Post by Focus on Mar 1, 2013 10:16:59 GMT
The grim dwellings are mere shacks – damp and freezing cold in the bitter Romanian winter. Close up, there is shocking evidence of raw sewage in the slum where 500 families live.
Around the site is a 6ft wall built by the local mayor which has effectively made the slum into a ghetto. When this is your home, it is little wonder you may want to escape to a new life in a foreign country.
If that is the dream for these impoverished gypsy families – relocated to dilapidated buildings near an abandoned copper factory in northern Romania – it is surely one shared by thousands of Romanians who say they would like to move to Britain in January when they gain full rights to live, work and claim benefits under EU ‘freedom of movement’ rules.
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Makeshift home : A woman stands in front of her hut in a shantytown inhabited by Roma or Gypsy people in the Craica neighborhood of Baia Mare, northwestern Romania
Population : An estimated 10-12 million Roma live throughout Europe, making them one of the EU's biggest ethnic minorities
The think-tank MigrationWatch has estimated that 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians will come to Britain every year for five years from 2014.
UK ministers won’t make predictions, but these photographs of conditions in the mining town of Baia Mare, where temperatures plummet to -26C in winter, suggest that estimate is correct.
Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of Migrationwatch, spent three years in Romania working as a diplomat. He said: ‘There are those who seem to doubt that there will be people from Romania and Bulgaria who will be looking for a better life.
‘Here is real evidence of the absolutely dire conditions many are living in at the moment. Is it any wonder they want to come to Britain?’
Average salaries in Romania are less than £400 a month, whereas in the UK the figure is £2,208.
Surrounded : A view of local residents outside an apartment block on Horea Street. In 2012 the city mayor Catalin Chereches, controversially ordered a wall to be built around this settlement
Limbo : As this month plans to build modern social housing for the Roma consisting of 500 homes are in limbo, whilst funding is finalized and the search for a suitable site continues
A recent MigrationWatch study found a family of one worker with a dependent wife and two children would earn the equivalent of £70 a week on the minimum wage in Romania.
In England, where the minimum wage would be boosted by housing, council tax and child benefits, as well as tax credits, the family’s income would be £543 a week.
The mayor of Baia Mare, Catalin Chereches, constructed the wall around the settlement sealing the Roma off from the rest of the town last year.
He claimed that relocating the families to the site was part of a grand scheme to improve their lives, and that the wall would keep children safe from the main road. Human rights groups have accused him of making their plight even worse.
According to Catalin Chereches, this was part of a grand scheme to improve the lives of deeply impoverished families in the northern Romanian town who have been struggling to survive for generations.
However, human rights groups claim that the 33-year-old Vienna-educated economist is racist. They have accused him of imprisoning the population in a ghetto and making their plight even worse.
Photographs shot in the heart of the slum - and at a dilapidated communist-era blocks where some of the families have been rehoused - show scenes of appalling poverty with families struggling to survive in temperatures which can plummet to -26C.
Faced with such conditions, it is hardly surprising that many Romanians say they would like to move to Britain in January 2014 when they gain the right to live and work unrestricted under European 'freedom of movement' rules.
The concrete wall measures 1.8 metres high - built on an embankment, it appears much higher when you are inside the slum.
It is constructed on one side of a Roma neighborhood of crumbling apartment blocks, but because it links with other buildings and walls, it encloses the area with few access points. Mr Chereches says it was built to keep children safe from a main road.
He claims living conditions have improved by moving families away from a slum where naked children play in the dust with stray dogs and cats. But it still keeps Roma separate from other people and lacks space and bathrooms.
'It's clear, conditions there are not similar to the Hilton or Marriott. But this doesn't mean this is not a step forward towards their civilization and emancipation,' Mr Chereche explained in his tidy and modest office.
The local government started to relocate 1,600 Roma from improvised buildings in Baia Mare's 'five pockets of poverty' - including the Craica slum - to the offices of a former copper factory, Cuprom.
Those who have moved to the Cuprom offices, near the area with the wall, signed papers to agree, but others still in their old homes fear eviction.
The area the wall surrounds - Baia Mare- is an old mining city of 150,000 in a bucolic region 60 km (40 miles) south of the Ukrainian border. Like many Romanian urban centres recovering from the ravages of Nicolae Ceausescu's communist regime, it has its share of problems.
The dismantling of communist-era industries meant many people, including Roma, were laid off and have since not been able to find new jobs. Many were forcibly moved out of communist factories' blocks by new owners when state assets were hastily sold 20 years ago.
The rehousing in Baia Mare has focused so far on a narrow stretch of land on its outskirts between a creek and an abandoned railway line, scattered with improvised huts made of clay, cardboard or plywood, some of which have been bulldozed.
'Moving people belonging to a single ethnic group together is called ethnic separation,' said Robert Vaszi, director of Roma rights group Asociatia Sanse Egale. 'This is breaching human rights.'
