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Environmental racism in Europe

Environmental racism is a term used by Vincze (2013) for "the practice of environmental injustice within a racialized context", in which "socially marginalized communities and minority groups" are subjected to disproportionate exposure of environmental hazards, denial of access to sources of ecological sustenance such as clean air, water, and natural resources, or infringement of environmentally related human rights.[1]:10[2]:252 According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is "the fair treatment for people of all races, cultures, and incomes, regarding the development of environmental laws, regulations and policies".[1]:13

Blockade against Alta hydroelectric project on traditional Sami territories. The project was completed in 1987.

As applied to Western Europe, patterns of "environmental racism" have been postulated in particular toward Romani communities. According to Trehan and Kocze (2009), "EU accession for the post-socialist countries has resulted in a de facto centre and periphery within Europe itself, thus exacerbating the already marginal economic and political position of Roma in Europe whose communities continue to subsist as internal colonies within Europe."[2]:264 This peripheral position, in which segregated Romani settlements and their inhabitants become viewed as de-territorialized zones "beyond the pale" of government responsibility and European Union citizenship,[2]:264 has been identified by some scholars as an aggravating factor in the prevalence of environmental hazards (such as proximity to industrial facilities and illegal or toxic waste dumps).[1]:19–20[2]:252, 263[3]:74–5 This practice has been identified in relation to the lack of basic services such as water, housing, sanitation[1]:19–20[2]:263 and access to education[4]:238–9 affecting marginalized Romani communities.


Central and Eastern EuropeEdit

Underlying issuesEdit

In Central and Eastern Europe, socialist governments have generally prioritized industrial development over environmental protection, in spite of growing public and governmental environmental awareness in the 1960s and 1970s.[2]:255 Even though public concern over the environmental effects of industrial expansion such as mine and dam construction grew in the late 1980s and early 1990s, policy makers continued to focus on privatization and economic development.[2]:255 Following the market transition, environmental issues have persisted, despite some improvements during the early stages of transition.[2]:255 Throughout this time, significant social restructuring took place alongside environmental changes.[2]:255

Romani workers at Yambol Landfill, Bulgaria.

According to K. Harper et al, "in the case of Roma in CEE [Central and Eastern Europe], spaces inhabited by low-income Roma have come to be 'racialized' during the post-socialist era, intensifying patterns of environmental exclusion along ethnic lines".[2]:254 Romani peoples have inhabited Central and Eastern Europe for six hundred years and have traditionally worked or been employed as agricultural day laborers, musicians, tinsmiths (tinkers), and blacksmiths.[2]:255 In the words of K. Harper et al,

The interwar period and the post-socialist period, in their schema, were marked by downward mobility and increased spatial segregation of Roma communities in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. It is in the context of these cycles that patterns of environmental exclusion have come into being. More than 50 years after the social dislocations of World War II and the communist regime change, poor Roma settlements throughout the region are located on the outskirts of villages, separated from the majority population by roads, railways or other barriers, and disconnected from water pipelines and sewage treatment.[2]:262

In analyzing environmental marginalization of Romani communities in Romania, anthropologist Enikő Vincze writes that "Environmental racism functions at the intersection of polluting the natural milieu, and of marginalizing social categories inferiorized by racial identification."[5]:391 Throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Romani people themselves are often treated as environmentally problematic subjects.[2]:262–3 Slovak authorities have been criticized by Romani rights activists over the alleged practice of "targeting Romani communities for forced evictions under the pretext of environmental law" by defining them as "waste dumps".[6]

In Central Europe, there have been documented cases within popular culture whereupon Romani populations are characterized as ecologically irresponsible. In Slovakia, the region near the transportation corridor between Prešov and Poprad is an important foraging area for Romani communities who collect mushrooms and berries during the summer for trade and direct consumption.[7]:126 The activity is particularly significant due to the poor living conditions of many Romani in the area, who frequently take part in the illegal harvesting of state and private agricultural lands.[7]:126 In 2006, a "popular magazine" published an article titled "Grasshoppers: While Roma from Tatra Region Make Money on Forests, Bears are Getting Hungry".[7]:126 In the article, it was alleged that due to Romani foraging, Slovak bears could not find sufficient food to survive the winter.[7]:127 Similarly, K. Harper et al write that Romani people in Hungary are viewed by majority culture as a group that "lacks environmental awareness" while simultaneously being "dissociated from any timeless connections to land":

Contemporary environmental discourses tend to portray marginalized and indigenous people in either of two ways: as noble savages or as environmental profligates (Krech, 1999). Unlike indigenous people, however, the Roma in Hungary are not associated with a timeless, revered 'environmental ethic'—perhaps because they were excluded from owning land (Csalog, 1994). In fact, the most destitute Roma have been chided for their short-sighted use of environmental resources: heating the house with forest wood and parts of the house itself (Ladányi and Szelényi, 2006 ...), engaging in extremely hazardous scrap metal processing and allegedly overharvesting snowdrop flowers to sell in the city. While many observers acknowledge the structural inequalities and histories underlying Roma communities' rural and post-industrial indigence, the fact remains that non-Roma widely see the Roma as a group that profoundly lacks environmental awareness.[2]:263


According to a report by RAXEN, overall housing quality for Romani persons in Lithuania is of poor quality and "often located in disadvantaged places in terms of infrastructure."[8]:36 At the Romani settlement of Kirtimai in Vilnius, RAXEN has documented concerns regarding the quality of access to utilities such as water and heating, stating:[8]:36

The issue of Roma housing quality is most evident in the Kirtimai settlement, where dwellings do not meet standards in terms of heating, outdoor toilets, water pumps and limited access to public transportation. The Kirtimai settlement was equipped with basic amenities such as water, electricity and waste collection in 2001, and further – perhaps final – developments were carried out in early 2004.[8]:36

The settlement is located on the outskirts of Vilnius, spatially isolated within an industrial area in close proximity to Vilnius International Airport.[8]:29 An estimated 500 persons inhabit the settlement, which has been described by RAXEN as arguably "ghettoised and discriminated against with regard to housing opportunities".[8]:29 With regards to the nationwide status of utilities access for Lithuanian Romani persons, RAXEN has concluded that "In general, a significant portion of the Roma lives in sub-standard dwellings, and there are Roma families throughout the country who have no access to public utilities (mainly sanitary facilities, water, and electricity)."[8]:32


Access to water and electricityEdit

While Romani settlements in Poland are distributed throughout the country and less segregated than many areas of Central and Eastern Europe, geographical isolation remains a concern with respect to access to means of sustenance.[9]:5 According to a report by RAXEN,

The majority of Roma settlements [in Poland], e.g. in the region of Małopolska are outside other settlements and are deprived of potable water, sewage and roads that allow for ambulance access. The problem also concerns roadblocks to obtaining settlement permits, especially in city centres, which necessarily results in them moving to the outskirts, away from infrastructure that allows for decent living conditions."[9]:27

According to the study, Romani persons throughout Poland, especially those from the Bergitka subgroup, face ongoing issues with respect to accessing water and utilities[9]:5:25–26, leading to detrimental health conditions and persistently high rates of tuberculosis.[9]:27


In 2013, an estimated 80–120 persons of Romanian Romani origin were living in two shantytowns in Wrocław.[10]:163–5[11]:29[12]:4

The settlements, which had no heated homes, running water,[10]:163–5 electricity,[12]:3 or sewerage,[11]:28 were constructed using materials salvaged from dumps.[10]:163–5 These settlements had historical ties to a settlement that existed between 1993 and 1997,[10]:163–5[12]:3:5 when the first Romanian Romani came to Wrocław from the city of Făgăraş in search of employment.[10]:163–5 Residents at the settlement were employed in scrap metal collection.[10]:163–5[11]:28–9 At the former Kamieńskiego Street shantytown, there was documentation of waste disposal concerns, raw sewage dumping, and burning of plastic causing pollution.[12]:5

After receiving a municipal order to evacuate the Kamieńskiego Street shantytown in April 2013, residents wrote a letter to the mayor of Wrocław, Rafał Dutkiewicz.[10]:163–5 The letter reads:

We feel residents of this city [sic]. We have nowhere to move to. Could we count on support and advice on where else we could settle down? We realize that we might be cumbersome neighbors to the inhabitants of Kamieńskiego St., because there are many of us here and we often ask them for help … If there were any jobs for us, we would gladly take them and dedicate ourselves to the development of and work for the city of Wrocław. What we only ask is, please give us a chance. We want to stay in Wrocław and integrate with the city's society. (Żuchowicz, 2013, p. 2)[10]:163–5

Citing begging, trespassing, complaints from neighbors, disturbance to the area, and littering, alongside health and sanitation initiatives previously delivered by the city, the Social Affairs Department rejected residents' requests, concluding that clearing of the site was required.[10]:163–5 In the words of Jupowiecka, the response letter stated that the Roma presence produced an actual epidemiological hazard, and could no longer be tolerated".[10]:163–5 According to Kostka in 2014, "In Poland this is an unprecedented case, without jurisprudence, and can potentially have a huge impact on the Polish legal system and the image of Poland across Europe (Nomada 2013)."[11]:29 On July 22, 2015, the Kamieńskiego Street settlement was demolished.[13]


In the region of Małopolska, there have been documented cases of communities lacking clean drinking water, electricity, and sanitation.[14]:5–11 These issues have been noted by OSCE observers in the villages of Maszkowice, Jazowsko, Koszary, Krosnica, and Czarna Góra.[14]:5–11 In Maszkowice and Jazowsko, there have been documented allegations by local residents of theft of garden vegetables and unauthorized wood harvesting by Romani residents.[14]:5–11

Czech RepublicEdit

Chanov housing estate on the outskirts of Most, Czech Republic

In Ostrava,[1]:32 Romani communities have been residing in living accommodations situated on top of an abandoned mine where methane gas exposure and subsidence are serious concerns.[1]:21 Ostrava has one of the largest Romani communities in the Czech Republic.[1]:32

The neighbourhood of Slezska Ostrava of Hrusov, also in Ostrava, was formerly a middle class neighbourhood whose residents left between 1950 and 1970 to live in better apartments.[1]:32 In 1980, a highway overpass was built nearby. In 1997, severe flooding took place, following which the area was declared uninhabitable due to the dangers of flooding. Since then, a new housing project, "Coexistence Village" has been facilitated, in which a grassroots movement saw ethnic Czech and Romani communities collaboratively build new houses for themselves together to create desegregated housing.[1]:33


Roma settlement Luník IX in Košice, Eastern Slovakia

In Slovakia, many Romani were settled by the fourteenth century.[7]:47 In 1927, a new Act on Nomadic Roma came into place, whose statutes dictated that nomadic Romani were not to settle in locations of their choosing, but as selected by the mayors of villages.[7]:48 During the Second World War, thousands of Slovak Romani were transported to extermination camps in Nazi Germany.[7]:48–9

Following the war, Romani were largely left out of postwar land redistribution schemes.[2]:255 One of the first laws created by the postwar government was the 'Directive on Governing Certain Conditions of Gypsies,' which states that "In villages where they [Roma] have dwellings in proximity to public, state-owned and other roads, the dwellings will be removed, placed separately from the village on distant places selected by the village."[7]:48–9 The implications of this law was that Romani communities, recently liquidated by the Nazi Holocaust and without resources to purchase land, were now subject to the settlement plans of non-Romani decision-makers.[2]:255

After initially treating Romani as "non-workers existing 'outside the class system'",[2]:255 socialist governments created policies that led to the rapid integration of Romani communities into the industrial labour force.[2]:255 In spite of official socialist policies of equality, social divisions and social stratification remained. Romani communities experienced poverty emerging from the market transition, as well as significant vulnerability to environmental issues and harms associated with industrialization.[2]:255

Romani settlement at Richnava.

During the mid-1950s, research was conducted by the Slovak government determining that there were 1,305 segregated Romani shantytowns throughout Slovakia.[7]:49 In 1965, after failed attempts at economic and social integration, the Slovak government began to attempt more drastic policies aimed at assimilation of the Romani body politic.[7]:49–50 Directed primarily at Romani settlements in Eastern Slovakia,[7]:50 these policies sought to create employment for all able-bodied Romani, particularly Roma males; termination of Romani shantytowns and resettlement into modern housing; and programs to support Romani students accessing formal education.[7]:50 In spite of these policies, shantytowns only decreased in number slowly;[7]:51 after the resettlement program was terminated as a result of post-socialist funding shortages, shantytowns began to grow again, largely due to economic conditions.[7]:64 By 2004, there were an estimated 320,000 Romani individuals living in Slovakia in 1,575 "integrated and segregated settlements."[2]:257

Alternative view of deforestation above Romani houses, Richnava.

As these settlements have grown, impoverished Romani communities became more visible, land has become scarce, and tensions with non-Romani communities have risen.[7]:64 The environmental implications of this scenario have been that these communities have been marginalized onto environmentally problematic parcels of land,[7]:64 where patterns of environmental issues entail exposure to hazardous waste and chemicals, vulnerability to floods, limited access to potable water, and discriminatory waste management practices.[7]:152 The rapid growth of these settlements[7]:64 in a context where freedom of settlement and movement is restricted due to discrimination from the majority population[7]:37 has complicated property rights and entitlements[7]:64 and hence the legal ability to participate in land-based decision-making.[7]:41–3


On October 30, 2012, 150 people were evicted from their homes in the district of Nižné Kapustníky (Košice).[6] Further evictions were planned for 200 people from the Pod Hrádkom neighbourhood of Prešov under similar legal circumstances.[6] According to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), these evictions are part of a growing trend in the Slovak Republic in which authorities are justifying evictions by designating Romani settlements as "communal waste".[6] Over 400 mayors of towns and villages in Slovakia have joined a movement by the name of Zobudme sa! (Let's Wake Up!) which, according to the ERRC, "aspires to coordinate a targeted programme of demolition aimed at Roma settlements by defining them as waste dumps".[6]


The region of Slovenské Rudohorie has a long industrial history, which includes gold, silver, copper, and other metal mining and processing, and has been listed as being one of the ten most polluted regions in Slovakia.[7]:73The region and mine tailings is contaminated with mercury, acidic water from sulfide, and lead.[7]:74–6

In the village of Rudňany, there has been a Romani settlement situated on top of the abandoned factory site of Zabíjanec[7]:69 since the 1970s; after the site's closure in 1965[7]:80 it was likely settled with the "silent approval" of socialist authorities.[7]:77 As of 2011, 640 persons lived there,[7]:72 in conditions severely contaminated by heavy metals.[7]:82 Children at Zabíjanec are at particularly high risk of health effects, such as neurological damage.[1]:21

By 2003, the number of industrial workers in the mines and processing plants had decreased from 2,500 at the start of the 1990s to 150.[7]:71 In 2010, 1,700 out of Rudňany's 3,775 inhabitants were Romani, who are highly segregated from the majority population.[7]:72 Many also live in the Pätoracké shantytown; according to Filčák, approximately 570 Romani were living there in 2011.[7]:72 These Romani communities largely settled in the area during the 1950s to work as miners.[7]:76

In the 1970s, subsidence of structures above the mine shafts, along with encroaching contaminated mine waste compelled authorities to relocate residents from Pätoracké to new homes in Spišská Nová Ves and Smižany.[7]:78 However, the Romani shantytowns were not relocated, nor were new Romani migrants prevented from settling in the area.[7]:78 In 2007, in response to a sinkhole incident in 2001,[7]:78 257 residents were relocated to new apartments, which while outside the landslide and subsidence danger zones, are still surrounded by dumps of mine waste, while also continuing to be ethnically segregated.[7]:79 As of 2009, over 300 people remained in the danger zone, living in a shantytown without sewers, sewage treatment, running water, or garbage collection. Meanwhile, residents from the main village of Rudňany municipality regularly dispose of household waste in an unauthorized dump 300 meters below the Pätoracké settlement.[7]:135


Krompachy smelter

The Romani settlement in Krompachy has 400 residents,[7]:135 largely former employees of the nearby copper smelter.[7]:133 Separated from the town of Krompachy by a road and a stream, the settlement is located at the foot of a hill next to the smelter.[7]:133 Only several apartments in the settlement are occupied by non-Romani families, most of whom left the area over time.[7]:133–4 The Krompachy smelter has been producing electrolytic copper in Slovakia since 1937, and is the only facility of its kind in the country.[7]:133–4 According to measurements taken by the Slovak Academy of Sciences, the area is highly contaminated with arsenic, lead, zinc, and copper, and there is unsubstantiated evidence to suggest that contamination may be more severe in the Romani settlement than in the town proper.[7]:134


In a Romani neighbourhood in the town of Trebišov, there is a slaughterhouse and meat-processing plant. These facilities are the source of odours and waste which is stored in open containers in an unfenced location that is frequented by Romani people in search of food. Due to the rapid rate of decay of this unrefrigerated waste, especially during the summer, it poses a significant health risk for those who consume it, while also attracting insects and rats.[7]:135

Svinka River WatershedEdit

Romani settlement near Chminianske Jakubovany, Prešov

The Romani shantytowns of Hermanovce, Jarovnice, and Svinia are located within several kilometres of each other within the upper Svinka River Watershed;[7]:99 all three have histories of being subject to flooding.[7]:120 Jarovnice, which has an unofficial population of 5,000,[7]:109 is one of the largest shantytowns in Slovakia.[7]:110 Residents do not have access to safe, potable water.[7]:110 Water quality in all three settlements has been problematic, particularly with regards to increasing nitrates contamination from industrial fertilizers used by agricultural activity in the region.[7]:110–20 In 1998, 47 people died in floods in the region; 45 of the victims were Romani, and 42 of them were from Jarovnice. One person from Svinia died, and 500 people from the shantytown had to be evacuated.[7]:123 In Hermanovce, there is a Romani shantytown of 300 persons[7]:107 located on low-lying land with a high water table in between forks of the Svinka River;[7]:107–8 meanwhile, the village dump is located in close proximity above the shantytown, and is not lined to prevent leachate contamination, causing seepage into the community.[7]:108–9 According to Filčák, the construction of a landfill "in close proximity to the Roma settlements, without involvement of the affected people is almost a 'classical' example of the environmental injustice in both distributional and procedural aspects".[7]:129

In the words of Anna Husarova, a Romani woman from Jarovnice, the location of these settlements in relation to flood vulnerability has a historical context:

[After the war] survivors had to settle next to forests, in the middle of fields or on riverbanks. These were the only places where they were allowed to settle down and start over. They built huts and began to call them flats. No attention was paid to them, and they were given no help.[7]:104

Other Romani settlements in Chminianske Jakubovany, Petrova, and Markovce have also experienced vulnerability to flooding.[7]:152


In Hungary, the proximity of Romani settlements to garbage dumps along with a lack of access to potable water and sanitation infrastructure has been an ongoing concern.[1]:20–1 In a Romani shantytown in Heves, the recycling of car batteries from an unauthorized dump for income caused the death of one child and serious disabilities among a number of residents.[1]:21 In Hungary, it is believed that environmental health conditions contribute to the low life expectancy of Romani people, whose life expectancy is on average 10–15 years lower than for non-Romani.[1]:21

Sajó River near Sajószentpéter.

