Turkey: The Discriminatory Law directed at Roma People should immediately be abolished

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Lundi 7 Décembre 2009

Regarding the anti-discrimination acts for Roma People, the first step should be to abolish the article 21 of the Law regarding the Residence and Travel of Foreigners in Turkey. According to this law, “The Ministry of Internal Affairs is authorized for the expulsions of the Gypsies, who are stateless or citizens of a foreign state, and of the foreigner nomads, who are not affiliated with Turkish culture”. After this initial step, some more precautions should be taken regarding the issues of discrimination, health, employment and housing.

Hacer Foggo,

07/12/2009 - When the last house in Sulukule was bulldozed on 12 November, Gülsüm Bitirmiş, born in 1956, was crying out after her house, where she was born and raised, after her memories and her childhood: “my castle has been demolished”. Meanwhile, the officials of Fatih Municipality had already set off with their truck, loaded with her belongings, which would be put in the storage of the municipality.  Later that week, the preparations for the construction of luxurious housings in Sulukule started. 

The investor landlord, who would settle in the luxurious housing with an underground parking garage to be built in, where Gülsüm Bitirmiş’s house used to be, probably supports “the expansion of Roma people out of Sulukule”. Likewise, the new owners of the shopping center to be built in  where Asım Hallaç’s grocery store used to be before it was bulldozed, probably heaved a sigh of relief when this last Roma resident was displaced out of Sulukule.  

Yet, Mr. Bayraktar, the president of Mass Housing Administration, had made promises for the realization of the alternative project and for the relocation of Roma people back to Sulukule. Bayraktar did not keep his promise and worse still, he made some remarks such as “the concern of Sulukule people is not housing”, “We created new rentable areas with the demolitions of gecekondus”. All of the houses in Sulukule, known as the second Roma settlement on earth, were bulldozed and turned into an empty space thanks to the cooperation of public authorities, which, all in all, ignored the human factor. Thousand years old Roma history has been destroyed.  

Not Rent but Housing Rights to Roma people

After that Sulukule was turned into an empty land, it is not only the investors, who heaved a sigh of relief. Legitimized with discourses about “urban customs”, “urban culture”, “blighted area” and with that “a modern and healthy urban life is necessity”, “The laundry should not be hang out in the streets”, “people should not sit out at the doorsteps”, “people should not make music in the streets, weddings should not take place in the streets”, the demolitions in Roma neighborhoods – 300 houses in Sulukule, 240 in Küçükbakkalköy and 40 in Yahya Kemal Neighborhood- also comforted some “democrat” literate people, who are in love with Istanbul and lovesick for gated communities.  

While the city is being rebuilt in line with their tastes and preferences, everything in the neighborhoods, where Roma people and urban poor used to live for years, was razed down by the bulldozers: the patter of tiny feet, the custom of drinking tea at doorsteps, tea houses and everything. Congratulations to all the ‘Gaco’s, who are ill-at-ease with neighborhood culture and support the displacement of the urban poor to the outskirts of the city: There is not anymore a Roma neighborhood in Istanbul!!

In Küçükbakkalköy, a Roma neighborhood bulldozed in 2006, now a parking garage has started running while legal practitioners have already pushed the button to build their cooperative housings. Some of the displaced Roma residents are still living in barracks or under bridges. Some live in one room housings and try to survive buying and selling scrap materials or selling flowers as long as the municipal police allow them, and try to send their children to school. After their houses were demolished, some of these displaced families set their tents on the side of D-100 highway in Bakırköy. Not taking any notice of the children’s screaming, the municipal police from Bakirköy set the tents of Roma families on fire.  

Roma people are in a very harsh struggle, or better to say, have to struggle for their housings and survival. For instance, Zeynep, five-months-old baby of a Roma family, who set their tent on a viaduct after their house was demolished in Kağıthane in November 2006, died because of the cold. Likewise, Gökhan, eigth-months-old baby of another Roma family, which stayed in a half demolished house after their house in Sulukule was razed down, died in 2009 because of  lack of good care, because of poverty. 

Turkey should participate into the Decade of Roma Inclusion

Unfortunately, Turkey did not participate into the international initiative, the Decade of Roman Inclusion, between 2005-2015, which attempts to solve the problems of Roma community regarding poverty and discrimination. The main aim of the project is making contributions to strengthen the socioeconomic position of Roma people. This project is the first international project aimed at improving the living conditions of Roma people. The countries, which take part in this project, are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia- Montenegro and Slovakia. There is considerable Roma population living in all these countries and they all suffer from poor economic and social conditions. In the year 2005, the governments of all the above mentioned countries declared with this project that they will provide equal opportunities to Roma communities vis-à-vis the rest of the society. Now the turn is ours!

