received by their non-Romani peers. A combination of racial discrimination and extreme poverty ensures that very few Romani children are given the opportunity to complete even basic primary education. Many Romani children in Greece are subjected to segregation in ghetto schools and Roma-only classes which provide inferior education. Municipal and school authorities have actively hindered access of Romani children to education by refusing to register Romani students in local schools and dispersing them to schools far away from their places of residence as well as by failing to provide school transport for Roma.
4. Barriers to Access to Health Care and Other Social Support Services:Many Roma lack basic identity documents, making it impossible for them to claim basic health care and state social benefits. The failure of the health care system to accommodate the needs of Romani women and children places these groups particularly at risk. Many Romani children are not sufficiently provided with the protection offered by vaccination because of a combination of their failure to attend school and the lack of readily-understandable information available to their mothers.
Based on the findings of this report, the ERRC and the GHM urge Greek authorities to act on the following recommendations:
1. Facilitate access to Greek citizenship for those Roma residing in Greece who are stateless and provide the necessary legal documents (such as identity cards) to all Roma not in possession of such documents.
2. Without delay, repeal the racist decision of the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Minister of Health entitled “Sanitary Provision for the Organised Relocation of Wandering Nomads”, No A5/696/25.4-11.5.83, Official Gazette B’ 243.
3. Use all appropriate means to protect and promote the right to housing and guarantee protection against forced evictions. Ensure that evictions do not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to other human rights abuses. Guarantee security of tenure to Romani occupants of houses and land, ensuring, inter alia, a general protection from forced evictions. Guarantee due process in line with international standards related to forced evictions. Guarantee non-discrimination against Roma in processes related to forced evictions. Guarantee adequate pecuniary and non-pecuniary civil compensation as well as comprehensive criminal and administrative redress in cases of illegal forced evictions. Make available adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land where those affected by evictions are unable to provide for themselves.
4. Bring to justice public officials responsible for forced evictions of Roma in breach of Greek and international law.
5. In order for many Roma – especially those presently living in Romani settlements – to be set on an equal footing with other Greek citizens in the area of housing rights:
· Order local authorities to provide, without delay, adequate potable water, electricity, waste removal, public transport, road provisions and other public infrastructure to those Romani settlements which presently lack one or more of the above;
· In the interest of empowering Roma to take control of their own housing fate, provide an executive “amnesty” for the so-called “illegal” Romani settlements currently existing on state-owned land, granting title to land and property to persons factually resident on a particular plot, and establishing a “year zero” for the purposes of zoning and future regulation.
6. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons factually residing in a given municipality, without regard to ethnicity.
7. Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse of Roma, including excessive use of fire arms, ill-treatment in police custody and abusive raids on Romani settlements, and promptly bring to justice perpetrators and provide due compensation to the victims.
8. Take appropriate measures to ensure that persons who may have been victims of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials are not intimidated or otherwise dissuaded from lodging a formal complaint.
9. Critically review all Greek legal norms regulating police behaviour – in particular, the use of force. Ensure that the relevant legal provisions are in conformity with the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (1979), as well as the Basic Principles of its implementation adopted by ECOSOC in 1989 and Resolution 690 (1979) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: Declaration on the Police.
10. Ensure that Romani schoolchildren have equal access to quality education in a desegregated school environment.
11. Design pre-school programmes for Romani children to learn the primary language of schooling and to attain a level ensuring an equal start at the first class of the primary school.
12. Where instances of abuse in the school system are reported, without delay punish school authorities responsible, and implement measures aimed at preventing further abuse.
13. Develop curriculum resources for teaching Romani language, culture and history in schools, and make them available to all schools.
14. Implement in situ health programmes in Romani settlements aimed at addressing the numerous health issues that Roma living in substandard housing face. Promote awareness of the needs of the Roma among medical staff.
15. Without delay, adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in conformity with current European and international standards, in particular Council of the European Union Directive 2000/43/EC“implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin” and General Policy Recommendation No 7 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. Establish an effective enforcement body and guarantee its administrative independence; provide resources adequate to enable its effectiveness in accordance with General Policy Recommendation No 2 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
16. Without delay, ratify Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights.
17. Make the declaration under Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, recognising the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to hear individual complaints.