According to the European Roma Rights Centre, in Ózd-Bánszállás, Hungary, a situation exists where hundreds of Romani persons living in a segregated neighbourhood do not have reliable clean water access and must use three contaminant-risk pumps.[15]:25 According to the ERRC report,

The town won a Swiss development grant some three years ago to improve water infrastructure but Roma neighbourhoods seem to have been omitted from this development plan. The young mayor is a member of the far-right Jobbik party.[15]:25

According to 2010 data from Hungary's National Development Agency, 4.7% of predominantly Romani settlements did not have access to a public water supply (relying instead on makeshift wells and open water sources such as streams), and that a further 11.1% had access to public wells, but no access to tap water or sewerage.[15]:22 According to the United Nations Development Program's 2011 Regional Roma Survey, 30% of Romani households in Hungary did not have access to a "piped, public water supply and remained dependent on water where the quality was not tested by the competent public authorities".[15]:21

Another region facing environmental issues is Sajószentpéter. A town of 14,000 near Miskolc in northeastern Hungary, it was a minor industrial center for the majority of the 20th century, namely in the production of coal and glass.[2]:259 During the market transition from socialism, both the factory and the mine were closed down, causing the entire population of the town to lose its employment within the span of several months, without new economic development since.[2]:259

A Romani settlement in Sajószentpéter is located separately from the town in a nearby wetland, and is connected by a bridge.[2]:259 Several issues of environmental injustice have been identified, such as illegal dumping in the Romani settlement by non-Romani as well as residents, as well as unequal access to green space, water distribution, sewerage, and housing quality.[2]:260

Following the formation of a grassroots community organization in the Romani settlement called the Sajó River Association for Environment and community Development (SAKKF), Romani and youth-led initiatives in partnership with outside activists have seen the development of ongoing environmental-justice oriented projects.[2]:259–62 One project that resulted from these initiatives was the Romani youth-led photography exhibit, 'This is also Sajószentpéter' ('Ez is Sajószentpéter'), which was held at Central European University in June 2007.[2]:261


Access to waterEdit

According to the UNECE pilot country reports on Equitable Access to Water (2013), 32% of Romani households in Ukraine have indoor water access, while 18% derive their water from open-air sources such as streams.[15]:21[16]:89


According to a 2014 report by the Romani women's rights organization Chiricli, two large Romani settlements in Kiev were identified as having severely substandard living conditions.[17]:20 One of the settlements, situated in Holosiivo, was situated on top of a former dump.[17]:20 This site is reportedly known to have formerly interned "radioactive substances dangerous to human health". In addition to potential hazards regarding the radioactive history of the site, the settlement was approximately forty minutes away from the nearest source of water, so residents had to use water from a nearby sewage-contaminated stream.[17]:20

Zakarpats'ka OblastEdit

Serious issues regarding access to clean water and sanitation for Romani communities (tabors) in Zakarpats'ka oblast have been documented.[18]

Near the village of Myrcha, 35 kilometres northeast of Uzhorod, there is an isolated Romani settlement of 150 persons located next to a forest.[18] The community does not have access to clean drinking water.[18] Residents derive their drinking water from rainfall collection; during drier months, the residents have no choice but to collect water from a stream that allegedly "smells like chemicals", according to residents interviewed by the European Roma Rights Center.[18] Authorities for the main village of Myrcha have cited legal and logistical challenges as barriers to providing water infrastructure to the settlement.[18] In the words of the mayor, when interviewed by Szilvasi and Novrotskyy about improving water access for the Romani tabor:

We want to help them, but the problem is the Ukrainian law, the tabor is beyond the village, we first need to include them in the cadaster (…) this [building the well] would need a geological investigation as well and involve much bureaucracy. The paper work would be greater than the work itself, and precludes us from even starting such a project.[18]

Outside Berehove, an estimated five to six thousand Romani persons live in a settlement with limited to no access to clean drinking water, and with no access to sewerage.[18] There are three public taps available, however they are usually either turned off or non-functional.[18] According to Szilvasi and Novrotskyy, a major part of the problem is the alleged corruption of the "baron" system, whereby unelected individuals from the Romani community are designated by municipal authorities to steward the water and sanitation infrastructure.[18] Barons are granted significant sums of money for their role, with no system of oversight in place to ensure that services are delivered.[18] The payouts are not tied to any quantitative water consumption by residents of the Romani community, resulting in a system where barons are effectively paid to neglect water and sanitation infrastructure.[18]

In Uzhorod, several thousand Romani persons live at five separate settlements throughout the city.[18] Water and sanitation access varies, with some houses and neighborhoods having better services than others.[18] Between 2013 and 2016, three of the tabors received new access to formal water utilities, although access often does not reach all houses due to limited infrastructure and low water pressure.[18] Issues of water affordability for some residents persist, and the lack of reliable access has been documented as an ongoing fire hazard.[18]

Near Muchaceve, a Romani settlement of five thousand persons was serviced by a high-risk water supply that was contaminated and subject to major leakage.[18] Following a hepatitis epidemic in the community in 2013, tests were ordered to track the origin of the outbreak.[18] The water supply was confirmed as the source of the pathogens and was promptly shut off.[18] No replacement water source was provided by the municipality.[18] By 2016, a new above-ground pipe was constructed "with the support of international donors" to supply the settlement.[18] In contrast to nearby Muchaceve, which receives water services 24 hours a day, the Romani settlement only receives water for four hours a day.[18]

In Chop, both the Romani as well as majority-culture communities face issues regarding water resource sustainability.[18] The city of Chop, as of 2016, is currently experiencing a dispute involving the Ukrainian national railway company, Ukrainian Railways.[18] The state-owned corporation owns the entire water distribution infrastructure of Chop, and is responsible for its maintenance.[18] Persistent issues of water contamination, leakage, and corrosion have reportedly been seriously neglected, prompting the municipality to attempt to take over ownership of the waterworks system.[18] The Romani settlement on the outskirts of the city has particularly limited access to water; even the houses that are connected to the utility receive such low-pressure in the pipes that residents rely on carrying water by hand from nearby wells.[18]

Donetsk and Luhansk OblastEdit

According to a 2014 report by Chiricli, the situation for Romani persons within Ukraine's "Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Zone" (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast) was dire.[17]:33 Most Romani residents did not have reliable access to water, electricity, or food.[17]:33 According to one woman from Makiivka, Romani residents would sometimes not be able to access water for as long as five days.[17]:33


According to Chiricli, most Romani homes in Crimea, including the city of Simferopol, did not, as of 2014, have access to water or electricity.[17]:25


In 2015, Romani refugees in Kharkiv from Sloviansk were reportedly directed to live in severely damaged, previously abandoned housing with no water or electricity.[19]


Effects on Indigenous groups in RussiaEdit

Throughout Russia, mostly in Siberia but also west of the Urals in European Russia, there has been significant industrial development and pollution on Indigenous lands.[20]:21 In many cases, these industrial developments arguably result in disproportionate harm for the Indigenous inhabitants, who in many cases do not benefit proportionally from industrial resource extraction and transportation projects.[20]:21 According to environment and geography scholar Craig ZumBrunnen, two of the most heavily polluted regions in Russia are northeastern European Russia and the Kola Peninsula, which lies in European Russia.[21]:116

Pipeline leak, Izhma District, Komi Republic, on traditional Izvata territories

The dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands throughout Russia for natural resource extraction has a long historical context of racism.[22]:44 According to Indigenous studies scholar Aileen Espiritu, "As non-European peoples, the Khanty, Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets were seen as inferior races by the Russians, and were therefore exploited for their goods and resources. Forcible Tsarist jurisdiction over Khanty, Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets territory began in the sixteenth century."[22]:44 Espiritu expands on the social implications of historical dispossession, writing

Throughout the eighteenth century, the exaction of exceedingly high yasak [tribute in furs] payments forced the Yamalo-Nenets and the Khanty to abandon their traditional economy of hunting and fishing in order to trap sables, and later foxes, for Russian officials and traders. The Khanty, Mansi, and Yamalo-Nenets were, therefore, forced to leave their own territories in an attempt to live as they had lived for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years (Prokof'yeva, et al. 1956:515) ... These effects on the Khanty, Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets, while serious, were minimal when compared to the imposition of Soviet rule and hegemony.[22]:44

Bolshevik policies from 1917 onwards quickly focused on the transition of Indigenous economies from traditional livelihoods into socialist economies based upon, in the words of anthropologist Debra Schindler, "the creation of a 'modern,'... urban-industrial settlement system; collectivization of the indigenous production economy; development of natural resources and the industrial development of other branches of the economy; and the introduction of the indigenous population to and their incorporation in 'modern' (Russian) society (1991:70)."[22]:44–5 According to Espiritu, the result of these state policies "based on rigid and dogmatic Leninist ideology" has led to severe damage for the cultural traditions, identities, and indigenous lifestyles of aboriginal Russian peoples.[22]:45 In the opinion of geography scholar Gail A. Fondahl,

Soviet oil development, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, 1986

Upon assuming power, the Soviet state identified the peoples of the North as exceedingly primitive, and in need of a special policy body to facilitate the transition to socialism (Sergeev 1995; Slezkine 1994). At the same time the Bolsheviks fingered the North as a storehouse of wealth to be exploited for the development of the new socialist state. In the first decade of Soviet power, planners deliberated on balancing aboriginal needs and state aspirations in debates regarding northern development policy, but by the mid-1930s the latter took clear precedence over the former. When development concerns dictated, the state confiscated aboriginal lands and relocated Natives.[23]:69

The drive for increased resource extraction intensified under Joseph Stalin's regime, resulting in particularly deleterious patterns of dispossession for Indigenous peoples in the European North, Siberia, and the Far East.[21]:89 In the opinion of ZumBrunnen,

Since the inception of Stalin's forced industrialization campaigns in the 1930s, these extensive, remote, resource-rich regions have been targeted for industrial development, mineral and energy resource extraction and processing which have had particularly disruptive and contaminating effects ... not only did Soviet development plans favor industrialization over traditional forms of economic activities, but all too often these industrial developments have been in conflict with traditional indigenous economic activities, such as reindeer herding, fishing, fur harvesting, and self-sufficient forms of agriculture, domestic animal husbandry, and logging, all of which require healthy ecosystems."[21]:89

Nenet people with reindeer

Many of these issues of environmental degradation and indigenous dispossession have arguably continued from Soviet times into the present day.[20]:21 As described by one observer in 1991, "In the majority of regions inhabited by [the numerically Small Peoples of the North] the ecological situation has sharply intensified, the systematic destruction of established norms and rules of natural resource use has been allowed (O dopolnitel'nykh 1991)."[23]:76

For Indigenous peoples in Russia, environmental degradation can often affect deeper cultural and metaphysical sentiments beyond ecological and economic concerns, extending to all aspects of indigenous lifestyles and epistemologies.[23]:68 As argued by Fondahl, "Northern peoples differed from other citizens of the Russian Federation due to their involvement in activities that required an intimate connection with, and an extensive use of, expansive homelands. If symbolic of primitivism in the eyes of many Soviet citizens, the traditional activities also symbolized a special, harmonic and intense interaction with the natural environments.[23]:73

For example, when Soviet planners attempted to "rationalize", collectivize, and commercialize traditional Indigenous livelihoods such as reindeer husbandry, their efforts were frustrated by the realization that indigenous peoples worldviews treated such economies as intrinsically tied to non-economically quantifiable values of social and spiritual significance, which ran contrary to Soviet modernization rationale.[23]:73 Reindeer "conveyed a family's protective spirits, provided not only physical but spiritual nourishment at life-event celebrations, and accompanied the owner on her or his voyage from this world to the next".[23]:73 These metaphysical Indigenous values were rooted in the working indigenous vocabulary of reindeer husbandry to such an extent that Soviet workers assigned to the field with Indigenous groups frequently had little choice but to learn the Indigenous languages as no corollary terms for these expressions existed in Russian, yet were vital to learning the trade.[23]:73

The effect of industry on the well-being of reindeer herding has been a profound concern to many Indigenous people in Russia. Speaking at the Second International Working Seminar on the Problems of Northern Peoples (Prince George, BC, Canada, 1996), V.A. Robbek, Director, Institute of the Problems of Northern Minorities, Yakutsk, Sakha Republic (Yakutia),[23]:83 stated, "Destroy our reindeer breeding and our traditional lands and you destroy us, the Even, as a people."[23]:73

Similar views were expressed by another Russian Indigenous commentator in 1996, who stated

Our Native lands are being annexed and barbarically destroyed by rapacious petroleum and natural gas, coal, gold, and non-ferrous mining interests without any form of just compensation...and this phenomena [sic] is depriving us of our lands and rights to part of the resource wealth, [and] deprives us of our basic right—a right to life (Social...1996).[23]:74

Oil and gas developmentEdit

Gas flaring in Komi Republic. Traditional Komi territories, Russia.

In 2014, 70% of Russia's crude oil exports, and 90% of its natural gas exports, went to Europe.[24] According to Henderson and Mitrova of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, European gas output is expected to slip from around 250bcm in 2014 to 225bcm in 2020 and 150bcm in 2030, leaving an import gap of over 310bcm by the end of this decade and over 420bcm by 2030.[25]:37 Much of this gap in demand could potentially be supplied by Russia.[25]:37 In the words of Henderson and Mitrova, "Gazprom's exports to Non-FSU (Former Soviet Union) countries rose from an initial level of 3.5bcm in 1970 to a peak of 162bcm in 2005, with sales extending across 28 countries in the region".[25]:29 Record quantities of oil were produced in Russia in 2015, with 534 million tons extracted, an increase of 1.5% over 2014 production levels.[26] In 2015, a record 23 million tons of Russian petroleum products (including liquefied natural gas) were shipped through Arctic waters from Russian ports such as Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Varandey, as well as Norwegian ports such as Hammerfest, according to statistics provided by Vardø Bessel Traffic Service Centre in Norway.[27]

Much of this energy supply was extracted from the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples, raising questions surrounding Indigenous rights, title, and environmental marginalization.[22]:47–51[28][29]:12

Nenets Autonomous OkrugEdit

In 2015, 14.6 million tons of oil were produced from Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a 6.4% increase over 2014 production.[26] There are 14 new oil and gas fields planned for development in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug,[30] which lies within northeastern European Russia.

As of 2003, there were an estimated 6500 Nenets and 5000 Komi individuals residing in Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a majority of whom were engaged in reindeer husbandry.[29]:12 Large-scale degradation of reindeer grazing lands took place between the 1960s and 1980s; after a slowdown in development, the situation began to worsen by the early 2000s.[29]:12 In the words of Peskov and Dallmann, "In addition to the high unemployment among indigenous peoples, the situation in the reindeer husbandry sector is deteriorating: decreasing numbers of reindeer, misappropriation, absence of appropriate marketing schemes for products. These and other factors provoke a general degradation of indigenous society."[29]:12 Peskov and Dallmann identify responsibility on the part of both oil companies as well as the Nenets Autonomous Okrug government, which they claim has not lived up to its legal obligations to protect Indigenous rights.[29]:12 Peskov and Dallmann provide an overall opinion that "Nenets and Komi in this region have for many centuries maintained a traditional way of life rooted firmly in reindeer husbandry in the area. These are the people who mainly suffer as a result of the attitudes of newcomers to the Arctic natural environment, in spite of all legal guarantees."[29]:12

Novaya ZemlyaEdit

In 1870 Nenets people were permanently settled on Novaya Zemlya by the Russian Empire to prevent Norwegian expansion.[31] The traditional Nenets name for the archipelago, which lies within European continental borders, is Edey Ya.[32] According to the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, during the Cold War approximately 500 Indigenous persons were relocated from Novaya Zemlya to make way for nuclear testing.[33] The reindeer living on the island either died or were relocated to the mainland.[33] Between 1954 and 1990, 132 nuclear test explosions, ninety four percent of the aggregate yield of nuclear testing in the former Soviet Union, were conducted on the islands.[33][32] On October 30, 1961, the Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb was tested, representing the largest man-made explosion in history.[33][31]

In spite of inexplicably high levels of cancer among Arctic Indigenous peoples in Russia during the 1960s and 1970s,[34]:165 comprehensive analysis of cancer statistics in 2004 indicate that overall, Indigenous peoples on the Kola Peninsula and in Nenets Autonomous Okrug (where there is significant radiation contamination) today experience below-average levels of cancer compared to the rest of Russia.[34] However, reports by the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences indicate high rates of chromosomal diseases and birth defects among Indigenous people around Novaya Zemlya which may be linked to nuclear testing.[32][31] Locals have nicknamed the islands "the archipelago of death".[32]

Komi RepublicEdit

Oil spill in Komi Republic, near Ust-Usa, Usinsk region, on traditional Komi territories, Russia.

