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Roma living next to a landfill under constant threat of eviction in Aspropyrgos, Greece


Description:

The reported negligence of the Nea Zoi settlement in the municipality of Aspropyrgos (Greece), where many Roma people live, makes visible the lack of provision of basic services such as water and electricity, as well as the constant harassment, threat, and direct eviction of the residents [1, 2, 3, 5, 6]. This case is shown in a political context of discrimination, segregation, and harassment. 

The Nea Zoi settlement is 22 kilometers away from Athens and located next to the Fili landfill, surrounded by waste and factories [2, 7, 8]. The number of people living in the settlement was about 200 in 2017 [8], and the main occupation of the families living there is to deal with waste, collecting things that can be recycled or material that can be sold. It is important to note that waste picking and management affect Roma's health [7, 8]. These factors; health, their living conditions, the number of chronic illnesses some of them are afflicted by, as well as the violence they suffer, make the Roma residents very vulnerable [7]. Furthermore, some of the Roma that live in the camp come from other evictions that have been happening all over Greece, and mainly in the Aspropyrgos area [9]. 

"There is extreme poverty, and isolation, and racism" [8], mentioned a representative of the Elefsina Legal Support Center in 2017. Many Roma in Greece, for example in the Nea Zoi settlement, live in sites with degrading human and environmental conditions, but the authorities do not alleviate the circumstances in which the residents live [5, 6]. Not only that but ghettoization was reported as being part of the national policy in Greece [5, 6], meaning that apart from discriminating and racist policies towards Roma, which end up in polluted sites and harmful environmental conditions, their segregation is ensured by the state. 

In this context, it is important to note that the camp has faced several instances of eviction and harassment by Police and the Municipality, among other authorities of the area, but one of the periods where there was an allegedly constant stream of them was from 1999 to 2004 [1, 2, 3, 6]. As reported [5], large numbers of Roma in Greece lived in a state of racial segregation, experienced forced eviction, as well as the demolition of their homes. The platform qualified these instances as being part of Greek “cleaning operations”, as well as using the context of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens to demolish and evict the settlements, justifying it with the need to recover the land to construct some infrastructure for the Olympics [4, 5]. An instance that also afflicted several of the attempts of eviction in the Nea Zoi settlement. However, no Olympic facilities were ultimately constructed in the area [4]. Meaning that the alleged construction and development of the site, as well as the operations that derivate from it, were done through a complex speech of "cleaning the area" and harassment of the Roma residents. 

In February 1999,  the municipality of Aspropyrgos and destroyed the settlement, later this operation was justified as the municipality receiving several complaints of the Roma illegally occupying potentially cultivated land. It is important to note that Nea Zoi is an industrial area [1, 2, 3, 5, 6]. Another case was in July 2000 when a municipal bulldozer demolished the whole camp [1, 2, 3, 5, 6]. The then-deputy mayor of Aspropyrgos, with the support of the mayor, stated that the municipal authorities had only torn down abandoned shacks and cleaned out the garbage found in the place [5].

The demolition of the houses was qualified by several platforms (that supported the Roma) as an eviction of the residents, and such it had to follow the legal procedure in case of evictions, something that the authorities did not do, and so the rights of the expulsed were not preserved [1, 2, 3, 6]. After several criminal cases and judicial procedures, the operation was still regarded by the authorities as “cleaning up” the area and not as a direct violation of Roma’s rights in the face of an eviction [5]. This speech had clear racist connotations towards the residents in the area.

Other cases of constant harassment and threats of eviction in the Nea Zoi settlement over the years have been reported on further platforms [1, 2, 3, 6], all following patterns similar to the ones exposed here. As of 2021, the settlement is still there and the conditions in which the Roma population lives have not changed [7, 8]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Roma living next to a landfill under constant threat of eviction in Aspropyrgos, Greece
Country:Greece
State or province:Periféria Attikís (Περιφέρεια Αττικής)
Location of conflict:Nea Zoi (νεα ζωη), Aspropyrgos (ασπροπυργος)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Urban development conflicts
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Land
Domestic municipal waste
Electricity
Water
Industrial waste
Recycled Metals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:100-300 people
Start of the conflict:1999
Relevant government actors:Municipality of Aspropyrgos
Deputy mayor of Aspropyrgos in 2000
Mayor of Aspropyrgos in 2000
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:European Roma Rights Center
Greek Helsinki Monitor
World Organisation against Torture
NGO Klimaka
Elefsina Legal Support Center
Greek Ombudsman

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Roma
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Waste overflow
Potential: Air pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Other environmental related diseases, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsChronic diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Repression
Development of alternatives:There were no alternatives proposed for the Nea Zoi settlement and the platforms and associations working with them have not reported any alternatives either.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Since the conditions of the settlement have not improved in more than 20 years and there seems to be no plan to do so I would not consider this case as a success.

Sources & Materials

[1] European Roma Rights Center (2003). ERRC/IHF: HARASSMENT OF ROMA IN GREECE.
http://www.errc.org/press-releases/errcihf-harassment-of-roma-in-greece

[7] Alexia Tsagari (2020). Οι «αόρατοι» Ρομά της Νέας Ζωής και η πανδημία.
https://insidestory.gr/article/covid19-aplaisiotos-oikismos-roma-nea-zoi-pandimia

[8] Takis Skrivanos (2017). Ένα γκέτο που το λένε Νέα Ζωή (στον Ασπρόπυργο).
https://www.athensvoice.gr/greece/376023_ena-gketo-poy-lene-nea-zoi-ston-aspropyrgo

[2] World Organisation against Torture (2003). Greece: threat of unlawful eviction of a Roma community.
https://www.omct.org/en/resources/urgent-interventions/greece-threat-of-unlawful-eviction-of-a-roma-community

[3] European Roma Rights Center (2003). NEA ZOE ROMANI SETTLEMENT AGAIN THREATENED WITH EVICTION IN GREECE.
http://www.errc.org/roma-rights-journal/nea-zoe-romani-settlement-again-threatened-with-eviction-in-greece

[5] European Roma Rights Center & Greek Helsinki Monitor (2003). CLEANING OPERATIONS: Excluding Roma in Greece.
http://miris.eurac.edu/mugs2/do/blob.pdf?type=pdf&serial=1049716810592

[4] World Organisation against Torture (2004). Greece: The Roma and the preparation of the 2004 Olympic Games: ongoing violations of the right to adequate housing.
https://www.omct.org/en/resources/urgent-interventions/greece-the-roma-and-the-preparation-of-the-2004-olympic-games-ongoing-violations-of-the-right-to-adequate-housing

[6] World Organisation against Torture (2004). The Roma in Greece and the preparation of the 2004 Olympic Games: ongoing violations of the right to adequate housing.
https://www.omct.org/site-resources/legacy/greece_roma_april_2004.pdf

[9] Christina Rougheri (2000). EXPEL FIRST: HOUSING POLICY FOR ROMA IN GREECE.
http://www.errc.org/roma-rights-journal/expel-first-housing-policy-for-roma-in-greece

Meta information

Contributor:Berta Roset Pérez, Junior researcher in Environmental Justice ICTA-UAB. Contact email: [email protected]
Last update02/06/2021

Images

 

The Nea Zoi settlement and the train rails which cut it in two

Photo credits: Inside story in a report done by Alexia Tsagari