18. Sign and ratify all substantive articles of the Revised European Social Charter without reservations.
19. Without delay,
· Ratify the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities, expressly recognising Roma as a national minority. Sign and ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, expressly recognising Romani as a minority language in Greece.
· Ratify the European Convention on Nationality and the International Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
· Ratify the European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent Crimes.
· Sign and ratify the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education.
· Ratify the Optional Protocols of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
20. Undertake to submit all overdue reports to inter-governmental organisations promptly, thus enabling both national and international NGOs to be informed of and comment upon Greek government policy in relation to Roma rights. In addition, publish in Greek and implement the Concluding Comments/Observations made by UN bodies when reviewing Greek state reports.
21. Ensure that adequate legal assistance is available to victims of discrimination and human rights abuse by providing free legal services to indigents and members of weak groups, including Roma.
22. Proactively recruit Roma for professional positions in the administration, the police force, and the judiciary and to take other steps to remedy the exclusion of Roma from decision-making in public affairs.
23. Conduct systematic monitoring of access of Roma and other minorities to justice, education, housing, employment, health care and social services, and establish a mechanism for collecting and publishing disaggregated data in these fields, in a form readily comprehensible to the wider public.
24. Conduct public information campaigns on human rights and remedies available to victims of human rights abuse, including such public information campaigns in the Romani language.
25. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for national and local administrators, members of the police force, and the judiciary.
26. At the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.
It is difficult to estimate with any reasonable degree of accuracy the number of Roma living in Greece today. Even official sources provide varying estimates. The 2001 Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Social Integration of the Greek Gypsies, for example, gave the number 250,000-300,000.7 At a Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2001, the Greek delegation presented another estimate: Roma were estimated to be between 120,000 to 150,000, 70 to 85% of whom were held to be well integrated in Greek society.8 In 1997, Minority Rights Group International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in London, estimated that there were between 160,000 and 200,000 Roma living in Greece,9 while other researchers have suggested a figure as high as 500,000.10 GHM estimates the Romani population to be approximately 3% of the total Greek population, around 300,000 to 350,000.
This confusion is inter alia a product of the very identity of the Greek state. In Greece, historically, the conceptions of the body politic have hinged upon a rigidly enforced vision that all persons in Greece are Greek, with little room provided for different cultural identities. According to the Greek scholar Stephanos Stavros,
The official ideology of the Greek State has been built almost exclusively around the concept of a single nation, with a common creed and language. This incontrovertible fact is reflected in, amongst other things, all the constitutions by which the country has been governed in its 160-year history, including the one currently in force.11 The Greek state has been extremely reluctant to recognise officially the existence of minorities of any kind within its jurisdiction, as this would fundamentally challenge its asserted ethnic and religious homogeneity. Thus, the Greek state officially acknowledges the existence of only one minority group, that of the Muslims of Thrace – a group whose existence and rights are guaranteed by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty on the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations.12 With the exception of those Roma who were covered by the Lausanne Treaty, most Roma were not even recognised as entitled to Greek citizenship until the mid-1970s. Until then, Roma were treated as “aliens of Gypsy descent”, having special identification documents which authorities required them to renew every two years.13 Perhaps the only substantiated assessment of the size of the Romani population of Greece is that provided by the Public Enterprise for Town Planning and Accommodation (“DEPOS” in Greek) in 1999. According to the DEPOS Study (based on records gathered from 1996 to 1999 from various sources), there were approximately 63,000 settled Roma and 10,570 itinerant ones.14 As recently as 1999, the Greek government illustrated its unwillingness to acknowledge cultural diversity as an aspect of Greek society. Asserting its view of the nature of Greek society in its reply to the observations of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its Second Report on Greece, the government stated:
The policies of the Greek Government in the fields falling in the purview of the ECRI, as indeed in all fields, are determined by its understanding of the needs of the persons who live in the country – without distinction as to the persons’ nationality, ethnic origin, religion or even the legality of their presence in Greece – and do not stem from any theoretical/ideological position as to the compositional character of the Greek society. And of course they do not imply adherence by the Greek Government to the notion of a multicultural character of the Greek society. This notion, repeatedly mentioned in the report, has in our view not been sufficiently analyzed in all its political and legal implications, and therefore cannot be resorted to lightly.15
Despite the above statement, the state authorities in Greece are conscious of the mosaic of ethnic, national and religious groups living in modern Greece. Until 1951, for example, the official census contained information on such groups, namely Pomaks, Turks, Roma, Macedonians, Arvanites, Aromanians, Jews, Armenians, Catholics, and Protestants.