In 2015, 14.9 million tons of oil were produced from Komi Republic, an increase of 5.4% over 2014 production.[26] The Komi Republic, which lies in northeastern European Russia and is home to the Indigenous Komi people,[35] has 152 hydrocarbon fields, of which 87 produce oil and gas; 65 are currently in commercial production, and 22 are designated as experimental.[30] In 1994, a pipeline fractured near the city of Usinsk, Komi Republic. According to Komineft (Komi Oil) and local government officials, 14,000 metric tons of oil leaked; however, this figure is disputed.[21]:107 According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the leak in fact saw 270,000 metric tons spilled.[21]:107 In the words of a press release from the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, "it was the site of the world's worst ever terrestrial oil spill."[36]

The Pechora, Kolva, and Usa rivers have all experienced significant contamination from oil leaks. 1,900 leaks were documented along Komineft-owned pipelines between 1986 and 1991.[21]:107 Throughout the region, there are also concerns surrounding the accountability of environmental monitoring and cleanup programs.[37]

For example, in the settlement of Kolva in Komi Indigenous territory, Komi Indigenous people were left to clean up the site of a major oil spill themselves, with minimal assistance from government authorities or oil company workers; the Head of Usinsk District, Alexander Tian, responded to Komi requests for help by allegedly stating "If you do not want to breathe in oil fumes, you should take a boat out and remove the oil yourself!" and offered to pay 10,000 rubles (approximately 250 Euros) per barrel recovered—a reimbursement that Kolva residents claim was not honoured.[38] Out of 117 persons cleaning the site, 11 were workers from Rusveitpetro, the owner of the pipeline, a number that some activists felt was inadequate.[39] Later, the inhabitants of Kolva asked for regular water testing over concerns of drinking water contamination. The results of the samples, sent to Syktyvkar, were never released, yet Komi Republic officials insisted that the tests determined the water was safe, leading to allegations of government unaccountability.[37] According to an unidentified source from within the Komi Republic government administration, there were allegations word of the spill was suppressed by Rusveitpetro for a period of possibly several months, and that lawsuits would likely not cover the full costs of cleanup.[39]

Izhma River near Ust-Ukhta Village

On April 10, 2016, members of the Komi Izvatas (also known as Komi Izhemtsy) Indigenous subgroup reported to the Committee to Save the Pechora that a large oil spill had taken place on the Yagera River near Ukhta.[40] According to the Committee, 400 metric tons of crude oil reached the Izhma River, reportedly causing concerns of effects on Izvatas livelihoods.[40] On April 26, sixteen days later, a possible source of the leak was identified by the Committee to Save Pechora at Malyi Voivoizh creek, although government officials could not confirm.[40]

Many residents of Izhma district believe that cancers are occurring at an increasing rate of incidence due to pollution.[35] Food sources such as fish have allegedly become contaminated, and reindeer have been poisoned by oil spills on their grazing areas.[35] According to Makliuk, most residents of the district live in poverty.[35] They also claim discriminatory hiring processes that give preference to non-local workers, in spite of the enormous revenues generated from their traditional territories.[35] According to one resident, "we have to live on the disposal dump of [the] oil industry. We can't even sell our houses and move away, because they cost nothing."[35]

Indigenous Izvata people protesting oil and gas development on their traditional territories. Schelyayur, Komi Republic, March 30, 2014.

On April 11, 2014, the Izhma district council passed a resolution to support a complete shutdown of oil and gas operations in the area.[41] The decision was in part due to concerns over economic effects on reindeer herding; the residents of Izhma, many of whom are Izvata, are part of the only subgroup within the Komi Indigenous people who still practice this livelihood.[41] In particular, concerns were sparked by the discovery of new drilling rigs in close proximity (200 meters) to the village of Krasnobar, which had been installed without prior notice, permission, or consent of Izvata communities or Izhma district administration, in contravention of environmental legislation.[35][41] 150 people, representing twelve settlements, gathered for the vote, held in Krasnobar village; the Izhma district council voted unanimously in favor.[41]

On June 5, 2014, a demonstration was held in Ust-Usa Village in Usinsk District, Komi Republic.[36] The demonstration, held in the same region affected by the 1994 spill, followed earlier protests in Izhma and saw the adoption of a "strongly worded" resolution by Indigenous groups present. Protesters threatened to boycott future Komi Republic elections if their demands were not met.[36] An excerpt from the declaration reads,

Aging oil infrastructure, Komi Republic, traditional Izvata territories

We, the inhabitants of villages within Usinsk municipal district, have been experiencing the terrible consequences of oil extraction in our land for over four decades. Our rivers, lakes and swamps are being mercilessly polluted. Our ancestral land is being destroyed. We are deprived of the natural resources which are our main source of livelihood. Our constitutional rights to a healthy living environment, to clean air and clean water is being violated systematically. Oil companies, and first of all LUKOIL-Komi, the main operator of oil production within Komi Republic, are brushing off our letters and appeals with dismissals, promises and deceit. Neither have we never received an adequate and constructive response to our repeated enquiries to various authorities, from the municipal district administration to the country's leadership. They do not listen, they don't understand us.

Therefore we are gathered here at the rally in the ancient village of Ust-Usa, and we declare that we join the residents of Krasnobor, Shelyayur and other settlements of Izhma district in that we will no longer idly observe the barbaric destruction of our land and the pollution of our rivers. People have come to our ancestral lands, who are not interested in our future and future of our children – they are only interested in the "black gold" – our mineral resources. And for its sake they are prepared to turn it into a lifeless space; and they do so.[36]

Kola PeninsulaEdit

On the Kola peninsula in European Russia, Sami people were displaced from their traditional territories during the Cold War.[42] The greatest single displacement took place when Sami fishermen were evacuated from the coastline in order to make way for secretive naval installations.[42] Meanwhile, reindeer herders were dispossessed from their territories along a 200-mile zone adjacent to the border with Finland and Norway.[42] This border was soon closed, effectively shutting communication and movement between Sami peoples in Finland, Norway, and Sweden with those on the Russian Kola.[42]

Lovozero, where many Sami displaced from their traditional territories have been resettled

Further displacement was caused by the arrival of increased heavy industry and natural resource extraction such as forestry and mining during Soviet times.[42] Hundreds of thousands of workers from other areas of the USSR arrived, many of whom were forcibly interned as workers in the Gulags.[42] This industrialization disrupted reindeer herding livelihoods, and led in part to the settlement of Sami into Soviet-designed urban areas such as Lovozero.[42] Today, most Russian Sami live in extreme poverty and poor housing conditions.[42]

City of Nikel, Kola Peninsula, on traditional Sami indigenous territories. The Kola Mining and Metallurgical Combine is located at upper left.

Acid rain is a major concern on the Kola peninsula, where it has caused severe damage to thousands of square kilometres of tundra and taiga.[23]:75 The ecological balance of the peninsula has been adversely affected by mining operations, which has contributed to atmospheric pollution, damage to forests and natural meadow lands, and groundwater depletion and pollution.[21]:91

According to ZumBrunnen, between 1964 and 1986 approximately 11,000 containers of "dangerous wastes" were dumped into the Kara and Barents seas.[21]:112 Nuclear waste dumping is believed to have occurred in Arctic waters nearby, and, as of 1997, many ships anchored near shore either stored or contained radioactive waste[21]:112 along the coastlines which had once been inhabited by evacuated Sami fishermen.[42]

According to Sami activist Larisa Avdeyeva, the first public Sami protest in Russia took place in 1998, when a Swedish company attempted to establish an open-pit gold mine in the middle of Sami reindeer grazing lands.[42] Today, vast areas of the Kola continue to be ecologically devastated by pollution from smelting, including operations such as the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Combine near the Norwegian border.[43] Many nuclear facilities operate throughout the area, which continues to host numerous nuclear-waste sites.[42] Pressure to expand mining as well as oil and gas production, and plans for new long-distance pipelines, have been growing concerns for Russian Sami.[42]

Some Sami leaders have reported harassment, allegedly at the hands of the Russian government.[44] In one notable case, the head of Russia's Sami parliament, Valentina Sovkina, was reportedly harassed and assaulted on her way to a UN Indigenous conference in New York in 2014, while other Sami leaders reported incidents such as alleged tampering of their passports en route to the event.[44] According to SkyNews journalist Katie Stallard, "The Kremlin sees the region as a source of oil, gas and mineral wealth – a crucial part of its energy and security ambitions. Ms Sovkina thinks the authorities are worried the Sami will assert their right to self-determination, and to their share of the natural resources."[44]

As of 2006, 1,600 Sami were living in Russia.[42]

Western Siberia (Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug)Edit

By 2008, more than 70 billion barrels of oil had been extracted from the Western Siberian province of Khanty-Mansi.[28] Representing 70 percent of Russian oil production at a 2008 rate of seven million barrels a day,[28] vast quantities of energy resources from Khanty-Mansi are destined for Western Europe annually.[25]:29,37 According to journalist Paul Starobin, the region's Indigenous inhabitants have experienced ongoing social and economic marginalisation, in spite of the economic wealth generated by oil and gas development. In the words of Starobin,

Nojabrxsk oil pollution, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, traditional Nenets territories
Map of Russian pipelines. Note lines linking Komi Republic, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug to Western Europe

When Siberia's oil lands came under development, native people were forcibly herded into villages and cut off from their hunting and fishing grounds. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the nomads won legal status as "aboriginal people," with the right to roam the oil fields. In spite of their new status ... their lot has hardly improved. Their numbers are small, about 30,000 in all; their languages are nearly extinct; and they are heavily afflicted by the scourges of contemporary Russia—AIDS, alcoholism, and tuberculosis. Some oil-tax money is being invested in medical ships that stop along the rivers to care for patients. But critics say these floating clinics diagnose disease, then leave patients with no means to get treatment.[28]

By the early 1970s, oil and gas reserves began to deplete in northeastern Russia, and production started to shift towards Western Siberia.[22]:49 Yet by the late 1980s, it was becoming increasingly visible that much of the wealth generated by oil and gas development was not reaching Indigenous groups. According to Espiritu, by this time the living conditions of many Indigenous people in Siberia was in a precipitous state, and Yamalo-Nenet groups were documented as living in "squalid" conditions in close proximity to the city of Salekhard.[22]:54

As part of the rapid ramping up of production of oil and gas during the 1960s and 1970s, proper infrastructure for both the handling of petroleum products, as well as social infrastructure for the influx of workers, was frequently overlooked.[22]:48 Thousands of kilometres of pipelines were built using substandard construction codes for the harsh climate, resulting in vast numbers of leaks and spills.[22]:48 According to a 1997 essay by ZumBrunnen, environmentalists at the time estimated that 35,000 pipeline ruptures were occurring each year, accounting for between one and three percent of Russian oil output (3 to 10 million metric tons annually).[21]:107 Meanwhile, 19 billion cubic meters of gas were being flared in West Siberia annually, releasing polyaromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, carbon, and nitrogen dioxides into the local atmosphere.[21]:107 In 2012, the figure was estimated at 17.1 billion cubic metres.[45]

Due to pollution from the oil and gas developments, reindeer herding, fishing, and hunting became unviable for many Yamalo-Nenets in the area, and many had little choice but to request government assistance.[22]:54 Since the 1980s, fluctuations in energy production in Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrugs have caused many Indigenous Khanty, Mansi, and Yamalo-Nenet peoples who were employed in the energy sector to find themselves out of work, with no viable traditional livelihoods to return to.[22]:55

It has been estimated (according to statistics given in an interview by Evgenia Belyakova, Arctic project coordinator for Greenpeace Russia) that the total cost of replacing Russia's ageing pipelines could cost 1.3 trillion Russian rubles (approximately 1.5 billion US dollars), but could be achieved within five years if companies were prepared to absorb a 25% drop in profits at 2015 energy prices.[37]

Land use agreements and Indigenous-rights legislationEdit

According to Indigenous studies scholar Brian Donahoe, "Article 69 of the 1993 Russian Constitution explicitly guarantees in principle the 'rights of the indigenous small-numbered peoples in accordance with the universally recognized principles and norms of international law and international agreements that the Russian Federation has entered into."[20]:24

Petroleum infrastructure near Surgut, Western Siberia, 2000.

The "vague wording" of laws surrounding indigenous rights in Russia[20]:26 has resulted in Indigenous land use agreements in Russia that are often informal in nature.[20]:27 For example, "Dmitry Aleksandrovich Nesanelis, the former vice director of the Lukoil-Varandeyneftegaz oil drilling company (Lukoil's daughter company in the Nenets Autonomous Oblast), an anthropologist by training and the person responsible for relations between this company and the indigenous Nenets people, asserted in 2003 that it was in the interests of the state to make these laws so vague as to be unworkable."[20]:27

Nesanelis has also spoken of concerns regarding the implications of vague legislation on oil drilling.[20]:27 According to Donahoe, "As a large multinational corporation, Lukoil is concerned with its public image with respect to the effect its activities have on indigenous peoples and on the environment." Nesanelis has stated he would prefer laws that would give energy corporations "some concrete guidelines about 'what exactly they have to pay, how, and to whom.'"[20]:27

While some Indigenous leaders such as Vladislav Peskov, president of the Association of Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples of the Nenets Autonomous Oblast have spoken in favour of informal agreements (Peskov has stated that "Different people need different things. Some need land, some need money, and the informal agreements with the drillers allow everyone to get what they really want"[20]:21), others have voiced concerns about the long-term implications of informal land-use agreements. In the opinion of Donahoe, the informal nature of these agreements privilege short-term benefits over the security of long-term legal protections.[20]:27 In the words of Donahoe, "Having failed to assert their legal rights when they could have [after 2004, new Russian laws such as the omnibus Federal Law no. 122 have weakened indigenous legal rights, especially Federal Law no. 232 pertaining to changes in Environmental Impact Assessments[20]:29–31], they will find in the longer term that their economically and politically more powerful partners can turn the law against them when it behooves them to do so."[20]:27

Russia, an International Labor Organization member, has not ratified ILO 69, an agreement that "explicitly and unequivocally asserts the right to self-determination for all indigenous peoples".[20]:28 According to Donahoe, this allows the Russian Federation to "continue to deny Indigenous peoples true control over their economic resources".[20]:28 As articulated by Donahoe,

Bovanenkovo gas field infrastructure, Yamal Peninsula

Russia is also a member of the United Nations whose charter somewhat vaguely states that one of the purposes of the organization is 'to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples' (Article 1, paragraph 2) ... The United Nations recognizes indigenous peoples of classically colonized lands—namely, colonized lands that lie across an ocean from the colonizing country (the "salt water test"; see Magnarella 2001, 2002; Niezen 2003, 138)—but has carefully avoided recognizing indigenous minorities who are not separated from their colonizers by an ocean as 'peoples.' This lack of recognition implicitly denies such indigenous peoples the right to self-determination—one of the arguments Russia uses to justify not complying with UN treaties in the case of the indigenous peoples of Siberia.[20]:28

Indigenous groups whose traditional territories lie in European Russia, such as the Nenets, Komi, and Sami peoples, are affected by this status of non-recognition of the right to self-determination, which, as federal policy[20]:28 implicates all Indigenous groups in Russia in addition to Siberia.

Arguably, some of the implications of non-recognition of Indigenous title may be the existence of laws that allow for socio-environmental marginalization to take place. According to Donahoe, "The federal government's monopoly over the law can be best illustrated by the negotiations over the new Land Code (Zemel'nyi Kodeks; Federal Law no. 136 of October 25, 2001) and Forest Code (Lesnoi Kodeks; Federal Law no. 200 of December 4, 2006)" which have allowed for the privatization of timber supplies.[20]:32 Under new iterations of these laws, previously non-commercially exploitable "forest fund [lesnoi fond]" lands, which constitute approximately 70 percent of Russia's landmass, have arguably been opened up for private sale.[20]:32 These new laws arguably lack provisions for the recognition of Indigenous rights,[20]:33 resulting in a Forest Code that, in the opinion of Donahoe, "effectively removes the power of regional governments (republics, oblasti, kraia, okrugi, etc.) to exert [non-federal] control over these lands".[20]:33

The result has been a centralization of power over land management, which has arguably contributed to an unstable legal and economic context for the livelihoods of Indigenous hunters and reindeer herders who "operate in a virtually noncash economy and could not possibly afford to purchase or lease the extensive tracts of land necessary to migrate seasonally, which is crucial both to reindeer husbandry and to the effective exploitation of animal resources", according to Donahoe.[20]:33 The privatization of land has widened concerns over access rights, which could potentially have negative effects on Indigenous hunting and grazing.[20]:33

Komi Republic oil pollution, on traditional Izvata territories

Indigenous groups in Russia have attempted to defend their rights in court. In the opinion of Donahoe, Indigenous groups in Russia have "demonstrated ingenuity in their attempts to assert their rights to land and resources and to protect against industrial development and extractive activities by using other laws not specifically designed for the protection of indigenous rights".[20]:35 For example, Indigenous groups have established "national parks or specially protected nature territories (osobo okhranaemye prirodnye territorii) at the local or regional level or both", under their rights to do so as outlined in Federal Law no. 33 (March 14, 1995), "On Specially Protected Nature Territories [Ob osobo okhranaemykh prirodnykh territoriiakh]".[20]:35 In one case, the Native Assembly of the KMAO (Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug) "asked" Andrew Wiget and Ol'ga Balalaeva to craft a law that would "protect the 'folklore' of the indigenous people of Khanty-Mansi more generally".[20]:37 Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug is an important oil-and-gas-producing region,[22]:49 responsible for the supply of large quantities of energy to Western Europe.[24][25]:29,32,37 It is also an area that has seen significant degradation of Indigenous lands as a result of oil and gas development.[20]:21[22]:48–9[35] According to Donahoe,