Discriminatory Law should be Abolished

As a very important development, the dishonorable article 134 of the “Regulation about the Police Organization, the duties of the police organization, and the role of the police regarding ceremonies and ensembles and the discipline of the police”, which considered Gypsies as suspects, was abolished by the minister’s approval on 20.06.2006. The next step should be to abolish the article 21 of the Law regarding the Residence and Travel of Foreigners in Turkey, which is a discriminatory legislation. According to this law, “The Ministry of Internal Affairs is authorized for the expulsions of the Gypsies, who are stateless or citizens of a foreign state, and of the foreigner nomads, who are not affiliated with Turkish culture”. Unfortunately, this article, which legalizes discrimination, stands on our way as an unbelievable fact. It is estimated that 100 thousand Roma people, who have no identity cards, live in Turkey. Any step taken for Roma people would probably be of no use unless that this article is abolished. As long as this law is in force, it means that Roma people do not have the right to live in their own country. Besides, the lack of official identification papers should also be resolved in accordance with the demands of Roma families and it must be warranted that their children can participate into the formal education.

After these main steps, more steps should be taken to improve housing, health, employment and education and citizenship rights of Roma people. Regarding these five main issues, below are some of the very practical suggestions that can be implemented immediately:  

Citizenship Rights and Discrimination

·        Right after abolishing the article I mentioned above, public servants at public institutions and organizations, especially the police and teachers, who are working at the schools that Roma children largely attend, should be subject to a training program regarding the discrimination of Roma People. 

·        Education programs about discrimination should be implemented. 

·        Certain sanctions must be applied to written-verbal- visual, any kind of discrimination against Roma people that take place in the media.  

·        Roma children, who are exposed to discrimination in education, should be identified and the relevant institutions and organizations should be warned about this issue. 

·        The bureaucratic procedures should be eased for the Roma people without identity cards so that they can get their identity cards. A committee that would work on this issue should be formed.  

·        Roma families with an income below the poverty line, should be determined by the Social Services and Society for the Protection of Children (SHÇEK) and the local governments.  

·        Daily milk should be provided to the families with children, which have incomes below the poverty line. Likewise, free food programs should be implemented at the schools (e.g. daily provision of eggs and milk etc.). 

·        Roma people’s employment in public sector, their participation into political party activities and self- organization should be promoted.   


·        Regarding the issue of housing, not the projects that lack an understanding for a multicultural and social life but the alternative projects that are prepared in accordance with the life styles and economic conditions of Roma people should be put into implementation.

·        Regarding the urban transformation projects, civil society organizations and opinion leaders in the neighborhoods should be made partners of the projects and be closely involved in the decisions at any phase of the projects.

·        Decent housing conditions should be provided for the nomadic and/or settled Roma communities without displacing them from where they live.

·        Roma people, who are nomads within the country, should be allowed to stay freely at pre-determined sites and mobile health units should provide services for these sites.  

·        The children, who don’t or cannot go to schools, should be identified in the Roma neighborhoods with the cooperation of the local governments and civil society organizations.  Any assistance should be provided to make sure that they get registered to the schools. 

·        In every Roma neighborhood, day-care centers, kindergartens and study halls must be established. 

·        Social aid practices that the Ministry of Education initiated regarding various issues, such as the conditional cash assistance, should be explained well and made public in Roma neighborhoods and the families that would get these aids should be determined by the local governments. 

·        Scholarship programs for the students should be promoted. Students from low income families should be able to attend free of charge to the private education establishments, which prepare students to various exams.  

·        For the participation of the children of the nomad Roma communities, into education, local municipalities and the Directorate of Ministry of Education, should cooperate with each other at the places, where the nomad communities are located, and if necessary, children’s education should be supported with mobile education units.  

·        To contribute to the development of Roma music and culture, education and culture centers should be opened especially in the neighborhoods where musicians live. 

·        Research about Roma music should be promoted and an academic field for this topic should be formed.  

·        At the schools, to which Roma children attend, Roma children should be separated from other kids in the classrooms.  

·        A health clinic must be established in every Roma neighborhood and an urgent health program directed especially at women, children and disabled persons should immediately be started. 

·        Free training programs for childcare should be provided at houses. 

·        The children and their families should be informed about vaccinations and when necessary, vaccination programs should be implemented in these neighborhoods.  

·        Soup kitchens must be opened in the neighborhoods for the elderly and orphan children.  

·        For Roma people, various vocational and crafts courses should be provided at the local level.

·        Roma community’s traditional fields of occupation should be supported. Besides, employment of Roma people should be encouraged in other sectors. 

·        Places, where Roma people that sell flowers can work freely without the pressure of the municipal police, should be determined and the municipal police should be warned about this implementation.

·        The Roma people involved in buying and selling scrap materials should be allowed to work without the pressure of the municipal police. Free health checks should be provided for these people on monthly basis.

·        Workplaces and artists, which employ Roma musicians without any social security, should be warned and regular inspections should be made regarding this issue.

Lundi 7 Décembre 2009

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