The question of the size of the Romani community is further complicated by the migration during the 1990s of many Albanian Roma to Greece.16 Those Roma who were registered by the state agencies, fell under the category of “Albanian immigrants”. Consequently, they have not been included in estimates of the Romani population by official agencies, and only empirical research on their number (Albanian Roma tend to set up their sheds close to already existing Romani settlements) can be of any use.
The underestimate of the size of the Romani population in Greece may at first appear to be a trivial complaint, particularly in the light of what follows in this report. Yet the confusion as to the numbers of Roma living in Greece is, in fact, a symptom of a much more fundamental problem: the refusal of the Greek state to accept the existence of individuals who identify as Romani as an integral part of Greek society. Unfortunately, although the Greek state does not officially recognise the self-identification of a number of its citizens and residents as Romani, its agencies and their fellow citizens are often all too clearly aware that Roma are not the same as other Greek citizens, and discriminate against them accordingly.
While the Greek government is cognisant of the appalling situation of many Roma in Greece and has made positive statements about the urgent need for improvement,17 little has to date been achieved. The Greek government’s half-hearted efforts at the solution of the problems facing Roma are further eroded by intense anti-Romani racism among the wider population,18 translating into a wide variety of abusive actions against Roma – from outright boycott of government policies at the local level to ostracism in all kinds of social relationships. The media in Greece play an important role in fostering anti-Romani attitudes.19 It is regular practice for certain sections of the media, for example, to refer to the ethnic or national identity of suspects and criminals when reporting on crime, when the person belongs to a minority or migrant group.20 In two recent examples, the press reported that a Romani couple was apprehended attempting to sell babies, and that two Romani children were charged with attempted robbery.21 A similar eagerness to emphasise Romani criminality has been shown in other press reports. On February 22, 2002, the local daily newspaper Kathimerina Nea charged the Romani community living in the Peloponnese with planning to instigate a rebellion.22 According to the newspaper report, Roma do not obey the law, and their “self-appointed leaders” all have criminal records. In addition, the reluctance of other Romani communities in the Peloponnese region to endorse municipal relocation plans for them is seen by Kathimerina Nea as constituting a threat to Greek democracy itself.23 In another example, an article in the To Vima national daily newspaper of October 6, 2001, carrying the title “Increased Criminality Rate by Romani Gangs in Menidi, Zefyri and Ano Liosia”, portrayed the featured Athens suburbs as havens of Romani criminality.24 The article presented data which the author claimed had been provided by the police, supporting the assertion of high levels of criminality in these areas. The article also reported similarly high rates of criminality in the municipality of Menemeni and the settlement of Aghia Sofia, two areas in the wider Thessaloniki area with substantial Romani communities.25 Sometimes the anti-Romani bias in the Greek media is utilised by racists who wish to sway public opinion with false or distorted information toward an unfavourable view of Roma and stir up anti-Romani sentiment. This appears to be precisely what occurred following a police raid in Argolida, in the Peloponnese region, in April 2001. On April 20, 2001, following the theft of a car belonging to a Romani trader by three other Romani men 10 days earlier, the police of Argolida carried out a raid upon a local Romani settlement where the men suspected of the theft were thought to have taken refuge.26 According to police press releases, during the police pursuit following the hijacking of the car, shots had been fired in the air by one of the suspects, slightly wounding a police officer. An undisclosed number of officers apprehended one of the culprits, along with other Romani men wanted for numerous different offences. According to the police directorate, the search of the settlement yielded no drugs, and the police recovered only one shotgun.27 Nevertheless, according to information reportedly leaked to popular daily newspapers by police officers and subsequently published in the Athens daily newspaper To Vima on April 21, 2001, the police recovered huge quantities of drugs, as well as numerous weapons.