The idea was that, by protecting folklore, they would also be protecting the environment within which the folklore was embedded. It was especially important that the law should 'link the perpetuation of living folklore traditions to specific communities and landscapes': Understood in its fullest sense, it means that sacred place myths cannot exist without sacred places, nor local legends without the sites to which they are attached. In short, folklore cannot meaningfully endure if separated from the specific enculturated environment that it inhabits. Because the power to deface that environment rests with the non-native, political majority, this is potentially urgent, because KMAO is today the center of Russia's petroleum industry, and in some areas almost 90% of the land surface is licensed for petroleum production (Wiget and Balalaeva 2004, 139-140).[20]:37

After losing "some of its most important provisions", KMAO Law no. 37-03, "On the Folklore of the Native Minority Peoples of the North Living on the Territory of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug" was passed on May 30, 2003, and came into effect June 18, 2003, with its arguably most important provision intact: "Native Minority Peoples living on the territory of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug are guaranteed, in the manner established by legislation:...(3) the preservation and protection of the places of the traditional circulation of folklore, and of the natural resources necessary for the perpetuation and development of folklore traditions" (KMAO Law no. 37-03, Chapter 2, article 5, paragraph 2.3).[20]:37–8

Romani settlements and migrant worker campsEdit

Underlying causes in European RussiaEdit

Romani in Russia are frequently subject to geographic marginalization due to xenophobia. In 2005, Romani settlements in Arkhangelsk and Kaliningrad became the target of xenophobic political campaigns, in which local politicians used elections platforms that argued for "'cleaning' their city of 'gypsies' as one of their major promises to be fulfilled after winning the elections ... these politicians openly accused the entire Romani population of earning a living from the drug trade".[46]:4 Romani were then accused of constructing illegal dwellings.[46] In Kaliningrad, Romani houses were later violently evicted by force.[46]:17 In Arkhangelsk, after obtaining legal permission to rent their parcels of land in Novy Posyolok, the Romani were then accused of not having permission to build houses; in 2006, the entire community was forced to leave the city "on a train provided for this purpose by the city administration, taking them to the Moscow region, into another illegal situation...but out of the city's political debates".[46]:20

According to Paris-based Russian human rights organization Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) Memorial,[46]:44 there is a "tendency that market considerations and contempt toward persons regarded as 'Gypsies' coalesce in the actions of municipalities carrying out urban renewal programs, in which the eviction of Roma from city centers—and public view—is an active component of public policy".[46]:5

Inequality in access to energy resourcesEdit

In Ivanovo Province, the Kolyanovo Romani settlement was located near the disused Ivanovo airport.[46]:5 The residents had been evicted from Ivanovo city 15 years earlier.[46]:5 Following plans to expand the airport, the community became threatened with eviction once again.[46]:5

Often Romani settlements are denied access to utilities such as natural gas,[46]:5 despite the abundance of natural gas in Russia.[25]:29 For example, in Ryazan Province, the village of Dyaguilevo, with a population of 600 persons, has been established since 1988 in "extreme poverty" and, as of 2008, has faced significant issues with obtaining reliable natural gas and electricity service.[46]:5

An arguably more extreme case of inequality over access to energy resources can be found in the Roma village of Plekhanovo, located five kilometres outside Tula.[46]:6 As of 2008, the village was inhabited by 3000 individuals, most of whom had been settled there since the 1960s.[46]:6 In March 2016, a violent confrontation took place between residents (including children) and as many as 500 riot police over access to a natural gas pipeline that runs through the village.[47] In spite of the line running through the village, the Romani inhabitants, whose houses were at risk of demolition, had been unable to secure legal access rights to the gas, and had resorted to illegally tapping into the pipeline for domestic use.[47] According to community representative Nadezhda Demetr, "Instead of helping people register their houses and legalise their gas supplies, the authorities have been demolishing their houses. Since 2005, houses have been demolished without compensation because they don't have any documents."[47] Another local Romani community leader, Ivan Grigoryevich, stated to media that "We have been living in this settlement since the 1960s and we have tried many, many times to get gas into our houses, but we are prohibited by town officials."[47]

Disputed environmental reasons for evicting Romani settlementsEdit

In another conflict related to land and natural resource issues, the village of Kosaya Gora (3 kilometres outside Tula) was, as of 2008, threatened with eviction.[46]:5 The village of 400 individuals had been located at its current site since the 1960s, yet the land on which the Romani resided was declared by a court to be located on a "protected nature reserve area", according to Romani rights activists.[46]:5

In a similar case to Kosaya Gora, residents of a Romani settlement in Chudovo were faced with eviction in 2007.[46]:24 The residents, who had resettled to the area with verbal consent from local authorities after being evacuated from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, had been living in the area since the mid-1990s, later to learn that their houses were declared as falling within a "sanitary protection zone" around an unused asphalt plant, and that their homes would be subject to demolition.[46] Without access to documents to demonstrate title to the land, the community could not effectively argue in protection of their claimed property rights.[46]

Migrant workers from Hungary and Central AsiaEdit

Migrant workers in Russia frequently experience issues of environmental marginalization as a result of social and economic pressure to live in high-risk, substandard accommodations. According to Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) Memorial,

Migrant workers, especially families with children, often cannot find accommodation, due to high prices and the unwillingness of landlords to rent their property to migrants, particularly to those who do not have the appropriate documentation. As a result, migrant families are forced to live in places not designed for living, especially for living with children. Companies, who are happy to employ cheap migrant labor, and to save on their accommodation, are often facilitating this process.[48]:34

As of 2013, in the Nevsky district of St. Petersburg migrant workers and their families have been documented living in unsafe housing conditions that lacked utilities such as safe drinking water and electricity.[48]:34 Many of the workers were from the former Soviet Republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.[48]:34 As of 2013, there was also a shantytown on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, segregated in a remote, difficult to access industrial area, whose residents were Uzbek citizens from Khorezm city.[48]:35–6 In addition to concerns over health and safety similar to those faced by migrant workers in Nevsky district, this settlement had no waste collection service, and contained large garbage pits.[48]:37

Other areas of environmental concern have been the settlements of "Roma-Mugat" migrants from Tajikistan, such as the settlement at Volodarka village, St. Petersburg.[48]:36 As of 2013, according to ADC Memorial,

The living conditions of Mugat-migrants do not correspond to elementary sanitary norms and requirements for security and hygiene. In Mugat settlements, which usually have several hundred inhabitants, there is no water supply, heating or electricity. Improvised settlements are spread on the boundaries of big towns, near household waste dumps, forest strips, [and] industrial areas ... where there is practically no infrastructure water supply, electricity and sewage system [sic].[48]:36

Many of these "Central Asian Roma-migrants" have extremely poor diets, which are often supplemented by scavenged food from dumps.[48]:36 This has caused epidemic proportions of "tuberculosis, hepatitis, intestinal disorders, and helminthiasis".[48]:36

Romani migrants from Hungary often face visible issues of environmental marginalization in Russia.[48]:36–7 As of 2013, according to ADC Memorial, "One of the largest Roma-Magyar settlements is situated in the industrial area on the outskirts of Saint-Petersburg. It borders the Saint-Petersburg-Moscow railway line and the household waste dump."[48]:36 Within the camp, the houses were made of scavenged materials, and basic services and utilities such as water, sewerage, and garbage collection were nonexistent; for bathing, many residents used water from a nearby marsh.[48]:36–7 Due to substandard housing and the lack of water distribution, all residents lived in constant risk of fire hazards.[48]


According to the United Nations Development Program's 2011 Regional Roma Survey, 66% of Romani households in Moldova did not have access to a "piped, public water supply and remained dependent on water where the quality was not tested by the competent public authorities".[15]:21


Persistent patterns of environmental racism exist throughout Romania, affecting the Romani minority (not to be confused with the majority ethnic Romanian population). These issues exist within a context of severe poverty. According to scholar Florin Botonogu, "Despite the clear provisions of the Romanian law forbidding human settlements close to garbage pits or other pollution sources, there are many communities in Romania situated in such an environment."[3]:65 Romanian scholar Catalin Berescu has in 2010 written that an estimated 2,000 shanty towns exist throughout Romania, inhabited by approximately 1 million individuals, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Romani.[3]:92 According to Berescu, the development of shantytowns has been a relatively recent phenomenon, only becoming visible since the fall of Communism.[3]:92

In the opinion of Botonogu,

Maybe labeling this situation as racism, as nobody forces them to stay there, is not that obvious, but the fact that in the whole country only Roma communities live in these conditions and the tolerance of the cities to the huge health risks, child labour and general misery represents, for sure, a different treatment by the local authorities towards these groups. Truth is that they have no other option; they have been denied any other job or place to settle.[3]:65

According to the United Nations Development Program's 2011 Regional Roma Survey, 72% of Romani households in Romania did not have access to a "piped, public water supply and remained dependent on water where the quality was not tested by the competent public authorities."[15]:21

Pata Rât dump and chemical waste siteEdit

Cluj landfill, Pata Rât.

In Pata Rât, Cluj County, Romani persons scavenge from a dump as their primary source of income.[3]:65 As of 2013, it was estimated that 1,500 people were living at the site in extreme poverty; in the 1960s, only four families were documented as living there.[5]:392 Today, there are a total of four separate settlements at the Pata Rât dump; 42% of residents were moved to the site by local authorities.[5]:392 The overwhelming majority of residents are from the Romani minority,[5]:392 many of whom work at the site in slave-like conditions of indentured or bonded labour[5]:400 while the Romanian government and private contractors maintain ownership of the waste.[49] Journalists are unwelcome at the site, where filming is strictly prohibited.[49]

According to Enikő Vincze, "the formation of the Cluj landfill as a space of precarious and stigmatized housing and labour, is a site of environmental racism".[5]:391 Predominantly Romani neighbourhoods from throughout the city of Cluj have been evicted and relocated to the dump since 2002.[5]:394 Many different Romani subgroups, further divided by family lines, have been settled into an area near the dump on Cantonului Street, causing inter-community tensions and violence.[5]:394 In 2010, 300 residents of Coastei street were evicted and resettled at the dump near a chemical waste site.[5]:394, 402[49] The newly vacated neighbourhood was subsequently transferred, for free, to the Archbishop of Feleac and Cluj for the purpose of constructing a campus for students of Orthodox Theology at the Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj.[5]:402

In spite of the traumatic nature of the relocation,[5]:402 the Romani community of Coastei Street, which was well integrated in the city and closely connected with urban services, engaged in organized efforts to maintain their social connections to Cluj (such as sending their children to their old schools in the city, and by organizing to ensure access to public transit).[5]:394, 402 With support from NGO's such as the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Working Group of Civil Organizations (gLOC), and Amnesty International, these efforts, which included protests in Cluj, culminated in the formal acquisition of land at Pata Rât.[5]:394 On January 7, 2014, Cluj-Napoca County Court (Tribunal) ruled that the eviction and relocation from Coastei Street was illegal, ordering city authorities to compensate the Romani community for damages, and to also provide compensation for the inadequate housing situation caused by the relocation.[50]

Miercurea CiucEdit

In 2004, authorities in the city of Miercurea Ciuc relocated 100 Romani persons to a site with 12 shacks next to a sewage treatment plant, despite sanctions from the Romanian National Council for Combating Discrimination and the European Court for Human Rights.[3]:65 The relocated persons at the settlement were only granted access to four public toilets in the settlement, and only one source for potable water.[3]:65 Insufficient barriers allowed children to access industrial equipment near the site, posing safety hazards.[3]:80 The plant also emits toxic gases, where warning signs posted surrounding the site explicitly state "Attention! Toxic gas."[1]:25–26 Medically unconfirmed reports from residents claim that two infants have died as a result of the gases.[1]:25

The settlement was only accessible by dirt road, with no public transportation. By 2010, 150 persons were living at the site.[3]:80 The settlement was originally mandated to be temporary in nature, yet by 2010 it had been there for five years.[3]:80 At another settlement near Miercurea Ciuc, 25 people were documented in 2010 as living at or near a garbage pit near a stray dog facility, outside city limits.[3]:81 The inhabitants of this unnamed settlement did not have access to public transportation for sending their children to school; the sole source of employment was scavenging through garbage; and many of the inhabitants were documented as not having identity cards, making it impossible to access social insurance and subsidized health care.[3]:81

Baia Mare chemical plantEdit

On June 1, 2012, hundreds of Romani from the Craica ghetto of Baia Mare were forcibly relocated by local authorities to a former chemical laboratory at a decommissioned chemical factory.[51] Many observers viewed the relocation as an effort by Mayor Cătălin Cherecheș to gain popularity among racist elements of the electorate leading up to elections nine days later.[51] This incident followed the 2011 construction of a six foot high wall, also instigated by Cherecheş, to encircle a Romani neighbourhood in Baia Mare.[51] Cherecheş has stated that living conditions would be favourable to the Romani at the chemical plant compared to Craica, despite the former factory having a reputation among Romanians as a "plant of death" due to its status as the second-most polluting chemical facility in the country.[51]

Within several hours of arriving on site, 22 Romani children and two adults began to exhibit symptoms of chemical poisoning, resulting in a major response by emergency personnel and evacuation of the sick to hospital.[51] It is believed the poisoning was caused by containers of chemical substances which had been abandoned at the property.[51] Shortly afterwards, on June 3, the mayor's mother, Viorica Cherecheş, also a physician and the director of a local hospital, arrived on scene with a police presence, and ordered the relocated Romani to collect, without any safety equipment, all of the remaining chemical containers.[51]

According to Marian Mandache, executive director of the Romani rights organization Romani CRISS, it is suspected that the action was to remove evidence of wrongdoing.[51] On June 7, 36 Romani and non-Romani NGO's signed a letter to Romanian Prime Minister Victor Pona regarding the relocation, and held a protest outside the Romanian parliament.[51]

Other resettlementsEdit

In 2007, the city of Dorohui-Centrul Vechi displaced 14–15 Romani families following the demolishment of a housing complex. These individuals were then planned to be relocated to a social housing facility located close to a wastewater treatment plant and an industrial estate.[1]:25 Also in 2007, with funding from the European Commission (which has a financing policy that prohibits exclusionary forms of segregation) plans were developed to construct 20 houses for Romani within an industrial zone in Constanța, with no access to nearby schools, limited transportation, and no community facilities.[1]:25 Similar resettlements of Romani residents to environmentally problematic locations have taken place in Piatra Neamt, Episcopia Bihor, Bucharest, and Salaj Silmeul Silvaniei, of which the former two cases had residents located near and on top of garbage dumps, respectively.[1]:26


Romani district in Sofia.

According to Babourkova, Romani communities in Bulgaria have, in post-socialist times, been subject to "environmental injustices" such as unequal access to infrastructure, housing, and utilities.[52]:24 Bulgarian electricity distribution was privatized between 2000 and 2005.[52]:31 Prior to the collapse of socialism, access to electricity was near-universal; inequalities in distribution began to emerge following privatization.[52]:31 A number of Romani settlements throughout Bulgaria do not have any electrical services.[52]:34 Meanwhile, 89% of Romani persons in Bulgaria do not have access to clean water.[1]:38


In the Fakulteta district of Sofia, a Romani ghetto estimated at 60,000 residents (the official figure is 15,000), housing is predominantly substandard, public transit is minimal, water supply and sewerage is limited, and the electrical network is inadequate and subject to frequent failures.[52]:33–34 In the poorest section of Fakulteta, Glavova mahala, only one water outlet exists for 200 families.[1]:42 Until June 2003, medical services in the community were "non-existent".[1]:40 Because the city of Sofia does not provide garbage collection services, residents regularly burn their garbage and children have been documented burning old tires, causing them to be exposed to toxic gases which may contain carcinogens such as dioxins.[1]:42 Another concern is the illegal dumping of solid and hazardous waste.[1]:42 Construction firms regularly dump potentially toxic waste in Fakulteta to skirt disposal regulations; a former green space in the settlement has been converted into an illegal disposal site.[1]:42


In the Romani settlement of Stolipinovo in Plovdiv, residents had their electricity shut off by the private Austrian utility company EVN Group in February 2002, due to the community's cumulative failure to pay utility bills since the early 1990s.[52]:35 Following the shutdown, protests and confrontations with police ensued, and the entire settlement had its electrical access reduced to the hours of 7pm to 7am, causing significant challenges for food storage and preparation.[52]:35 Babourkova argues that this incident is "a clear-cut case of distributional injustice towards the Roma population of Stolipinovo leading to a disproportionate health burden for local residents".[52]:35–36


According to Amnesty International, "Slovenia is a highly developed country and enjoys a GDP per capita above the average in the European Union", with nearly 100% access to clean water.[53]:41 However, also according to Amnesty International, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of southeastern Slovenian Romani settlements do not have access to clean water.[53]:41 Due to the lack of precise, comprehensive information, it is believed that this statistic under-represents the prevalence of water access issues for Slovenian Romani.[53]:41 In the Romani settlement of Dobruška vas in Škocjan, residents have reported having to drink water from a stream contaminated by sewage and waste from a slaughterhouse, and a local pediatrician from Novo Mesto has testified that children from the settlement experience extremely high rates of illnesses such as diarrhea and Rotavirus.[53]:45

In the words of UN Expert on Human Rights – Water and Sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque, speaking on June 1, 2010 regarding the situation for Slovenian Romani:

The consequences of this lack of access to water and sanitation are devastating for these communities. ... In one community with no access to water, the people drink from a polluted stream, or have to walk for 2 hours to obtain safe water. They collect the water in jerry cans to haul back to their homes. ... The situation is reminiscent of situations I have witnessed in much poorer countries and astonishing to observe in a country where so much has been achieved for the vast majority of the population.[53]:42


According to the United Nations Development Program's 2011 Regional Roma Survey, 35% of Romani households in Croatia did not have access to a "piped, public water supply and remained dependent on water where the quality was not tested by the competent public authorities".[15]:21

