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Thursday, 20 January 2011


 The future of a Roma settlement in Sofia is in question, as hard-line nationalists demand its removal.

Nationalists from Bulgaria's VMRO party say they have gathered around 3,000 signatures in support of a referendum demanding the removal of a run-down Roma neighbourhood in the city’s Orlandovtsi district. The party maintains that the settlement, which is home to several hundred people, is illegal and should be demolished. “We support people’s demands for removal of the ghetto. They [Roma] are in conflict with their neighbours and often torture them,” Krasimir Karakachanov, leader of VMRO, told Balkan Insight. Todor Krastev, mayor of the city quarter where the Roma neighbourhood is located, said a commission was already checking on whether the Roma homes were illegal. The inspection started a few months ago and is about to finish, he said. Krastev told Balkan Insight that urban planning authorities are likely order removal of the homes, if they’re found to be illegal. “Although our inspection started months ago, VMRO is trying to politicize the issue,” Krastev said.

Human rights activists are closely monitoring the case. Krasimir Kanev, head of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental organisation, said the city authorities must carefully consider their actions. “Any evictions, even if the houses are illegal, would violate these people’s right to a home unless the city authorities either help them legalize their properties or provide alternative housing,” he said. This is not the first time that Roma housing problems have stirred controversy in Bulgaria. In 2008, the threatened destruction of another Roma settlement in Sofia was halted after the case was brought before the European Court of Human Rights. The Strasbourg court is expected to deliver a ruling on the case later this year. Many Roma communities around the country face similar housing problems. The ethnic minority were effectively segregated from the mainstream population during the Communist era.

Balkan Insight