Anti-Romani stories such as these abound in both extremist and mainstream media. A 2002 report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), based on monitoring of the media during the period 1995–2000, supports this observation, asserting that the main negative stereotypes related to the Romani population are the following: they are involved in drug trafficking, they sell their babies, they oblige their children to beg in the streets, they are dirty and they do not want to integrate into Greek society. Hate speech undercurrents have appeared in the recent past in both national and local newspapers.28 Notwithstanding the high levels of hate speech against minorities and migrants that mire public discourse in Greece, however, the authorities have taken no action to condemn racist statements. Intense anti-Romani racism in the Greek media is a powerful factor inciting anti-Romani racism in Greek society. The authorities’ failure to act to discourage or condemn such hate speech lends further credence to the distortions and fabrications of the Greek media vis-ŕ-vis Roma. Such reporting perpetuates the misconception of Romani criminality, which fuels anti-Romani sentiment in the general population.
The main goal of this report is to present the human rights situation of the Romani population of Greece. Based upon extensive research undertaken from 1997 onwards, the report’s underlying theme is that the Greek state has failed to address satisfactorily many of the human rights issues burdening a significant portion of the Roma of Greece in their everyday lives. The report is structured as follows: The next chapter provides a brief history of the Roma in Greece. Chapter 4 details discriminatory law and policy of the Greek state, the result of which is racial segregation of Roma and denial of a range of fundamental human rights. The report describes patterns of forced evictions and other coercive actions aimed at the expulsion of Roma from Greek municipalities. Chapter 5 describes police abuse of Roma, including racial profiling and torture and ill-treatment of Romani individuals. Chapter 6 provides an overview of the problems facing Roma in the Greek education system. Chapter 7 brings to light some problems related to access to health care facing Roma in Greece. Chapter 8 discusses Greek efforts in the field of anti-discrimination, and the implementation of recent programmes of the Greek government on Roma. The report concludes with recommendations to the Greek government, aimed at improving its human rights record with respect to Roma.
3. A Short History of Roma in Greece
The history of Roma in Greece is somewhat obscure, due in part to the fact that Roma have left behind very few autochthonous community records. However, the Indian origins of Roma are now more-or-less undisputed, in particular because the Romani language is Indic and closely related to other major Indic languages, such as Hindi.29 Scholars’ views about the time Roma left India vary between the 7th and the 13th century. According to many authors, the ancestors of the Roma migrated from India in multiple waves, and left their homeland in different times and for different reasons, rather than travelling to Europe in one single exodus.
The first substantive, though contested by some authors, reference to a possible presence of Roma on European soil is to be found in an 11th century document, the Georgian Life of Saint George the Athonite, in which it is stated that the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Monomachus (1042–1055 AD) employed the Adsincani, “…a Samaritan people, descendants of Simon the Magician, who were called Adsincani, and notorious for soothsaying and sorcery”, in order to get rid of the wild animals that were devastating his hunting preserve near Constantinople.30 The term “Adsincani” is the Georgian form of the Greek word Atsigganoi(Atsinganoi) or Aqigganoi (Athinganoi), from which the non-English words for Roma (such as the French Tsiganes, the Italian Zingari, the German Zigeuner and the Greek Tsigganoi (Tsinganoi) are derived.31 Some authors, however, argue that the 11th century Georgian document is not a valid reference to Roma and the first reliable documentation of the Gypsy/Roma presence in Byzantium is two hundred years later.32 According to some historians, the term “Athinganoi” (aqigganoi)was originally used to describe the followers of an Eastern Orthodox religious sect that emerged in Asia Minor during the eighth and ninth centuries.33 The sect gradually acquired a significant following all over the Byzantine Empire, and even Byzantine emperors and other high-ranking officials are reported to have entered into its ranks.34 The Eastern Orthodox Church became alarmed by the steadily growing number of the sect’s adherents