Roma is a term for various groups who have migrated across Europe for centuries and are now the biggest ethnic minority in the European Union, most of them from countries like Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. There are an estimated 10 million across Europe and one in five lives in Romania.
The vast majority live on the margins of society in abject poverty, which makes them easy targets in troubled times, and pro-democracy groups say post-communist governments in the region have not done enough to improve their plight.
Debate : The government consider the group as illegal squatters, others argue that the forced evictions violate the rights of the Roma
But trapping the families in the northern Romanian town of Baia Mare helped Mr Chereches to become the country's most popular local politician and showed how central Europe's lacklustre economies and widespread poverty can trigger radical solutions.
Mr Chereches won 86 percent of the vote in June's local election, just days after the rehousing started.
'He's done a great job by putting up the wall,' said Michael Szinn, a 74-year-old pensioner in the main Freedom Square. 'Gypsy kids were on the streets before and threw stones at cars. Moving others to Cuprom is an even better thing for our city.'
Outbursts of anti-Roma sentiment are common across central Europe and hundreds of thousands have flooded western European cities since these countries joined the EU. According to police, many beg and are often involved in crime and trafficking rings.
A European Commission study showed one in four EU citizens would be uncomfortable with a Roma neighbor against six percent if the neighbor was from a different ethnic group. Human Rights Watch says forced evictions are common across the EU.
'Policymakers in Europe prefer to yield to, and in some cases exacerbate, public concerns at the expense of an unpopular minority rather than saying loud and clear that Europe's values demand rights for all,' HRW said in its 2012 world report.
Harsh living : The bitter cold weather is difficult for the residents to endure in their make-shift homes
Twenty nine million Bulgarians and Romanians will gain the right to live and work unrestricted in Britain in 2014 under European 'freedom of movement' rules.
The wave coming to Britain is thought to be similar to the one that followed Poland’s accession in 2004, but increased by the economic crisis gripping the rest of Europe.
Both the countries’ citizens currently have restricted rights to come to Britain since they joined the European Union in 2007, but those limits end on 31 December 2013, opening the way for them to move freely.
The restrictions will be lifted at a time when there is questions over whether these rules will harm the job prospects of British people.
About 980 Roma lived in Craica before the rehousing started in June. Some 100 families have so far been relocated to three administrative buildings of the former plant.
'This is completely wrong. We need to find solutions that integrate, not segregate,' said Dezideriu Gergely of the European Roma Rights Centre. 'There is a danger because dealing in such a manner with Roma issues only triggers the resentment and prejudices that already exist.'
Craica is a sharp contrast to the rest of the city, which has a well-preserved medieval center generously dotted with gothic churches, cafes and artisan shops.
'It's been a mess there at Craica without toilets, the gypsies poop on the grass and have built huts of nylon,' said Szinn, the pensioner. 'It's a piggery, a mess. Our mayor has done something that nobody has ever done for our city.'
Sparse life : A family is seen through the smoke of a stove reflowing from outside in a room of an apartment block on Horea Street
Some Roma from Craica work as garbage collectors for the municipality and some at a furniture plant. Most are jobless, seasonal laborers or eke out a living from selling scrap metal.
Living conditions are so grim that many of those who have been moved say they are thankful to Mr Chereches, even though their new housing at the Cuprom offices leaves much to be desired, with only two bathrooms on each floor of several apartments.
'I lived in a single room with six children and my wife at Craica,' said 40-year-old Sandu, a seasonal construction worker rehoused to a small apartment with wooden furniture and an LCD television, bought with his own money. 'My wife is jobless. I thank the mayor for giving me this place.'
Craica has no sewerage, indoor water or power supplies, and ramshackle huts lie between heaps of rubbish. Some residents admit to drawing electricity cables from nearby blocks. Even so, there are many who want to stay and are resisting being moved.
Construction: In this picture taken last year two workers finish the concrete wall being built around a block of flats
'I lived here for the last 20 years. My woman died here and I want to also die here,' said 59-year-old Trandafir Varga, one of the oldest residents and a community leader, surrounded by younger Roma who nodded their head in approval.
'There, we would be isolated. Here, we have horses, pigs,' Varga said. 'It's like a concentration camp there at Cuprom, we aren't going there. We want to stay outdoors and cannot stay in blocks.'
Mr Chereches maintains he is doing the best thing both for the Roma and other city residents. Eventually, he plans to offer rehoused families plots of land.
'The relocation is only a temporary solution. I envisage we build social, one-storey houses made of concrete with a small yard, and we would seek to place these buildings in several areas,' Mr Chereches said.
'I only want to integrate those people. I don't have anything to lose, I'm interested only in integrating them in a system based on three components work, education and housing. That's all.'
Quite possibly happening in a town near you very soon!! -- Hell's bells!! - Fx