Bosnia and HerzegovinaEdit

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 17% of Romani persons lack access to electricity and 25.8% do not have household access to drinking water.[54]:24 Scrap metal collection is a dominant economic activity, despite its known health hazards.[54]:22 In Lukavac, northern Bosnia, a Romani settlement was subject to severe flooding in 2014, and residents did not receive government funding to rebuild.[55] One severe example of environmental inequality in Lukavac, where Romani persons lack adequate access to energy resources, is the practice of coal theft.[55] Young Romani men climb onto moving freight trains departing from the Lukavac coal mine in an attempt to push coal off the tops of the roofless cars by hand.[55] After the coal falls to the ground, the men then collect the coal into 50 kilogram bags which are then sold in town for two Euros apiece.[55] According to nearby residents, several individuals collecting coal have died in accidents involving trains as a result of this practice.[55]


Gazela Settlement (Karton City), Belgrade

Gazela SettlementEdit

Fire near Romani settlement in Belgrade

An unplanned Romani settlement called Gazela (Karton City) was located in Belgrade, Serbia near a railway underneath the Gazela Bridge, one of the main highway access points to the city.[3]:89–91 It was dismantled in 2010.[3]:92

The "We clean Serbia" campaignEdit

Between 2009 and 2013, a national government-supported environmental campaign took place under the name "We clean Serbia".[56]:2 The campaign identified so-called "wild dumps" (open-air landfills with poor environmental controls) as the most significant pollution source in Belgrade, and sought to address ecological issues surrounding these dumps.[56]:2

As part of the "We clean Serbia" campaign, the city government of Belgrade displaced 17 Romani slums that were on or near the dumps, which were formally classified as "unhygienic settlements".[56]:2 These informal settlements, where residents worked as waste pickers, were largely the direct result of the Yugoslav wars—especially the Kosovo war—as most of the residents came to inhabit these settlements as internally displaced persons (IDP's), refugees, or repatriated refugees.[56]:2 An estimated 75% of recycled materials in Serbia are gathered by informal waste pickers; however, this activity is illegal.[56]:5

Over 2,800 slum residents were displaced,[56]:2 half of whom were settled into initially "temporary"[56]:3 shipping containers on the outskirts of Belgrade; the other half were evicted from Belgrade altogether.[56]:2 The container settlements have been criticized by economic anthropologist Eva Schwab, who has argued that social services provided to residents are tied to problematic "contracts of use" which require residents not to store scavenged materials near their containers, and to be employed by the Public Utility Service for its own recycling programmes.[56]:3 Under this system, Romani who do not comply are denied social services (such as education for their children) and face removal from their dwelling.[56]:3 Municipal governments in Belgrade have also complained of poor infrastructure in the container settlements and have documented failure of low-quality water pipes, which has resulted in flooding that has caused significant disruption for neighbouring communities.[56]:4–5


As of 2007, close to 1,000 persons in Belgrade were inhabiting the Romani settlement of Deponija (which means "dumping site" in Serbian).[1]:43 The settlement had been established in the 1970s situated on top of a former dump, which was officially shut down, gradually, in the 1980s.[1]:43 Polluting factories surround the settlement.[1]:43 The primary livelihood of residents was recycling from garbage trucks hired to dump in the community, an activity which frequently led to the unintended accumulation of non-recyclable waste in the settlement.[1]:44 The community lacked clean water, sewage treatment, and utility connections.[1]:43


Nikšič-Trebejsa & ŽelezovaEdit

Situated near the city of Nikčić is one of the most populous Romani settlements in Montenegro.[57] The settlement is isolated from the city, yet located between a steel production facility which emits hazardous pollutants[57] and an iron ore mine.[15]:27 According to a 2017 European Roma Rights Centre report, "The air and land in the settlements is permanently contaminated by iron ore dust from passing trucks."[15]:27

Konik 2Edit

Konik 2 is a camp for internally displaced persons from Kosovo of Romani origin, situated on the outskirts of the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica.[15]:27 In spite of oversight from the UNHCR and Italian Red Cross, as of 2014 the camp lacked basic access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation, and has been serviced by only one water tap.[15]:27


Prilep and TetovoEdit

In the Romani settlement of Prilep in Macedonia, there is no working sewage system.[1]:37 A similar situation exists in a Romani settlement in Tetovo, where there is no clean water, electricity or sewerage, and high rates of disease.[1]:37


As of 2016, along the Vardar River in central Skopje, Macedonia, there is a Romani settlement of approximately two hundred persons who do not have safe access to clean drinking water.[15]:27 Sewerage and sanitation services do not exist, and garbage accumulation is a concern.[15]:27 The pump used to provide water from the Vardar River had previously been used for agricultural purposes, and has repeatedly tested positive for contaminants.[15]:27


Veles, Macedonia.

For thirty years until 2003,[58] 700 mostly Romani families in the town of Veles, Macedonia, were exposed annually to 62,000 tons of zinc, 47,300 tons of lead, and 120,000 tons of sulphur dioxide from a nearby smelting plant.[1]:29 Despite opposition from experts advising the project, the smelter was built 300 meters from the houses of 60,000 people.[59] Frequently, newborns in the town were diagnosed with cancer, respiratory or blood issues, lung disease, and heart disease.[1]:29 In 2005, Veles pediatrician Rozeta Bosilkova stated "My patients do not respond well to any treatment, even for the common cold. This is because their defence mechanisms have been badly eroded."[59] According to the Association for the Protection of Future Generations of Veles, the children of two families were tested with lead levels between five and seven times normal concentrations.[59]

Due to concerns over food contamination, in 2001 the mayor of Veles requested that all agricultural and cattle farming operations be shut down.[1]:29 In 2005, one doctor working in the town described the situation as resembling a "horror film", stating "Babies are being born with entire organs missing. The deformities are frightening."[59]

Following proposals to re-open the smelter in 2006 by Metrudhem DOOEL Skopje, a series of protests and court battles took place.[58] In 2014, the City of Veles deleted the plant from its Detailed Urban Plan, effectively shutting down the operation permanently, which was legally possible due to the plant having been closed for three years prior.[58] Severe pollution from 1.7 million tons of slag remain; as of 2016, the Macedonian firm Ekocentar has won a contract to mine the slag for zinc, lead, and cadmium.[58]


Tirana, Lake AreaEdit

According to the European Roma Rights Centre, as recently as 2015 there was a large Romani settlement built above waste landfill on the outskirts of Tirana in Municipality 11 situated next to a "poisonous Tirana city lake".[15]:27 In absence of a reliable water system, residents obtained water from a private seller.[15]:27 During the frequent absences of this service, residents would obtain water from the lake, in spite of health concerns regarding its toxicity.[15]:27 Following an alleged robbery of a German tourist by a Romani individual from the area, the settlement was evicted in 2015.[15]:27

According to the United Nations Development Program's 2011 Regional Roma Survey, 30% of Romani households in Albania did not have access to a "piped, public water supply and remained dependent on water where the quality was not tested by the competent public authorities".[15]:21


Mitrovica lead poisoning disasterEdit

During the 1999 war in Kosovo, Romani communities did not align militarily with Serbian or Albanian forces during the ethnic-based conflict.[60][61] As a result, four-fifths of the Romani people in Kosovo were violently expelled from their homes.[4]:239 NATO did not intervene.[4]:239 In total, 100,000 Romani Kosovars were displaced.[62] 50,000 fled to the European Union; however, due to their legal status as internally displaced persons, they were not legally allowed to freely leave the territories of the former Yugoslavia.[60]

The UNHCR relocated five hundred displaced Romani from Mitrovica to a camp in northern Kosovo[4]:209 located on top of an abandoned lead tailings site at the former Trepča mining complex in Kosovska.[60][61][62] In 2005, the World Health Organization stated that "the worst environmental disaster for children in the whole of Europe" was happening, declaring the camps unfit for human habitation and in need of immediate evacuation.[4]:209 Prior to the war, the Romani community in Mitrovica was economically active. According to Skender Gushani of the Association for the Protection of Roma Rights Mitrovica

Trepča metallurgy facility

We [the Romani of Mitrovica] had shops, a market, restaurants, our own local government council with representatives, and we maintained our culture and traditions. We didn't have to go to town for anything because here we had everything we needed. In our neighbourhood we had technical equipments [sic], car repair shops and masons ... 6000 of us had jobs at Trepca, the battery factory of Zvecan, where we smelted lead. There were also some among us, about 20 of us, who are well-educated and worked in the local government council.[60]

According to Avdula Mustafa, an activist with the Roma and Ashkalia Documentation Center, the UNHCR promised that the refugee camps in Kosovska were only temporary, and would be closed within 45 days.[60] However, the UNHCR added a second and third camp, indicating no intention of relocating from the site.[60] The names of the three camps were Cesmin Lug, Kablare, and Osterode.[60] These camps were located on or near 500 tonnes of toxic waste.[60] Across the River Ibar, there is a further 100 million tonnes of toxic slag,[60] a legacy of mining and smelting activities at the Trepča complex whose operations spanned from 1927 to 2000.[60]

At these new settlements, living conditions were severely substandard. Constructed by the UNHCR in collaboration with Action by Churches Together, houses on the toxic sites were built with lead-painted boards,[62] no working sewerage system, and no reliable sources of running water.[60] Residents lived in fear of violence from neighboring non-Romani communities, restricting their freedom of movement and ability to leave the camps.[60]

In 2000, the World Health Organization conducted the first round of blood tests of residents in the camps. Blood lead levels were so high that the WHO recommended immediate evacuation of the camps, as well as fencing off the sites to prevent future exposure.[62] In 2005, the WHO conducted further tests which determined that levels of lead in the blood of children from the camps were the highest ever recorded among humans.[60]

Tests for lead poisoning among 60 children were administered by Dr. Miljana Stojanovich, a doctor working for the Institute of Public Health in Mitrovica, who later stated "I haven't heard of results like this from anywhere else in the world...such high lead-levels in blood from such a small area."[62] The tests determined that most children had blood lead levels higher than 65 micrograms per deciliter, the highest Dr. Stojanovich's instruments could measure.[62] Test samples sent to a lab in Belgium were re-taken in order to verify if such levels were even possible; the results confirmed that children tested held the highest concentrations of blood lead in medical literature.[61] 10 micrograms per deciliter is the threshold at which brain damage begins, including IQ loss, according to Dorit Nitzan, Director of WHO Serbia, who has stated that the camps constitute "one of the most serious public health disasters in modern Europe".[60]

Trepça's factory ruins

In spite of concerns over lead exposure, the UNHCR decided to keep the camps open.[62] Shortly after receiving the 2000 test results, the UN built a jogging track and basketball court between two of the settlements, naming the area the "Alley of Health".[62] Signs in poorly translated English posted at the site by the UNHCR read


In the opinion of Ilija Elezovich from the Kosovo Health Authority during a 2005 interview, "the danger is so great that it threatens to destroy one full generation of Roma children ... they [UNHCR] made a catastrophic mistake by building these camps. Nobody cared about the danger of this location. This is very tragic for everybody, but especially for the Roma inhabitants."[62]

According to a 2008 and subsequent 2009 interview with Avdula Mustafa, the UNHCR responded to intense international attention toward the case by publicly promoting a plan to move residents to a former French military barracks.[60] However, this proposed site was only 50 meters away from one of the original settlements, and thus of minimal improvement in terms of environmental health effects.[60] Romani activists such as Mustafa have speculated that the UNHCR was attempting to pressure residents into returning to their former homes, despite grave fears over their personal safety.[60] Concern related to these allegations grew following withdrawals of international assistance including emergency medications used to mitigate lead poisoning among children and pregnant women.[60] By 2005, 29 deaths had been recorded in the camps.[62] By 2012, that number had risen to approximately 100, most of them children.[61] In 2012, 100 families were moved off the contaminated site, but 40 families remained.[61]

The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has granted itself diplomatic immunity[63] claiming it cannot be held legally accountable for its actions.[62] However, a lawsuit was initiated by the European Roma Rights Centre in 2006 with the European Court of Human Rights.[63] All children conceived in the camps have irreversible brain damage.[62]

Western EuropeEdit


The systematic targeting and genocide of Romani and Sinti communities in Germany during the Holocaust was not officially recognized until 1982.[64] Despite having a recorded presence in German-speaking territories since 1419,[65]:147 many Romani and Sinti were denied or stripped of citizenship following the war.[65]:149 In absence of comprehensive reparation or conciliation processes,[64] Romani and Sinti in Germany have experienced ongoing violence, harassment, and marginalization[66][65]:148–52 within a broader context of environmental discrimination.[64][67]:6 The relationship between postwar socio-economic exclusion of Romani and Sinti communities with environmental marginalization has been documented by scholars such as Alphia Abdikeeva as early as 2002.[64][65]:177 According to Abdikeeva, Heuss, and Kawczyński, "most of the so-called 'Sinti settlements' were formed after the war, when German Sinti and Roma who returned to their hometowns from concentration camps were resettled in city and town slums, usually in the least attractive area, in conditions which posed serious environmental and health risks".[65]:177

Henkel Terosonstrasse Sinti settlementEdit

As of 2004, several hundred Sinti families resided on the outskirts of Heidelberg in a settlement by the name of Henkel Terosonstrasse,[68] in a chemically contaminated area outside city limits.[64] Most residents were unemployed; both the land and groundwater were believed to be contaminated.[68] Across the street from the site is a chemical plant operated by Henkel Chemical Company.[64] In spite of health concerns, as of 2004 no studies on health and environmental effects had been conducted.[68]

Berlin Land Dreilinden property (Sinti camp)Edit

Since 1995, authorities in Berlin have operated a user-fee camping facility for seasonal Sinti workers on the Dreilinden property.[64] The facility houses up to 200 persons[67]:39 and is a source of concern due to its location on the outskirts of Berlin, constructed along 100 meters of railway line.[64] Housing conditions are poor, while utilities and infrastructure is minimal.[64]

Georgwerderring Sinti settlementEdit

In the mid-1980s, authorities selected a former toxic waste dump as the location for a new Sinti settlement by the name of Georgwerderring on the outskirts of Hamburg, in spite of the site having been deemed unfit for human habitation during the mid-1970s.[68] Home to at least 200 persons,[68] residents were not informed of the site's history.[65]:177 As of 2004, there were concerns that rising groundwater may have forced toxins to the surface and contaminated the land and air, sparking fears among some medical experts that birth defects, stillborns, and certain illnesses could be dramatically on the rise.[68] As of 2004, the settlement was isolated, poorly served by public transportation, and located in close proximity to the new Hamburg city dump posing further ongoing health concerns.[65]:178

Kistnersgrund Sinti settlementEdit

In the 1970s, the Kistnersgrund Sinti settlement was constructed in Bad Hersfeld, Hesse. Located on the outskirts of the city, it was situated on top of a garbage dump.[65]:178 Following a hepatitis outbreak in the early 1980s, authorities relocated the community to a new settlement called Haunewiese, where residents have experienced substandard housing conditions.[65]:178

Gorleben exploratory mine for storing uranium waste

United KingdomEdit

Air pollution in the United Kingdom has been identified as an issue disproportionately affecting minority ethnic and racial groups, particularly those who identify as Black-British African.[69] According to a UK Government report, "Nationally, for those who live in areas overlapping the motorway and A road network in England, on average ethnic groups not classified as White–British are exposed to 17.5 per cent higher concentrations of PM10 ... Across the different areas individuals identified as Black or Black-British African are exposed to the highest levels of PM10 of up to almost 30 per cent higher than White British.[69]

Traveller halting site, London.

Romani and Travellers in the UK have been identified as experiencing unequal burdens of negative environmental living conditions. In Wales, Romani and Traveller sites have been documented as being frequently located near scrap metal facilities, which is a major source of employment.[70]:54[71] Romani and Travellers frequently burn scrap as a way of cleaning metals for recycling[70]:57–8 which can be a cause for health concerns. Throughout the United Kingdom, many public Romani and Traveller encampment and housing sites are, according to Staniewicz, "located in polluted environments, far away from local services, next to sewage works or under flyovers. Pitches are often overcrowded and facilities are well below the standard expected of social housing."[70]:56

In general, Romani and Traveller sites are rural and segregated from areas that would normally be considered residential areas; it is common for these sites to be environmentally disadvantaged by being located near motorways, railroads, and garbage dumps,[70]:58 quarries, waterways, electrical transmission lines, or surrounded by industrial zones, all of which have been identified as environmental health concerns.[72]:45 As of 2004, seventy percent of local authority (LA) Irish Traveller sites in England were identified as having at least two or more environmental hazards, while twenty-three percent of such sites were identified as being subject to four or more environmental hazards.[72]:45

According to Steger, "A high percentage of Gypsy and Traveller communities in the United Kingdom (UK) are located in areas that are fully unsuitable for living and raising families. In addition to the environmental health risks posed by living in highly polluted areas, such communities also tend to be on the outskirts of towns making access to public services, transportation, and employment difficult, if not impossible."[1]:20 The United Kingdom Department of Health supported a 2004 study that identified Romani and Travellers as being subject to disproportionate health needs compared to other ethnic minority groups in the UK, yet receiving substantially less health services.[1]:21

Barry's Council's Gander siteEdit

One location of particular concern has been Barry's Council's Gander site in West London, inhabited by Irish Travellers. As of 2004, the site was situated near a highway and next to an aggregate concrete factory, which was built in 1999, prior to the Travellers being moved onto the site by local authorities.[72]:45 One survey determined that approximately half the residents felt that the site was unhealthy; since moving to the site, residents have reported skin rashes and abnormalities, asthma, and breathing difficulties among infants.[72]:45–6 One observer has stated

Illegal waste disposal at Traveller site, Hull.