and resorted to drastic measures. As early as the seventh century, the Athinganoi were accused of wizardry and heresy, paving the way for their persecution, which reached its peak in the ninth century.35 The Athinganoi were likely unrelated to the Roma, yet the fact that both groups traditionally engaged in practices such as fire worship and fortune-telling probably led to the confusion of the Roma, newly arrived, with the practices of the heretic Athinganoi.36 The two groups became increasingly confused until the virtual extinction of the original Athinganoi, at which time the term came to be used exclusively in connection with Roma.37 This confusion of identity gained the Roma the wrath of the Orthodox Church: Sentences of excommunication awaited those identified as Athinganoi, and the faithful were exhorted to exclude them and their practices from their midst.38 The Church would also go on to enslave a significant number of Roma on its lands in the Ionian islands, the plains of Thessaly and Thrace.39 According to other authors, the term “Athinganoi” originally, since the 7th century, was a reference to the Gypsies/Roma who had reached Byzantium from India already then.40 In a further confusion of identities, a 15th-century canon provided that any member of the Church that had recourse to “…Egyptian women [Aiguptissas] who could foretell the future”,41 would be punished with a five-year excommunication sentence. It is difficult to ascertain whether the term “Egyptian” (from which the word “Gypsy” is derived) referred to Roma already present in Greece, although the Slavic translation of the canon apparently suggests this to be likely.42 In any case, the word “Egyptians” quickly caught on and was used interchangeably with the term “Athinganoi” to refer to Roma.
Greek historians’ attempts to describe Roma have sometimes contributed to the racist stereotyping of their behaviour and the continuing confusion about their ethnic origins. For example, one author writing in 1954, seeking to explain the difference between two different terms in Greek – “Gyftos” and “Tsinganoi” – both of which are best rendered in English as “Gypsies”, observed that the former were cowards, had no musical ear and were usually settled, while the latter can be clever, engage in all sorts of trade and are usually itinerant.43 The search for distinctions between “good Gypsies” and “bad Gypsies” historically is an integral part of the corpus of anti-Romani discourse in Greece.
Despite the racist stereotyping and persecution that have accompanied the confusion about their identity and origins, Roma have made a considerable contribution to the history of the Byzantine Empire. Not long after their arrival in the European territories of the Byzantine Empire, it appears that Roma began making their way all over present-day Greece, settling mostly in Venetian-held territories.44 Historical records indicate that Roma provided valuable service to the crumbling Byzantine Empire, the Roma of Thrace fighting tenaciously against Ottoman forces from 1356 onwards.45 Many Roma also settled in the Ionian Islands, especially Corfu, during the latter half of the 14th century. In fact, the Roma of Corfu were so numerous that they made an important contribution to the island’s revenue by virtue of the taxes they paid. For this reason, they formed a separate feudal estate, the so-called Feudo Agincanorum, which existed until the 19th century, and whose administration was apparently a very profitable enterprise.46 The numbers of Roma increased to the extent that in a document of 1415, the “Egyptians” were held to constitute one of the most important “nations” of Peloponnese, residing primarily in Methoni and Nafplio.47 Moreover, it appears that in Nafplio, they formed an independent “Gypsy military unit” (drunga acinganorum), with its own officer (drungarius). 48 Under the Ottoman Empire, Roma were differentiated by their ethnicity from the rest of the population, and did not fall under the two hierarchicacal categories – true believers and infidels (raya) – to which the Ottomans divided the population.49 Historians point to evidence revealing the low esteem for Roma held by both the Ottomans and the raya, and the existence of the negative social stereotypes for Roma which have persisted to date.50 Although the vast majority of Roma living in the territory of today’s Greece did not convert to Islam during the Ottoman period, some did.51 In Thrace, Roma formed a special administrative unit, known as the Sanjak of the Gypsies (Cingane Sancagi) with their own governor (Cingane Sancagi Bey).52 Consequently, as an ethnic Greek doctor living in Istanbul noted in 1857, “in no other country has the administration spared the Roma from persecution as in the Ottoman Empire.”53 Although Roma – whatever their religion – generally benefited from Ottoman rule, some historians note that Greek Roma played a considerable part in the Greek revolution against Ottoman control in 1821. Four of the members of the “Friends’ Society”, a secret organisation whose services were instrumental in instigating the revolution, were reportedly of Romani origin.54 Furthermore, it is argued that many of those who fought in the revolution were Romani, and Roma were often employed as musicians by Greek military officers in order to entertain their troops.55 The centuries-old Romani presence in Greece had become well entrenched by the time of the “Revolution of 1821” (the Greek War of Independence from Ottoman rule). At that time, there was hardly any important Greek city that did not contain a Romani neighbourhood (“gyftomahala”, “gyftika”). The names of a few towns or villages contained the prefix “Gypsy”, denoting that they were predominantly (and at times even exclusively) inhabited by Roma.56 However, following the revolution, the newly independent Greek state, which was recognised in 1830, quickly set about homogenising the mosaic of ethnic and religious groups living within its territories – in common with other European states in this period. The Greek state was predicated upon the imposition of a single Greek identity at the expense of all others.57 The actively cultivated ignorance of other groups within Greece since the revolution has made any information on Roma in subsequent periods of Greek history difficult to obtain. This has been compounded by the magnitude of the upheavals in the ongoing conflict with the Ottoman Empire. For example, while it is certain that many Christian Roma were sent to Greece during the 1923 exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey,58 accurate information as to their number, origin and details of their settlement in Greece is not available.
The evidence suggests that Roma participated in the various wars in which the Greek state engaged – participation in war being today an important determinant of value in the eyes of many Greeks, as well as in the version of history promoted by the Greek education system. This detail, however, is omitted in Greek historiography. It is, therefore, little known in Greece that Roma of the Flambouro village in Serres fought side by side with Greek troops during the 1912–13 Balkan wars, and that many Roma also joined the national resistance movement during the Second World War, usually as part of the Communist-led National Liberation Front (Ethniko Apelefterotiko Metopo – EAM).59 To date, the instances of Romani participation in the national resistance movement and their contributions to the struggle for liberation remain almost entirely unrecognised in Greece. It appears however that, belatedly, some amateur researchers have turned their eyes in that direction. According to evidence gathered by Mr Christos Roupas, a resistance fighter himself, many Roma in Greece were incarcerated for their active participation in the resistance during World War II, often joining armed partisan groups. Roma also provided hiding places to the resistance fighters and supplied them with ammunition and information.60 As all over Nazi-occupied Europe, the Roma of Greece suffered a heavy toll during World War II, although accurate figures are not available.61 Roma were singled out for harsh punitive measures by the German occupation forces, and Romani civilian populations bore a significant brunt of terrorising measures.62 In early 1942, approximately 300 Roma were detained by the German authorities. More Roma were detained throughout 1942 and only a handful of those taken hostage survived. German plans of 1943 to round up the Roma for transportation to Auschwitz were averted by the intervention of Archbishop Damaskinos, in particular, and of Prime Minister Ioannis Rallis.63 However, little is known of the fate of Roma living in those parts of Greece not under the effective control of the Greek collaborationist government. Recent research has revealed, for example, that Roma living in Ioannina were exterminated within the framework of the Nazi programme for “Racial Hygiene and Biological Demography”, while other Roma were transported in trains to concentration camps to Germany, mainly to Auschwitz, where most were killed.64 In March 1943, the Bulgarian authorities deported an estimated 12,000 Jews from the regions of Macedonia and Thrace, which were annexed by Bulgaria during World War II. Although there is no written record of simultaneous deportation of Roma from these parts,65 deportation of an unidentified number of Roma was reported by witnesses.66 The suffering Roma endured during occupation and the sacrifice they made in its resistance has never been sufficiently acknowledged.
