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How a Romanian city evicted Roma to a landfill

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Pata Rut is the largest landfill in Romania. But it’s not just tons of garbage here. People also live near it: 1500 Roma.

Garbage trucks are constantly circling the barracks with colorful roofs. And while they are unloading garbage from the state garbage collection, quite a few Roma, who have become garbage collectors, stumble around with their carts.

Barefoot children are running around, and gargoyles are perched on the piles of garbage, looking for food, Vlad Odobescu told Deutsche Welle.

Pata Ruth is not only Romania’s biggest landfill, but also Romania’s biggest eco-sin. It is located near Cluj-Napoca in Transylvania.

For 70 years, untreated waste was dumped there, and all sorts of chemicals were absorbed into the soil. Over the years, fires broke out many times, regularly killing victims. A total of 2.5 million tonnes of rubbish has been dumped on this 27-football pitch.

Against the background of these atrocities, the EU has demanded the closure of the landfill. And here that in 2015 its clearing began. And in 2019, local authorities officially declared “Pata Rut” closed.

The Roma remained living there. But the garbage remained with them. Because back in 2015, two new “temporary dumps” were discovered near the old landfill. Even today, more and more waste is accumulated there.

Since when do Roma live here?

The first Roma settled near the landfill in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Poverty makes them go there: they sort municipal waste at the landfill and make a living. However, during the first decade of this millennium, many other Roma settled next to them: the Cluj-Napoca authorities expelled hundreds of Roma from the city center and forced them to settle in the landfill. The reason: there was a huge construction boom in the 300,000-strong city. From that moment on, there was simply no place for the Roma.

Among those expelled is Linda Greta Ziga. One cold December morning, police and municipal officials lifted her and her family from their beds. The bulldozers were already waiting on the street. Only two days earlier, 75 Roma families on their street had been warned to vacate their homes. The municipality moved them to prefabricated small houses near the barracks of the other Roma in Pata Rut.

Linda says that until then, the Roma on her street were well integrated. They have lived there for several generations, paying their rent and electricity. The buildings were owned by the municipality. Roma children went to the local school or to the neighborhood kindergarten. Then, like thunder from a clear sky, they were dumped in the dump.

“To them, we’re rubbish, not people,” Linda said.

Racism in Romania

And indeed: in Romania, prejudice against the Roma is enormous. 70% of respondents in a Romanian poll say they do not trust the Roma. Between 20% and 30% believe that Roma have too many rights, that the state can use force against the Roma population, and that discrimination and hate speech against Roma should not be punished. But this is not only the case in Romania.

Racism is spreading across Europe’s largest minority minority, calling for them to be stripped of their basic rights, denied access to public service and even evicted to places where there is no water, sanitation or garbage collection.

Late last year, the European Environment Agency published a study on “eco-racism against Roma communities in Central and Eastern Europe”. According to the authors of the study, the Roma “are exposed to a disproportionately high risk arising from the destruction of ecosystems, pollution, landfills, toxins in soil and water, industry.”

Linda and her family were crammed into a single room in Pata Ruth – 12 people! On these 16 square meters there was no room even for the little furniture they managed to save. As for the bathrooms, the family was forced to share a toilet and a cold shower with the occupants of three other, also crowded rooms. Linda remembers the first impression of the view through the window: “Garbage and nothing else. No trees, no birds. And I love nature so much…”

Garbage makes people sick

A 2012 UN study found that 22% of adults in Pata Rut suffer from chronic illnesses or other health problems: rashes, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, heart and gastrointestinal complaints.

According to experts from the European Center for Roma Rights in the same year, the health problems of Roma have more than doubled since their forced evictions.

A study by the European Environment Agency claims that the forced eviction of Roma is the worst form of eco-racism. Mostly because the authorities are expelling Roma primarily from locations of “high economic value”.

Linda and the people on her street never understood why they were being moved. Today, Linda already has her own explanation: “They wanted to ‘cleanse’ Cluj of the Roma, today there are almost no Roma living in the city.”

Deutsche Welle asked the authorities in Cluj-Napoca, who stated the following: that they intend to clear the Pata Rut landfill and offer the population assistance, including health care. They would try in the future to avoid the forced eviction of homes. In addition, the municipality planned to join as a partner in a program that will provide housing for 30 families.

Since the closure of the old landfill, no official data on the health of the Roma there have been published. However, according to a number of NGOs, respiratory diseases are widespread – not only among adults but also among children.

“At least before I could buy food and medicine”

However, many people from “Pata Rut” mourn the old dump. Because its closure in 2019 made it even more difficult for many Roma to make a living, says Adela Ludwig. The 28-year-old woman has four children and has lived there since she can remember.

Its shack is made of rigid boards, the roof was once a billboard. “Building materials” collected all from the landfill. When she looks out of the window of her “villa” today (as she calls it), Adela sees a chemical dump wrapped in blue nylon and surrounded by barbed wire.

Adela Ludwig used to collect plastic bottles and nylons, boxes of drinks and cartons, which she sold to the company for secondary raw materials. She managed to feed her children with what she earned.

“I could buy food that even medicine when the kids got sick,” she says. However, the new landfills are fenced with barbed wire. Garbage collectors like Adela have suddenly lost their jobs. “We’re crying from hunger,” she said.

Adela Ludwig, who is pregnant with her fifth child, lives only on child benefits – 220 euros a month. This money should be enough for everyone. The nearest fountain is a few hundred meters away, and Adela goes there 4-5 times a day. Her shed could be supplied with electricity from a generator, but the family has no money to pay for gas.

“No one deserves to live there”

When the landfill was closed, the mayor of Cluj-Napoca promised that the Roma settlement near Pata Rut would disappear by 2030, but did not say a word about where these hundreds of families would go. However, the Roma themselves have not relied on the municipality for a long time.

As early as 2012, Linda Greta Ziga and her other old neighbors, who had also been evicted from the center of Cluj-Napoca, set up a company with the help of human rights activists seeking a solution to the housing problem of the people of Pata Rut. They have also filed a complaint against the authorities for their forced relocation, but are still awaiting a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

Between 2014 and 2017, with financial assistance from Norway, 35 families managed to move out of the landfill and live again in the city center or in surrounding villages. Today, Linda Greta Ziga and her partner live with their children in a two-bedroom apartment in Cluj-Napoca. But she can’t forget Pat Ruth – at least because her parents, sisters and brothers still live there.

At the moment, Linda is working to get another 30 families out of the ghetto near the dump. “If it depends on me, no one will live in Pata Rut anymore. No one deserves to live there,” she said.

Source: Deutsche Welle

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