Maybe the asthma has a connection with the factory because you couldn't even see through the windscreen [on her car] with the dust on it. The general health of the Travellers on site is pretty good ... a lot of them are registered with the medical centre.[72]:46

Communication between factory management and Traveller residents over health concerns and industrial operations plans has been described as being insufficient.[72]:45 The settlement was subject to irregular or nonexistent garbage collection services, poor sewerage, rat infestations, and fire hazards.[72]:46 Residents asked for either the factory to be shut down, or for themselves to be relocated to a different area of Gander.[72]:45 At one meeting at the site in 2001, residents expressed a readiness to leave their traditional nomadic lifestyle by moving into houses, citing restrictive laws on travelling, frequent evictions, allegations of constant police harassment, and deteriorating health conditions at the Barry site.[72]:45 Dr. Colm Powers, who conducted a comprehensive report in 2004 on the social and health situation of Irish Travellers in England, has argued that pressure on Travellers to abandon their nomadic lifestyle constitutes a pressing human rights issue.[72]:46 According to Powers, the pressure to settle is twofold, stemming from the perceived criminalization of travelling, combined with the arguably poor quality of camping locations.[72]:46 Powers argues the process of settling into permanent housing is a traumatic experience for many Travellers, who can experience cultural challenges and further social marginalization. In the view of Powers,

These twin pressures [of criminalization and poor camping sites] gives support to the painful and disturbing process of cultural breakdown that leads to assimilation into the most marginalised and excluded sections of society. Nomadism is usually recognised by settled society as the sole (or salient) ethnic qualifier for Travellers, so its criminalisation and eradication erroneously signals the cultural assimilation of Travellers and Gypsies. This 'blindness' to the depth, complexity and strength of Traveller culture leaves 'settled' Travellers with little sensitive health and welfare support when they are forced into settled accommodation and it is most needed. The inability or unwillingness of many institutional support agencies to engage actively, supportively and sensitively with settled Travellers is creating a well of discontent among many young settled Travellers that is already evident in the high levels of criminalisation particularly in the settled Irish Traveller population[72]:46

Discrimination towards Romani and Travellers in Green Belt landsEdit

Dale Farm, prior to eviction

In 2015, community secretary Eric Pickles was found by a high court ruling to be in breach of the 2010 Equality Act.[73] According to Justice Gilbart, sitting in London, Pickles had "unlawfully discriminated" against Romani communities seeking to establish camping sites in Green Belt lands by systematically delaying and overturning their development proposals.[73] According to Romani activists, "local councils have consistently failed to earmark land for potential sites in local plans, and many Gypsies and Travellers have bought land, including in the green belt, to develop sites for themselves".[73] Yet, according to Justice Gilbart, Pickles had created a policy in 2013–2014 that systematically turned down development appeal requests by "Romani Gypsies" and "Travellers".[73] This policy was found by Justice Gilbart to be a protocol "which discriminated against a racial group".[73]

The planning minister, Brandon Lewis, responded to the ruling by stating "The government's planning policy is clear that both temporary and permanent traveller sites are inappropriate development in the green belt. Today's judgment does not question that principle."[73]

The Equality and Human Rights Commission responded to the ruling by stating "We have a duty to protect everyone from discrimination and ensure that the law is applied fairly, consistently and equally for all. We understand the need to be sensitive about green belt development but this should not be used to single out individuals for unlawful discrimination. Planning decisions should be taken on the merits of an application, not the characteristics of the applicant."[73]

Previously, Eric Pickles, a Conservative cabinet minister, had been accused in 2011 of allowing his department to release a statement which referred to Traveller camps on green belt lands as a "blight".[74] During an interview on ITV, Pickles stated of the camps that "We inherited a situation where the number of illegal sites had gone up four-fold and what we expect them to do is obey the law like you and I do," he said, continuing "It does not give people the right to come on to a green belt...and to trash it."[74] Joseph P. Jones, chairman of the Gypsy Council and Yvonne MacNamara, director of the Irish Traveller's Movement respectively, have responded with public statements expressing their view that Pickles' comments were discriminatory and hostile in nature,[74] with Jones stating that Pickles' statements constituted an example of how the Romani and Traveller communities are often treated by dominant culture as "toxic waste".[75] According to Jones, the UK government had been applying a discriminatory standard by denying Romani and Traveller development applications, while simultaneously having a history of approving construction of towns such as Milton Keynes, Basildon New Town, and New Ash Green, the latter two of which were, in the words of Jones, "built for the total strangers of the London overflow, on the open countryside or green belt".[75] In the opinion of Jones,

We [Romani and Travellers] have been constantly pushed out on the periphery of society, through the failures those in local political positions to identify and provide accommodation. This is not new, ever since the Caravans Sites Act of 1960 the Gypsy/Traveller population have constantly seen the goal posts moved, heard those in power, saying this is not the right place for your type. But we never seem to get any directions to a place that is.[75]

Dale Farm Romani and Traveller settlementEdit
Demolition of house, Dale Farm 2011.

The eviction of Dale Farm in Essex,[74] a camp settlement formerly home to approximately 1,000 Romani and Travellers on Green Belt land has been highlighted as a case of racially motivated marginalization.[70]:71 The camp, located on a former scrap metal yard, had been inhabited by Romani and Travellers since the 1960s; however, despite ownership of the land, residents were denied zoning permits to develop the property.[70]:71 Illuzzi argues that in 2011, "expulsions and legal battle over the status of Dale Farm in the UK highlighted yet another confrontation over the illegality of Roma/Traveller behavior when they legally purchased 'green belt' land and were denied permits from the town council to build on that land. Town councils continue to work against allowing Traveller settlements in or near their towns."[76]:7 The evictions were completed in 2011 and involved violent clashes with police.[74]

Historical documentation (Mitcham Common)Edit

Instances of racialized marginalization within an environmental context have been documented in the United Kingdom dating back to the late 1800s. According to Mayall, the district of Mitcham was subject to spatial segregation of transient populations, including Romani and Traveller groups (referred to as "Gypsies"):

As we have noted, certain locales appear to lend themselves to housing a transient population: Mitcham on the borders of South London and Surrey was one such place. By the late 19th century Surrey was a main centre for Gypsies, itinerants and vagrants with an estimated (though probably exaggerated) 10,000 in the county alone, many of whom had been expelled from London through a combination of 'the Metropolitan Police, land agents, sanitary authorities, and building developments.' (Mayall, 1988, pp 158-9).[77]:67

Smith and Greenfields note the link between poverty, upper-class departure (for the United States context, see white flight) and the demographic presence of Romani and Traveller communities in Mitcham, as well as the economic prominence of environmentally polluting 'dirty industries' within the community. In the words of Smith and Greenfields,

W.J. Bush & Co distillery explosion aftermath.

Mitcham had long been one of the poorest parishes in Surrey and records of Gypsies camping in the area date back to the 1700s. Between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries the area declined in respectability as several landowning families departed and its population grew significantly as outward migration from London increased the population of poor and displaced residents (Smith, 2005, p 67). Of these, Gypsies and itinerants formed a significant minority: the 1881 census records 230 Gypsies and vagrants camping on Mitcham Common … [Mitcham] contained an abundance of market gardens which provided regular seasonal employment with the locality becoming an important site for industry in the early to mid-20th century, particularly the 'dirty industries' such as paint making, chemical works and bone boiling, which had been expelled from inner London by the 1845 Health Act. The importance of Gypsy labour to the area's industry in this period is revealed by Montague, who notes that … when Purdom's [paint and varnish] factory was originally established production had been seasonal, taking place mainly in the winter months when Gypsy and other casual labour employed on the physic gardens during the rest of the year was available at very low rates. (Montague, 2006, p 79)[77]:67

By 1909, over 190 vans were documented as being situated at Mitcham Common, along with numerous others at sites nearby, in spite of efforts to displace nomadic residents through by-laws such as the Mitcham Common Act of 1891.[77]:67–8 In the words of Smith and Greenfields, the urban area of Mitcham became a district where

Gypsies had moved into the small terraced houses that were known locally as 'Redskin Village' (in reference to the dark colouring of its inhabitants) by the 1920s. According to Montague, by the 1930s the area had become one of the most disreputable and notorious in the district and was 'associated in the public mind with some of the worst slums in the emerging township' (Montague, 2006, p 113).[77]:67–8

At 7am on March 30, 1933,[78] an explosion took place at the W.J. Bush & Co essential oils distillery adjacent to 'Redskin Village', killing a twelve year-old boy and seriously injuring twenty-three others.[78][79] According to the Merton Memories Photographic Archive, "the explosion brought this community ['Redskin Village'] to an end", although the distillery re-opened and continued operations until 1968, closing after 200 years in the same location.[79] Images taken of the explosion provide early photographic documentation of an event involving an ethnic minority community in the UK affected by an industrial disaster.


Travellers in Ireland have a documented history of experiencing racism within an environmental context, particularly with regards to hazardous working conditions in the metal recycling sector.[80]:145–150 According to research conducted in 2010 by the All Ireland Traveller Health Study, approximately 2,700 Irish Travellers lacked access to running water, out of a total Traveller population of 36,224 in the Republic of Ireland and 3,905 in Northern Ireland.[81][82]:68, 77 In the same survey, nearly a quarter of Traveller respondents stated that they felt either "unhealthy or very unhealthy" in their places of residence.[82]:83

According to a 2008 report on Traveller housing conditions by the Centre for Housing Research, 82.5% of housing locations (namely group housing facilities and caravan or halting sites) were found to be situated with "some form of environmental hazard nearby".[83] Out of 40 halting sites and group housing facilities evaluated, 33 were found to be near such hazards, which were listed as electricity pylons, telephone masts, dumps, major roads, and industrial pollution.[83] Likewise, sixteen of the locations had no designated green space (and of the remaining 19 sites, only five had green space in active use), thirty-one had no functional emergency equipment, thirty-eight had no communal phone access, and twenty-one did not have provisions for horses.[83]

As a distinct ethnic group, Travellers in Ireland are subject to racism, in spite of their physical appearances. According to Canadian sociologist Jane Helleiner, "some of the first challenges to a model of Southern Ireland as ethnically homogeneous and free of racism came from activists concerned with the status of Travelling People ... The identification of Travellers as an ethnic group has been a central premise of the human rights and community development work of Traveller advocacy organizations from at least the 1980s, and these groups by naming the discrimination and exclusion experiences by Travellers as a form of Irish racism have been influential in injecting the term into Irish political discourse (McVeigh 1996: 9)." According to Helleiner, "For some activist-scholars ... anti-Travellerism is understood as a form of 'racism without race'—i.e., a form of inferiorized difference that does not invoke biological inferiority, but rather notions of undesirable cultural difference (see Anthias citing Balibar 1995: 294)."[80]:4

Galway city dumpEdit

During the early 1980s, Galway City began to experience significant economic growth. According to Helleiner (2000), "In the early 1950s the central government prompted internationally financed industrial development in the Galway region, and by the mid-1960s the city was specifically targeted for investment and provided with industrial estate (Ó Cearbhill and Cawley 1984: 258-9) ... Galway City has continued to see tremendous economic, demographic, and spatial growth associated with international investment in industry and service sectors and a vigorous tourist trade."[80]:15 However, according to Helleiner, social and economic inequalities have persisted in the region.[80]:15

Travellers continue to engage in informal and self-employed labour, particularly metal recycling and car scrapping, as this type of employment supports "an independent and nomadic way of life".[84] During the 1980s Travellers increasingly gravitated toward casual labour that allowed for greater autonomy than formal labour, motivated in part by the racist conditions of formal labour markets in Ireland.[80]:145 For employment, Travellers scavenged from the Galway city dump as well as industrial and commercial refuse bins for scrap metal.[80]:145 Work in the scrap metal trade at the Galway City dump has been described by Helleiner as being exclusively performed by women, working in unsanitary conditions amidst piles of garbage.[80]:146 In the words of Helleiner, "None of the men engaged in this dangerous activity.[80]:146

The work at the dump was organized by informal means, as described by Helleiner: "Gaining and keeping a regular position at the dump depended on having close kinship or affinal ties to those already established."[80]:148 Also, scrap metal collection involved logistical challenges of transporting product, and the need for capital investments such as vehicles.[80]:147 In spite of the health risks (including cleaning the metal by burning off non-metallic material)[80]:148 and capital investments entailed in this work, Travellers were economically disadvantaged by fluctuations in prices set from scrap metal merchants.[80]:149 According to Helleiner

Travellers were in a vulnerable position in this exchange as the prices for scrap were set by larger forces of demand and supply and bore no relationship to the amount of labour involved. There were few ways for Travellers to alter the terms of trade to their advantage. Most, for instance, had little withholding power as they lacked sufficient space on which to stockpile scrap in anticipation of higher prices ... This particular form of 'self-employment,' then, was dependent upon unequal exchanges over which Travellers had little independent control.[80]:149

Carrickmines fireEdit

At 4:24 AM, October 10, 2015, Dublin emergency services responded to a fire that swept through a trailer at the Carrickmines halting site on Glenamuck Road South.[85] Ten Travellers, five children and five adults, perished in the blaze.[85] Fourteen were left homeless. Substandard housing conditions have been cited as potential contributing causes of the fire.[85] Immediate attempts by survivors to stop the blaze were impossible due to the water at the closest fire hydrant having been shut off by local authorities several months prior.[86] Following the tragedy, plans were made to rehouse the survivors at a site adjacent to Rockville Drive.[87] At first, survivors of the fire received public shows of respect.[88] However, claiming not to have been consulted by their local council, residents of the neighbourhood opposed the resettlement, and protested by blockading excavation machinery from the site.[87] According to a close non-Traveller family friend of the survivors who organized the funeral,

From Dublin to Wexford, the courtesy from people was just absolutely, it was like a state funeral. Every village that we passed through, people come out, they raised their cups, you know, it was so much respect shown for the family all the way down and, you know, it wasn't ignored, the family couldn't believe that people actually come out and respected them in this manner, but that was all taken away the minute we hit Wexford town because it was in lockdown even down to the local car parks, for the first time in my life, I got an insight on what it was like to be a Traveller.[88]

The Irish Minister for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin responded to the protest by tweeting, "This disgusting behaviour is not reflective of all settled people."[87] The Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, also commented on the incident, condemning the protest as "wrong".[87] The survivors were not resettled at the Rockville Drive site. Instead, the survivors were re-housed at an isolated location adjacent to a decommissioned garbage dump[87][88] in immediate proximity to a high voltage power station,[88] described by actor and Irish traveller John Connors as a place "that no one could object to".[88]

In August 2017, the survivors returned to their former living site, and were reportedly pleased with the halting site-style redevelopment carried out by the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, according to a family friend.[89] As of August 2017, inquests into the fire deaths are currently underway, and survivors have called for a full inquiry into the tragedy.[89]


Immigrant populations and proximity to hazardous waste facilitiesEdit

In France, categories of minority and race are not officially recognized, nor are they recorded in census or socio-demographic data, which can make instances of environmental racism difficult to identify.[90]:59 Only nationality and country of birth are recorded, and only for first-generation migrants; persons born abroad in France are mostly from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a smaller presence from Eastern Europe.[90]:64

According to a 2008 study by Lucie Laurian titled Environmental Injustice in France, "towns with high proportions of immigrants tend to host more hazardous sites, even controlling for population size, income, [and] degree of industrialization of the town and region".[90]:55 In the case of towns which have the highest percentage of residents who are born abroad, there is a significantly higher likelihood for there to be polluted sites nearby.[90]:68 As stated by Laurian,

The quarter of towns with the highest proportion of persons born abroad (more than 6.3%) are, for example, three times more likely to have illegal dumps, five times more likely to have Seveso ["sites where dangerous, toxic or flammable materials are stored permanently or temporarily"][90]:61 and seven times more likely to have Basol ["sites where (1) soil and/or groundwater are either known to be polluted or potentially polluted; (2) pose or can pose risks to persons or the environment; and (3) are the object of public intervention"][90]:61 sites than the quarter of towns with the lowest proportion of persons born abroad (less than 1.8%).[90]:68

Environmental segregation of Romani and Yenish Traveller sitesEdit

Romani shantytown in St-Denis, near Paris.