Despite the contributions of Greek Roma to the building of the modern Greek state, the government took no steps toward granting Greek citizenship to the Roma until 1955, when the first of a series of laws on Greek nationality was passed.67 At present, despite numerous legislative measures, a substantial number of Roma continue to lack the most rudimentary documents or even citizenship – the fundamental unit of belonging in the modern state. A serious obstacle to the exercise of basic rights by Roma in Greece is the lack of personal documents – including but not limited to birth certificates, identity cards, local registration, documents related to state-provided health insurance and social welfare, and passports. In extreme cases, Roma lack citizenship, and the anathema phenomenon of statelessness has arisen among Roma in Greece. Exclusionary obstacles created by lack of documents can be daunting, and in many instances, the lack of one document can lead to a “chain reaction”, in which the individual is unable to secure further documents. A Romani child is faced with the risk not to be registered if born outside a hospital (hospitals register the births of children as a matter of course). If parents themselves do not seek to register the child, the child will have no birth certificate.68 Actions by Greek authority to remedy this situation have to date been piecemeal and, taken as a whole, inadequate. Moreover, there are no domestic legal provisions placing an obligation on authorities to reduce statelessness.69 In the case of Mr Sezgin Durgut, for example, the Greek authorities failed to grant Greek citizenship for thirty years between 1972 and 2002, despite the fact that Mr Durgut’s mother is a Greek citizen.70 Moreover, the Greek authorities turned down Mr Durgut’s two requests for an identity document as a stateless person,71 submitted respectively in 1999 and 2000, leaving him without any identity papers until March 2002, when he eventually received his Greek citizenship card. According to a study completed in 2001 by the Thessaloniki Vocational Training Centre of the Romani settlement of Aghia Sophia-Ghonou, near Thessaloniki, around 18% of the approximately 2,000 Romani residents were without documents.72 Greek authorities have not only failed to address satisfactorily the presence of Roma in Greece, to acknowledge Roma fully as members of Greek society and to recognise their contribution to modern Greek history, but they have also failed to recognise Roma in most of Greece as a national minority. Thus, the special rights afforded to individuals with minority status under the Lausanne Treaty as well as under international law – for example, the right to education in the minority’s mother tongue – are not extended to the majority of Roma in Greece. The one exception is the Muslim Roma of Thrace. The Muslim Roma living in Western Thrace were not included in the 1923 exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, and today they are held to constitute a part of the officially recognised “Muslim minority” of Greece. At the time of signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923, the Muslim Roma of Western Thrace officially numbered 2,505.73 Today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimate, apparently based on a 1991 census, puts the number at approximately 15,000.74 The Muslim Roma are protected under the provisions of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which, inter alia, provide for education in their mother tongue.75 However, the Greek state adopted a territorially confined interpretation of the Treaty,76 and thus there are no estimates for the number of internal migrants from Thrace, the majority of whom have settled in slum areas in the centre of Athens, in a suburb of Thessaloniki, and perhaps elsewhere. A narrow interpretation of the Lausanne Treaty has effectively allowed the Greek government to avoid the responsibility for the appropriate identification of the state’s minority populations.
The Muslim Roma’s identification as a part of the Muslim minority of Greece under the Lausanne Treaty has not protected that group from becoming entangled in a political row between Greece and Turkey. The Turkish state claims that the minority of Western Thrace is Turkish. According to some Greek authors, the Turkish state is very actively conducting propaganda, in an effort to win over the Muslim Roma and thus acquire more leverage in Greece.77 The Greek government, on the other hand, has responded by proclaiming that the minority includes other groups that do not necessarily identify with “those of Turkish origin” (Tourkogeneis). However, it appears that a significant portion of the Muslim Roma does, in fact, espouse a Turkish national identity.78 Thus, the representative of the Muslim Roma of Thrace in the founding conference of the Athens-based, state-funded Panhellenic Federation of Greek Roma Associations(POSER) apparently claimed a distinct national (i.e. Turkish) minority status.79 Similarly, most of the Muslim Roma living in the Evros Prefecture have stated to researchers that they are Turkish, and not Romani.80 Moreover, it has been observed that the Muslim Roma of Komotini have stopped using the Romani language in favour of Turkish, even at the household level, something that Greek scholars interpret as a sign of their gradual “Turkicisation”.81 In fact, one member of the Turkish minority has alleged that from among all Roma in Western Thrace, it is only in two specific settlements that Muslim Roma continue to speak Romani, and that in most other settlements, the Muslim Roma, although bilingual, prefer to speak Turkish.82 ERRC and GHM have also met, outside Western Thrace, Roma who were traditionally Muslim, but avoided being expelled in the 1920s, or returned – usually illegally – to Greece after the population exchange. Some subsequently gained the tolerance of the Greek authorities by converting to Orthodox Christianity and taking Greek first names.
