17 December: the day we lost our homes

Claudia Linda Zsiga and her son. Credit: Joshua Gross, Joshua Tree Photography

17 December 2014

17 December will forever be a sad day for me. It’s the day when, four years ago, 76 Roma families, including mine, were forcibly evicted from our homes on Coastei Street in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. We did nothing wrong. Our only fault was that we are Roma.

In the middle of a harsh winter, with just one day’s notice, we were told we needed to move. The local authorities relocated us to the outskirts of the city, close to a landfill and a former chemical dump.

Forty families were given just one room each of 16 or 18 square meters. The other 36 families were effectively left homeless, as they were told to ‘build something’ on the nearby plots of land. A new life began for us on that 17 December – in an area potentially damaging for our health, far away from the city and the life we once knew.

Fighting for justice

Today, we are commemorating four years since the forced eviction. In these last four years we have fought relentlessly for our rights. We have fought to regain the houses that were stripped away from us. We have demanded the end of this injustice.

In January 2013, after two years of legal battles, we had our first win. A court found that the eviction was unlawful, and the municipality was ordered to provide us with compensation and adequate alternative housing. But the local authorities appealed the decision and, in October 2013, a second court decided to refer the case to the District court.

Now, we are waiting again for the case to go through the courts. But we remain hopeful. I am optimistic that if we won once, we will win again. Waiting for yet another legal battle to unravel is agonizing but in the end we will win. We need to keep fighting, with the help of everyone around us.

Uncovering the truth

Recently, I went to Geneva to witness a review of Romania by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. I felt it was important to present the case of my community’s forced eviction. I wanted them to know the truth of what is happening in Romania. And about the struggle we’re facing.

The Committee members listened. They took note of several cases of forced evictions such as ours in Cluj, as well as others in Baia Mare, Eforie Sud and elsewhere. As a result, they said Romania should change its legislation to prohibit forced evictions as soon as possible. Because forced evictions ruin lives. They destroy people’s dignity and sentence them to a life they did not choose.

Whenever I participate in these events, the reaction I get from people is that of solidarity and support. For us as a community this is crucial, so we have the strength to continue fighting for our rights. And I’m also fighting for our children’s future. Nobody deserves to live in an area like the one we’ve been relocated to.

Waiting for the day

I cannot wait for the day when I will be able to tell to all the people, activists and organizations that supported us throughout the years that their solidarity, letters and actions were not in vain. That they contributed to us regaining the life and rights that have been torn away from us.

Until then, 17 December will remain a sad day for us. But we won’t give in! Never!

By Claudia Linda Zsiga, a Roma woman and activist in Romania.