As of 2008, there were 279 halting sites designated for French Travellers (Yenish), a distinct ethnic group in France.[91]:18 In a RAXEN interview with the National Association of Catholic Travellers, environmental issues were cited as a factor in the segregated conditions found at most Traveller halting sites, which one resident likened to "Indian Reservations".[91]:43 According to the Association,

Nine times out of ten, these sites are out of town, near rubbish dumps; they are places of 'social relegation'. The association has managed to have certain sites banned that were situated in 'Seveso zones', between motorways and a refinery, seven km from a school etc."[91]:43

Similar issues exist for Romani communities in France. Most reside in shantytowns and other forms of substandard housing, frequently located far outside city centers without access to social services, health care, utilities, or clean drinking water.[91]:24 These settlements are often situated on brownfield sites, near highways or other industrialized transportation infrastructure, or squatting on agricultural or forest lands.[91]:24

Romani settlements and e-wasteEdit

There is evidence to suggest that Romani communities in France may be experiencing environmental discrimination through exposure to e-waste contamination. According to a 2010 investigative report by The Ecologist written by Carolyn Lebel, some Romani people in France have been compelled by "poverty and discrimination" to become involved with the scavenging of electronic waste (e-waste), handling an unknown quantity of the 750,000 tonnes of French e-waste that annually disappears into informal disposal and recycling networks.[92]

Due to allegedly discriminatory employment regulations in France, many Romani find it impossible to gain formal employment.[92] As a result, many have turned to clandestine recycling operations of e-waste in slums outside large French cities.[92] At these sites, e-waste is broken into various types of metals, such as aluminum, copper, iron, and lead. Copper is extracted from cables by burning them in open fires, while car batteries are melted down for lead and refrigerators are sent through car crushers without removing cooling agents, which can release up to four tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere per unit.[92]

According to the observations of Dr. Bernard Moriau, "[The Romani] would work directly above these clouds of black smoke", in reference to Romani people he witnessed working in a forest in the Val d'Oise region near Paris.[92] In 2008, contamination from cancer-causing heavy metals was found in an evicted Romani camp near Lyon; likewise, this finding was preceded by a 1998 study in Bordeaux, Annecy, and Toulouse.[92] The study, conducted by Doctors of the World and local NGOs, identified abnormal lead exposure in fifty percent of children at the camps.[92] Furthermore, one-quarter of the children examined were identified as having lead poisoning.[92] In a 2010 case, 19 children at a site in Lyon were found to have high blood lead levels.[92]

According to Dr. Jean-Claude Guiraud, thousands of children in France living at or near illegal recycling sites are at risk of lead exposure, which, according to Guiraud "can cause permanent damage to all the organs including the brain".[92] In spite of these statistics, the issue, as of 2010, has received little attention from authorities in France.[92]

Illegal mushroom harvestingEdit

Since 2004, there has been criticism of Romanian and Bulgarian EU citizens who allegedly out-compete French locals in the wild mushroom picking industry.[93] Eastern European harvesters, a large number of whom are believed to be ethnic Romani, have removed significant quantities of porcini and milk cap (Lactarius deliciosus) mushrooms for export to Spain, allegedly emptying forests of mushroom supplies.[93] These predominantly Romani pickers have been accused of harvesting improperly, allegedly causing permanent damage to the forest ecosystem and destroying future mushroom yields.[93]

According to Thomas Kuyper, "professor of fungal ecology and diversity at Wageningen University in the Netherlands", there is no scientific evidence of improper harvesting methods causing damage to future mushroom yields.[93] Kuyper suggests that the allegations were a result of xenophobia rather than evidence-based observations, and that there is a history of similar accusations in Germany and the Netherlands in response to migrant harvesters.[93] In Slovakia in 2006, accusations were published claiming that Romani mushroom harvesters in the Tatra region were responsible for an alleged lack of forage for bears.[7]:126

Large numbers of predominantly Romani workers have been reportedly harvesting without proper licenses (although no documentation exists as to the exact number of whom are ethnic Romani).[93] According to Jean Louis Traversier of the French Forest Service, an estimated 80 percent of 2013 mushroom harvests in the southeastern Drôme and Ardèche regions were both legally and illegally picked by Bulgarian and Romanian nationals who had crossed into the region from Spain.[93]

Quality control concerns have been raised by vendors about the traceability of supplies, with fears that unregulated sourcing may pose a health risk for consumers of the mushrooms.[93] According to facts provided by Traversier, a legal harvest in 2004-2005 involving a Spanish company was followed in later years by unauthorized picking.[93] In the words of journalist Alissa J. Rubin, in 2013

about a thousand workers from Romania and Bulgaria came into the region by night in minivans or small trucks stacked high with empty boxes ... they parked on narrow local roads and slipped into the forests or hiked to the high plateaus and camped for as long as three weeks, building makeshift campsites and rising in the damp, chilly mornings to hunt for wild mushrooms. They hid their haul in the woods, and trucks came by each evening to pick them up.[93]

While supplying a high-priced culinary delicacy, wages for illegal mushroom harvesters are extremely low.[93] In describing the issue of illegal harvesting, Traversier expressed concern for the well-being of the pickers, stating that he felt many of the Romani harvesters were "picking to survive".[93]

Water accessEdit

According to Szilvasi and Zaharieva, a majority of the 17,929 persons in 2015 who were recorded living in unauthorized camps (which are associated with Romani and Traveller residence) throughout France do not have reliable access to clean water.[94] As of 2016, in Paris there were 21 Romani encampments with a documented lack or absence of water and sanitation services.[94]


According to an ERRC report, the management of a French Traveller (gens du voyage) halting site in Besançon was documented raising water rates above regular prices, which is illegal under French law.[15]:27 This instance is part of a larger issue with equality in water access at Traveller halting sites, where there have been reports of water access being cut off for persons who miss a payment, a practice which has been illegal under French law since 2015.[15]:27


At least 6400 Romani persons in Portugal are estimated to not have access to reliable, formal access to clean drinking water.[95]:7 Due to the non-participation of some municipalities in the UNECE survey that calculated this statistic, the actual number is unknown and believed to be higher.[15]:21[95]:7

According to research in 2011 by Lydia Gall, a lawyer for the European Roma Rights Centre, Romani in Portugal are subject to an "appalling" housing situation without access to roads or drinking water.[96] In many cases, Romani communities are located in geographically segregated locations, such as behind hills and on the outskirts of cities without access to transportation; in some cases, segregation has been further entrenched by the construction of walls to separate Romani settlements from surrounding neighbourhoods.[96] Several cases of environmental injustice have been identified, such as in Bragança, Rio Maior, Beja, and Vidigueira.[96]

In Bragança, in the far north of the country, Gall has described how "a community was kicked out of its camp by the authorities, who told them they could live in the garbage dump".[96]

In Rio Maior, 85 kilometres north of Lisbon, Gall has described a scenario in which "14 gypsy [Romani] families were placed in precarious wooden houses, on top of a hazardous coal mine and separated from the rest of the population by a dense forest".[96]

According to Gall, one "extreme" case of discrimination can be found in Beja, 180 kilometres south of Lisbon, where Romani are settled in social housing constructed "with a separation wall, far from the urban centre and near a dog pound, whose sewage containing animal excrement runs through the housing project, with obvious consequences for the health of the inhabitants".[96]

In Vidigueira, 160 kilometres south of Lisbon, a Romani settlement had its sole source of potable water shut off by the police.[96]

By 2013, an estimated 500 persons of predominantly African immigrant and Romani origin were residing in the Terras do Lelo (Terras da Costa) shantytown in Lisbon, with no access to sewerage, clean drinking water, or legal electricity.[97][98] In 2008, the slum residents had been scheduled for relocation to new homes with better living conditions, however plans were put on hold as a result of the Portuguese financial crisis.[97] In the words of Miguel Bemba da Silva, a resident of Zaïrean origin who worked informally hauling jerrycans of water throughout the community, "Water is what we miss ... It's better to do this than going around thieving."[97]

In 2013, with funding from the Portuguese NGO the Gulbenkian Foundation, local architects Tiago Saraiva and Ricardo Morais designed a community kitchen with water access that was completed in 2014.[98] As of 2015, the shantytown continued to exist, and also began to receive increasingly formal government recognition with proposals to implement a playground and a library.[98] Water access via the communal kitchen is now funded by the Portuguese government.[98]


NASA view of greenhouses at El Ejido on the Campo de Dalías, Spain.

Racism within an environmental context has been documented in Spain, with North African and Romani ethnic communities being particularly affected, as well as migrant agricultural workers from throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Southeast Europe.

As of 2007, there were an estimated 750,000 Romani (primarily Gitano Romani) living in Spain.[99]:3 According to the "Housing Map of the Roma Community in Spain, 2007", 12% of Romani live in substandard housing, while 4%, or 30,000 people, live in slums or shantytowns; furthermore, 12% resided in segregated settlements.[99]:8 According to the Roma Inclusion Index 2015, the denial of environmental benefits has been documented in some communities, with 4% of Romani in Spain not having access to running water, and 9% not having access to electricity.[99]:8

Efforts to relocate shantytowns (chabolas), which according to a 2009 report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights were disproportionately inhabited by Romani persons,[100]:4 gained momentum in the late 1980s and 1990s.[101]:315 These initiatives were ostensibly designed to improve Romani living conditions, yet also had the purpose of being employed to vacate plots of real estate for development.[101]:315 In the words of a 2002 report on the situation of Romani in Spain, "thousands of Roma live in transitional housing, without any indication of when the transition period will end", a situation which has been attributed to the degradation of many transitional housing projects into ghettoes.[101]:316 In the case of many such relocations, Romani people have been moved to the peripheries of urban centers,[101]:315, 317 often in environmentally problematic areas.[101]:316 In the case of Cañada Real Galiana, diverse ethnic groups including non-Romani Spaniards and Moroccans have been documented as experiencing issues of environmental injustice alongside Romani communities.[102]:16[103]: 13–15

Migrant agricultural workers in southern SpainEdit

Throughout southern Spain, migrant workers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and South East Europe employed in the agricultural sector have experienced housing and labour conditions that involve racism within an environmental context, producing food for the larger European society while facing extreme deprivations.[104][105][106]

In Murcia, lettuce pickers have complained of having to work illegally for salary by volume for employment agencies, instead of by the hour, meaning they are required to work more hours for less pay, while also experiencing unsafe exposure to pesticides.[105] Workers have alleged that they have been forced to work in fields while pesticide spraying is active, a practice which is illegal under Spanish work safety laws.[104][105]

Beginning in the 2000s in the El Ejido region of Andalusia, African (including large numbers of Moroccan) immigrant greenhouse workers have been documented as being faced with severe social marginalization and racism while simultaneously being exposed to extremely difficult working conditions with exposure to toxic pesticides.[105][106] The El Ejido region has been described by environmentalists as a "sea of plastic" due to the expansive swaths of land covered by greenhouses, and has also been labeled "Europe's dirty little secret" due to the documented abuses of workers who help produce large portions of Europe's food supply.[106]

Greenhouses at El Ejido

In these greenhouses, workers are allegedly required to work under "slave-like" conditions in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius with nonexistent ventilation, while being denied basic rest facilities and earning extremely low wages, among other workplace abuses.[104][105] As of 2015, of 120,000 immigrant workers employed in the greenhouses, 80,000 are undocumented and not protected by Spanish labour legislation, according to Spitou Mendy of the Spanish Field Workers Syndicate (SOC).[104] Workers have complained of ill health effects as a result of exposure to pesticides without proper protective equipment.[104][105] Following the killing of two Spanish farmers and a Spanish woman in two separate incidents involving Moroccan citizens in February 2000, an outbreak of xenophobic violence took place in and around El Ejido, injuring 40 and displacing large numbers of immigrants.[107][108] According to Angel Lluch

For three days on end, from 5 to 7 February, racist violence swept the town with immigrants as its target. For 72 hours hordes of farmers wielding iron bars, joined by youths from the high schools, beat up their victims, chased them through the streets and pursued them out among the greenhouses. Roads were blocked, barricaded and set aflame.[108]

El Ejido Romani settlementEdit

According to a 2006 report by the Secretariado General Gitano, a wall reportedly surrounded a predominantly Romani neighbourhood in El Ejido, Andalusia, isolating residents from basic services.[109]:30 In the words of the report,

In 1998, the town council erected a wall in a neighbourhood where many Roma families were living. This wall almost completely isolated the Roma as they were deprived of easy access to public transport and other services. Seven years later, this wall, which was to be provisional, still existed.[109]:30

Galician Romani settlementsEdit

In Galicia, a 2007 study determined that segregated Romani settlements faced disproportionately high exposure to environmental burdens, finding

Around 10 per cent of these [segregated Romani settlements] are located near rubbish heaps, a percentage that is relatively high given that these heaps are currently being dismantled in Spain. Two out of 3 of these sites are located in places where flooding is a serious risk. Forty one per cent of the sites are also in close proximity to heavy car and train traffic. It is also important to add that in 60 per cent of these sites the number of inhabitants is currently increasing, while the population is decreasing in only 15 per cent of them.[109]:26–27, 57

Asperones (Malaga) transitional Romani settlementEdit

Romani settlement, Asperones, Málaga, Spain

In the late 1980s, under the "Plan for the Eradication of Shanty-towns in Malaga", the transitional housing site of Asperones was constructed for Romani in Malaga.[101]:316 Constructed in close proximity to a former garbage landfill and a cemetery, conditions in the settlement have been described as harmful for its residents, with one 2002 report on the housing situation of Romani in Spain referring to Asperones as "one of the most conflict-ridden and isolated settlements in Malaga".[101]:316 As of 2015, 1000 residents continued to live in the "transitional" settlement, and 50% have been described as having to rely on scrap metal collection for income.[110]

El Cascayu transitional Romani settlementEdit

In 2002, 16 Romani families in El Cascayu were relocated under a transitional housing scheme to what has been described by the organization SOS Racismo as a discriminatory, isolated, and environmentally marginalized housing location.[101]:317 According to SOS Racismo,

... the last housing units built within [the] eradication of marginalization plan in El Cascayu, where 16 families will be re-housed, is a way of chasing these families out of the city. They will live in a place surrounded by a 'sewer river,' a railroad trail, an industrial park and a highway. So far away from education centres, shops, recreational places and without public transport, it will be physically difficult for them to get out of there.[101]:317

Cañada Real GalianaEdit

Map excerpt of Valdemingómez district, Cañada Real Galiana, Madrid. The long grey strip along Cañada Real Galiana roadway and transhumance trail denotes the 16 kilometre-long, 75 metre-wide shantytown where 8,600 persons reside. Rectangular shapes denote structures.

On the outskirts of Madrid, 8,600 persons inhabit the informal settlement of Cañada Real Galiana,[102]:16 also known as La Cañada Real Riojana or La Cañada Real de las merinas.[103]:10 It constitutes the largest shantytown in Western Europe.[102]:1 The settlement is located along 16 kilometres of a 75 metre-wide, 400 kilometre-long environmentally protected transhumance trail between Getafe and Coslada,[102]:2–3[103]:10 part of a 125,000 kilometre network of transhumance routes throughout Spain.[103]:10 Certain areas of the unplanned and unauthorized settlement are economically affluent, working-class, or middle-class[102]:3[103]:12 and are viewed as desirable areas for many (particularly Moroccan immigrants who have faced discrimination in the broader Spanish rental market).[102]:9[103]:12 However, much of the Cañada Real Galiana is subject to severe environmental racism,[102]:8 particularly in the Valdemingómez district of the settlement.[103]:13–16

In the mid-1990s the Madrid government pursued initiatives to eliminate the shantytowns surrounding the city.[102]:8 One such shantytown settlement, Los Focos, was the largest in Spain, and also composed predominantly of ethnic Romani (of Spanish nationality).[102]:8 During this time, the municipal government, under the conservative Popular Party, set out to initiate plans for the relocation of Los Focos to Cañada Real Galiana, where 100 single-storey houses were to be constructed in immediate proximity to the Madrid garbage incinerator,[102]:8 a dump, and an illegal pig farm.[100]:4 In the opinion of Gonick,

In such physical proximity, relocated bodies and the city's refuse would face certain, constant coexistence. The blatant disregard for the health and safety of this population betrays the state's racialized vision of their urban futures: like sacks of garbage, these residents represented blight on the city, to be discarded out of sight. Such alliances between bodies and filth are of course ancient tropes in the production of spaces of value and inequality (Douglas 1966; McClintock 1995).[102]:8

Waste processing facilities near the predominantly Romani settlement of Valdemingómez

Negative publicity led to a cancellation of the relocation program, although by that point, residents were already starting to be relocated[102]:8 to Valdemingómez.[100]:4 Currently, Valdemingómez is a low-income yet highly multi-ethnic shantytown.[103]:13 Located south of Highway E-901 and east of Highway M 50,[111] Valdemingómez is named after the waste processing, incineration, and dumping facilities which it is adjacent to, and is a site of extreme social marginalization.[103]:13 An estimated 4,500 trucks a day pass through the main road of the settlement daily en route to the dump and recycling facilities, raising concerns over safety, particularly for children.[103]:15 There are no sidewalks, traffic lights, or pedestrian crossings along the road, and several children have been killed by trucks.[103]:15

In 2003, a significant number of Spanish Romani were displaced by the demolition of the Las Barranquilas and El Salobral shantytowns, and subsequently relocated to Valdemingómez.[103]:14 According to Rubio, the primary economy of Las Barranquilas and El Salobral was the illegal drug trade; the relocation of Romani residents has resulted in an influx of drug traffic to Valdemingómez.[103]:14 Nearby is the separate settlement of El Gallinero (which is not part of Cañada Real Galiana, despite its proximity) which is composed of migrant Romani from Romania; El Gallinero was settled following a fire which destroyed their previous homes in a distinct district of Valdemingómez.[103]:14 El Gallinero, which has a population of 400 residents (half of whom are children, many of whom do not attend school) lacks adequate street lighting and access to clean water, and significant numbers of its inhabitants are faced with addictions issues.[103]:14–15

Children's play area, Valdemingómez district, Cañada Real Galiana

During a 2007 effort by the Madrid government to demolish Cañada Real Galiana, violent clashes between police and residents took place.[102]:10 Mainstream news publications such as ABC, the official Spanish state media company RTVE, and El Mundo published stories which sensationalized the conditions of the settlement, arguably exaggerating the scale of the drug trade and other criminal activities there, while also making unfounded claims implying potential terrorist activity among residents,[102]:10–12 allegedly portraying the settlement as a site of "racial difference with dangerous others".[102]:12

In the context of the 15 M movement and an increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible housing market, many people in Spain identified with the struggles of Cañada Real Galiana residents, and activism surrounding the community received significant support from individuals and groups of diverse backgrounds from within Spanish society.[102]:12–15 Following a series of protests and social activism, a process of court battles took place over the continuing demolitions, centered on Article 47 of the Spanish Constitution which guarantees the right to housing.[102]:14–15 In 2013, a landmark decision at the European High Court of Human Rights was delivered in favour of Cañada Real Galiana residents, effectively ending the demolitions and protecting the existence of the settlement under Spanish constitutional law.[102]:15

Following the decision, as part of an effort to improve the situation in the settlement, the regional government of Madrid negotiated with municipalities neighbouring Cañada Real Galiana to conduct a formal census of the settlement.[102]:16 Contrary to earlier mainstream media reports that the settlement was overwhelmingly Moroccan, sixty percent of residents were found to be non-Romani Spaniards, with the remainder being a diverse group consisting of other ethnicities; also, the population of the settlement was determined to be 8,600 residents instead of 40,000 as some sources had earlier claimed.[102]:16 While environmental racism and environmental inequality continue to be major issues in the settlement for many residents in certain neighborhoods, the census revealed an arguably complex picture of the social situation in Cañada Real Galiana.[102]:16


Romani and migrant populations in Italy experience documented practices of racism and segregation within a context of environmental concerns and environmental inequality.[112]:5–26[113][114][115][116][117] Among migrant populations in Italy, environmental inequality has been documented in relation to agricultural labor through exposure to pesticides, low wages, and poor working conditions.[116][117]

With regards to the Romani presence in Italy, legal scholar Jennifer Illuzzi uses a term called the "state of exception" to argue that liberal Italian legal contexts have historically created scenarios in which "Romanies are under intense scrutiny, but juridically invisible".[76]:7 Illuzzi argues that as a result of the "state of exception", contemporary Romani communities in Italy become easily subjected to criminalization, denial of citizenship or national status, and social exclusion, notably in places such as government-implemented Nomad Camps.[76]:7

In Italy today, many Romani settlements (including Nomad Camps) exist within segregated contexts where both environmental concerns (such as lack of clean water access, toxic waste exposure, and proximity to highways and industrial areas) and issues of criminalization are present.[3]:74–75[114][112]:5–26 In Campania, Romani residents have been involved in the mass burning of waste[118] and have been housed in extreme proximity to a hazardous waste site that has been likened by one government official to Chernobyl in terms of cleanup requirements and risk to human health.[119]

Nomad Camps and related sitesEdit

Romani camp, Naples, 2015, situated between highway structures.