The complex cultural identity issues among the population of Muslim Roma in Thrace aside, the fact remains that Roma in Greece, despite their centuries-long presence in the country, have almost invariably been treated as aliens by Greek authorities. Even those who were formally granted Greek citizenship, in practice, have not been treated as bearers of equal rights by the Greek state and have consequently been denied protection and benefits on a par with the other citizens. Denial of equal treatment by the state along with high levels of anti-Romani sentiment in Greek society render intolerable the human rights situation of many Roma in Greece. On rare occasions, Greek authorities have acknowledged this fact. In the 1996 Government Programme on Roma, the then-government of Greece made a candid admission that “Despite the long presence (approximately 600 years) of the Roma in our country, their vital needs have not been met and their problems remain unaddressed”.83 Little has changed since that time for Roma in Greece, who continue to struggle to be recognised as a distinct and worthy part of Greek society.
Finally, Greek language and culture has also had an important impact on Romani language and culture. This is particularly evident in the imprint Byzantine and modern Greek have left on the Romani language. Words derived from Greek make up by far the largest component of the so-called “inherited lexicon” of Romani (i.e., not including contemporary loan-words derived from immediate surroundings or recent historical influence) after the so-called “Indo-Aryan core” of words derived from the Indic Proto-Romani. Matras describes the inherited lexicon as follows:
The Early Romani legacy amounts to around 1,000 lexical roots, beyond which Romani dialects each show various layers of lexical borrowings from individual European languages. The total number of pre-European lexical roots found in all dialects of Romani put together is estimated at around 800, though this number is rarely found in any single variety of the language. In addition, there are between 200 and 250 shared lexical roots of Greek origin.84 Romani words of Greek origin include basic semantic concepts such as “road” (in Romani, “drom”), “soup” (“zumi”), “bone” (“kokalo”), “anger” (“xoli”), “flower” (“luludi”), “grandfather” (“papu”) and “chair” (“skamin” from the Greek “skamni”), as well as a number of adverbs and particles and some numbers.85 Clearly, the Greek/Romani interface has been long and rich, an issue not at all recognised by contemporary Greek historiography, nor reflected in the curriculum of today’s Greek school system.
4. Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment:
The Housing Rights of Roma in Greece
Large numbers of Roma in Greece today live in a state of racial segregation from non-Roma, in violation of the unequivocal ban on racial segregation provided under international law.86 In addition, Roma in Greece frequently experience forced eviction and/or the threat of forced eviction. In recent years, a sharp rise in the number of forced evictions of Roma from settlements and the subsequent demolition of their homes, as well as the destruction of property belonging to Romani individuals or their families, has been documented. Some Romani families have been victims of several forced evictions in succession. Also, in a number of municipalities, authorities have refused to register factually residing Roma as resident, effectively precluding them from access to public services necessary for the realisation of a number of fundamental social and economic rights. Many Roma live in appalling material and environmental circumstances in Greece in settlements unfit for human habitation.87 Racist policies by Greek municipalities are implemented almost entirely unchecked, resulting in residential segregation and/or homelessness. Ghettoising practices are explicitly endorsed by existing national policy.
Ruling recently in a case in which Romani homes were destroyed by a mob in the presence of and with the acquiescence of state officials in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1995, the United Nations Committee Against Torture held that “[…] destruction of houses constitute, in the circumstances, acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The Committee found that Yugoslavia violated Article 16(1) of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) which stipulates that, “Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [...] as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.[...]”.88 Furthermore, the Committee made clear that torture, inhuman and/or degrading treatment or punishment has to be seen in a positive obligations context. States have a duty not only to refrain from such acts themselves, but also to prevent and suppress human rights violations between private individuals as well as to provide redress to victims of abuse perpetrated by non-state actors. The European Court of Human Rights has also ruled that the destruction of houses and the eviction of those living in them constitutes a form of ill-treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.89 It seems only a matter of time before Greek practice in the area of housing rights of Roma is similarly ruled in violation of international human rights law by international tribunals.