In Rome, over 4,000 Romani persons (not to be confused with Romans) live in encampments authorized by the Italian national and Roman municipal governments.[112]:5 As of 2013, 40,000 Romani persons were living in camps throughout Italy.[112]:26 In response to the Italian government's alleged "Nomad Emergency" in 2008, in which a federal decree was passed stating that Romani communities were causing a "situation of grave social alarm, with possible repercussions for the local population in terms of public order and security",[112]:8 an emergency "Nomad Plan" was devised by the municipal government of Rome.[112]:8 The European Commission also granted legal passage for the Italian government to move forward with plans to systematically fingerprint Romani communities.[76]:7

Under the "Nomad Emergency" decree, special funds were allocated by the government to close informal Romani settlements and encampments in Rome, and to resettle a maximum of 6,000 Romani persons into 13 authorized camps.[112]:8 According to Amnesty International, "The decree was later declared unfounded and unlawful by the Council of State in November 2011 and by the Supreme Court in April 2013."[112]:8 By 2013, living conditions in these camps had deteriorated severely due to overcrowding and a lack of utilities and other basic infrastructure.[112]:9 As of 2010, six of the camps were located far from residential areas, situated outside Rome's Grande Raccordo Anulare, the city's orbital highway.[112]:17 As of 2013, one camp, Castel Romano, was inaccessible by public transportation, and was located along a notably dangerous motorway, the Via Pontina.[112]:17 Another camp, Nuovo Barbuta, was situated between a railroad, Rome's orbital highway, and the runway of Ciampino airport.[112]:20 As of 2013, due to a lack of public transportation, residents of the Nuovo Barbuto camp had to walk long distances along an unpaved shoulder of a busy road in order to leave the camp; furthermore, they were subject to air and noise pollution from the nearby airport.[112]:20

In 2015, 378 residents, most of whom were Romani, were documented residing at the Ex Cartiera housing shelter under extremely substandard, cramped, and unhygienic conditions.[120]:7 Prior to its closure in 2016,[120]:7 it was cited by the European Roma Rights Centre for being located in an isolated area of a heavy industrial district known as via Salaria 971,[120]:7 located in immediate proximity to both a municipal solid waste treatment facility and a high-volume highway.[120]:7

In Milan, the Social Emergency Shelter (SES) housed predominantly Romani residents in via Lombroso 99 district until 2016, located in an "old industrial area, alongside a busy railway track".[120]:6 Families housed in the facility lived in shipping containers, with 16 to 27 persons residing in each container.[120]:6 In 2010 another authorized settlement, Triboniano Camp, was "squeezed between a railway track, cemetery, and container storage" in an industrial area of Milan.[3][121]

Hazardous waste in Campania and exposure to Romani settlementsEdit

Map of the Triangle of Death

In Italy, an estimated 11.6 million tons of waste are illegally disposed of each year.[119] According to ex-Camorra member Carmine Schiavone, millions of tons of waste from factories in northern Italy have been illegally disposed of in the region north of Naples for decades, allegedly with Mafia and Camorra involvement and the complicity of government authorities and police.[119] In 2004, the area surrounding Acerra was labeled by British medical journal The Lancet Oncology as a "triangle of death" where the incidence of two-headed sheep has been recorded.[119]

According to Italian environmental organization Legambiente, in 2012 the total financial value of the illegal garbage industry in Italy was estimated at over 16 billion euros.[119] Over the course of testimony delivered to a secret parliamentary investigative committee in Rome on October 7, 1997 (made public in 2013), Schiavone alleged that nuclear waste from East Germany was also secretly transported to the region, along with other wastes containing dioxin, asbestos, and tetrachloroethylene.[119] Campania has since shifted from being a dumping destination and is now a transit point for the export of hazardous waste to China,[118] and, according to Gen. Sergio Costa, commander of the Naples region for Italy’s environmental police, the Balkans and Eastern Europe.[122]

Taverna del Re hazardous waste facility, Giugliano

As of 2014, 5,281 contaminated sites and suspected waste dumps have been located by American military investigators.[119] Meanwhile, the region's 500,000 inhabitants have been disproportionately affected by medical ailments; according to Antonio Merfella of the Italian Cancer Research Institute in Naples, the region of Campania has the highest rate of infertility in Italy; in the province of Naples, lung cancer among non-smokers is increasing, while tumors in general have increased 47 percent among males.[119] The region has also become known for disproportionate cases of autism.[119] Concerns over the safety of food production in the fertile agricultural region (much of which is still believed to be uncontaminated) persist.[119]

Many of the most seriously affected people in the region are Romani residents from settlements near Giugliano and the greater Naples area which have been subjected to extreme exposure of pollution and toxic waste.[3]:74–75[119][123][114][115] According to Los Angeles Times journalist Tracy Wilkinson, Romani boys in 2008 were hired throughout the region by the Camorra to set fires to piles of waste, creating significant quantities of toxic smoke over vast swathes of land.[118]

One of the contaminated Romani camps in Giugliano was unofficial, populated by 500 persons most of whom were migrants from the former Yugoslavia.[3]:74–75 Built in 1991 and home to 85 families, it was documented in 2010 as a series of camps located "northwest of Naples, at the outer limits of the urban centre, on the external ring-road following the State Highway 162," surrounded by industrial lands.[3]:74–75 Originally situated on open farmland, the so-called "spontaneous"-status unauthorized settlement became surrounded by industries and disposal sites that were later owned by the Government of Campania, which developed a 24-hour surveillance and barricade system surrounding the camp, contracted to the private security firm Falko Security S.R.I.S.[3]:74–75 According to Raffaella Inglese in Mapping the Invisible, environmental justice concerns for residents in 2010 entailed

noise pollution produced by the neighbouring factories, air pollution from the same factories and [an] ex-centre for refuse collection; pollution from the burnt refuse; the danger of the roads being very near their homes and the areas in which their children play; the dirt and run-off from the illegal dumping of toxic industrial waste in the immediate vicinity and the necessity to wash themselves outside which is dangerous for children.[3]:74–75

Fire burning near Giugliano, likely due to illegal waste incineration

Another environmentally toxic camp, Masseria del Pozzo, was also located in the Giugliano region.[123][115] This camp, established in March 2013,[123] was an official settlement forcibly created following the eviction of other camps in the Giugliano region,[115] including a previous site that was contaminated by hazardous waste.[114] The Masseria del Pozzo camp was home to approximately 260 persons in March 2016.[115] In 2014, the population of the camp was estimated to be 500 persons,[119] with approximately 200–400 children, according to various residents.[114] According to the European Roma Rights Centre, the community had resided at various camps within the Naples region for the past 25 years and "almost all of the [former] inhabitants of the camp are residing lawfully in Italy; they generally have permanent resident status in Italy and some are Italian citizens".[123]

The settlement was located next to the Masseria del Pozzo toxic waste dump where persistent issues of hazardous biogas leaks from the landfill caused severe health concerns, and was also surrounded by at least three other hazardous landfill sites such as Resit and Novambiente, as well as lands contaminated by illegal toxic sludge disposal.[114] In the words of Der Spiegel journalist Walter Mayr, "500 Roma live in shacks and caravans at the foot of what is probably Europe's nastiest landfill, stuffed with, among other things, toxic sludge and dioxin. It is a place where, in the opinion of the responsible government commissioner, a 'sarcophagus like in Chernobyl' would be necessary to protect the public."[119]

Residents of the former settlement reported mysterious deaths and disabilities among children and youths, as well as pneumonia and other sicknesses among children.[114] According to former camp resident Giuliano Seferovic, authorities originally informed residents that they would only be placed at the location for a month; this promised timeframe extended to two months, and then nearly a year by the time of the interview.[114] In a video interview with Mario De Biase, Government Commissioner for Reclaims (Land Reclamation), De Biase discusses the issue of toxic gases:

Surely these landfills are perhaps the most dangerous for their potential environmental disaster and effects not only on the environment but directly on human health ...

They are all gases coming from the landfill. They transmigrate through the permeability of the soil and arrive into this pit where they find their way to come out in the air. One cannot say that a child who lives 24 hours a day between the smoke of the mineralization of VOC [volatile organic compounds] of the well, who lives and plays on soils contaminated by hazardous waste, who crosses the road for 5 meters and ends up on a landfill where there are all the fumes of biogas and leachate, obviously I do not think that is good for the child, neither for adults.[114]

In the words of former resident Rashid Osmanic, interviewed while living in the camp,

With biogas here we all die, no guns, no weapons, nothing! So we die. Two or three years here, and we all die, children get diseases.[114]

Following the announcement of the planned closure of the settlement, Romani rights organizations such as Associazione 21 luglio and the European Roma Rights Centre condemned plans to forcibly relocate the community to a new segregated camp,[123][115] with Associazione 21 luglio expressing particular concern over the potential creation of a larger segregated "mega-camp" where further social marginalization could take place.[115] On June 21, 2016, the entire camp was forcibly evicted without written notice and relocated to a new camp in an industrial area near Giugliano.[113] The new site is located at a former fireworks factory, which was destroyed in a 2015 explosion.[113] According to human rights observers, the secluded site, which is surrounded by wild vegetation on three sides and a wall, is contaminated with what appears to be asbestos and unidentified potentially explosive substances, and is littered with sharp objects that pose a danger to children.[113] Residents were not given any say in selecting a new site, and faced homelessness if they did not move to the new camp, which does not have any housing, sewerage, electricity, or adequate water supply.[113] As of February 2016, the Ministry of Interior and Region Campania have secured funding for a new permanent, segregated replacement site with 44 prefabricated dwellings.[113] No funding has been committed for integration measures such as education, health, employment, or community programs, prompting the European Roma Rights Centre to describe the plan as "a long term plan for segregation".[113]

Migrant agricultural workersEdit

In both Southern[117]:11 and Northern[124]:17 Italy, large numbers of migrant workers from Africa and Asia produce agricultural goods within a context of severe social and environmental marginalization, lacking access to clean water, utilities, housing,[116] and wage security[117]:26 while facing exposure to harsh working conditions and harmful pesticides.[116] As of 2015, the Italian Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) estimated that there were likely close to 500,000 regular and irregular foreign agricultural workers in Italy,[125][124]:10 of whom 100,000 were believed to be at risk of severe marginalization with regards to living conditions and social mobility.[125][124]:15

According to a report by Amnesty International, there is "a causal link between labour exploitation of migrant workers and the measures adopted by the Italian government with the stated view of controlling and regulating migration flows".[117]:7 The report focused on the Latina and the Caserta areas[117]:11 where large numbers of workers are of Indian (mostly Punjabi) and African origin respectively,[117]:11 the latter of whom are mostly from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.[117]:26 In Calabria, immigrant fruit pickers for the orange juice industry have been identified as subject to notably exploitative social conditions.[116]

Migrant agricultural worker housing, Rosarno, Italy

While some migrant agricultural workers are paid well[126] and welcomed as economic contributors for helping fill jobs that established Italians are often reluctant to perform,[126] the average wage in Italy for migrant agricultural workers is only 33 dollars a day.[126] In the Latina area alone, 61% of agricultural employers were found by Italian regulatory inspectors to be in contravention of social security and employment laws.[117]:24 In Caserta, migrant agricultural workers partake in the tomato, fruit, dairy, watermelon, and orange industries, often under exploitative or substandard employment conditions.[117]:26 In particular, the fast-growing and lucrative Italian tomato industry, which sources 60 percent of processed tomatoes consumed in the UK[125] and half the entire European Union supply, producing a total export value of 1.5 billion Euros in 2014,[124]:7 has been identified as a significant source of workplace abuse.[125] While 70% of Italy's tomato production is generated from the areas of Puglia and Emilia Romagna,[124]:11 severe abuses of tomato pickers have been documented throughout Italy, including most provinces.[124]:16–17

On January 7, 2010, there was an outbreak of violence in the citrus-producing town of Rosarno, Calabria in the aftermath of a drive-by shooting that targeted two migrants.[116][117]:21 Following the shooting, hundreds of migrants marched through the town to protest their living conditions, an event that ultimately led to confrontations with riot police and the torching of vehicles.[117]:21 According to Amnesty International, "The clashes were followed by a "migrant manhunt" carried out by some local residents. In a number of separate incidents during the following days, two migrants were reportedly beaten with iron bars, five deliberately run over by a car and a further two injured by shot-gun pellets. In total, 53 persons were hospitalised, including 21 migrants, 14 local residents and 18 police officers."[117]:21 Following the incident, a mass detention of migrants remaining in Rosarno ensued.[117]:21 In the words of one worker from Ghana,

Citrus orchards near Rosarno, where anti-immigrant violence and clashes occurred January 2010

In Rosarno we were working from morning to night, picking oranges, for 25 euros a day; but we had to pay 5 euros for transport, so we had only 20 euros left. There were some abandoned factories where one would build a shelter with some cardboard – one was called the Ghana ghetto. That day [i.e. the day of the clashes, 7/8 January 2010] we decided to go and buy something in town. Some boys were shot by Italians. We decided to do a demonstration about that, because that was not the first time. That's where all the problems started. There were fights between blacks and whites. But we did not want to fight the Italians; we wanted to go to the Comune [the local administration]. No Italian would pick oranges for 25 euros.[117]:22

A major issue for migrant workers in the Rosarno citrus industry are health concerns stemming from exposure to chemicals such as pesticides.[116] According to healthcare worker Dr. Luca Corso of the outreach medical organization Emergency, which assists immigrants who are frequently denied access to Italian hospitals, many workers have shown signs of ailments caused by working in orchards where tree spraying is active.[116] In the words of Dr. Corso,

We've started to see, particularly since the beginning of January, some cases that can be linked to working activities; mainly the improper use of pesticides and fungicides used during this season. It's mostly cases of irritative phenomenon, for example contact dermatitis in exposed areas (hands and face) or conjunctivitis...because the eyes are exposed.[116]

According to Nino Quaranta, founder of agricultural rights advocacy group SosRosarno, an underlying issue for low wages is the economic challenge confronting many smaller-scale farmers.[127] Most are small independent operators who are often unable to recover costs due to the current price of oranges, which has been affected by international competition and a price crash, thereby compelling them to seek the cheapest labor possible.[116][127] Contributing to this pressure, market monopolization has been identified by local agriculture advocates as an aggravating factor.[116] According to Pietro Molinaro of the Calabrian Organisation of Producers, "The problem this area has faced for some years is that the big multinational drinks companies underpay for the juice. They put pressure on the small local processing plants that press the juice."[116]


Romani communities in Greece face severe, widespread issues of social and geographic segregation,[128]:32 including denial of access to environmental means of sustenance such as land, electricity, and clean water,[129]:16 as well as exposure to pollution and other ecological issues. Similar issues exist for predominantly Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants, especially those working in the agricultural sector.[130] In some cases, Romani communities have been identified for actions resulting in environmental damage, such as unauthorized waste incineration and negligently starting forest fires.[128]:32 According to Pavlou and Lykovardi,

The persistence of extreme socio-spatial segregation of Roma and its underlying causes has resulted in acute social exclusion. The spatial segregation of habitats is a pattern closely connected to their socio-economic exclusion which leads them to seek and find unoccupied and isolated areas in order to set up temporary or long-term encampments with makeshift shacks ... the consequences of their marginalisation become the reasons – and legitimising arguments – for their perennial segregation and exclusion in a persistent vicious circle of stereotyping, state inertia and local hostility.[128]:39

The 2004 Athens Olympics has also been cited as an event which has contributed to environmental marginalization of Romani communities.[129]:19 An estimated 2,700 Romani persons in Greece have either been dislocated from or denied access to housing as a result of policies related to preparation for the Games.[129]:19

Unauthorized waste incineration and recyclingEdit

In 2008, inhabitants of a Romani settlement in Athens reportedly burned large amounts of rubber, tires, and other garbage, causing serious pollution in the settlement and exacerbating hostile relations with neighbouring communities,[128]:32 including allegations of Romani slum dwellers discharging firearms at authorities attempting to extinguish the fires.[131] Informal recycling industries engaged in by Romani have been identified as a health concern.[128]:40 In July 2008, unauthorized fires in Romani settlements, started for cleaning scrap metal by burning, were identified by authorities as being the source of major wildfires which caused significant economic damage as well as severe air-quality issues for neighbouring Athens.[131]

As of 2013, there was active waste scavenging by Romani persons at the Fyli landfill in Athens.[132] In May 2013, following a previous action by police to guard the landfill from trespassers, an influx of unspecified numbers of Romani and immigrants led to the site being temporarily closed by regional governor Yiannis Sgouros.[133] Sgouros stated that the closure, reportedly largely symbolic in nature, was in response to what had been described by news publication Ekathimerini as a "dangerous situation" at the landfill, requesting the government to halt "an unchecked influx of people".[134] In the words of Sgouros, "The situation at the landfill is out of control. People, garbage trucks, bulldozers and trash are all in the same space with the constant risk of an accident."[134] In April 2011, two persons of Pakistani ethnicity were murdered by Romani individuals armed with rifles at the Fyli dump.[135] Three Pakistani individuals were also injured, and Romani dwellings were set on fire in retaliation for the killings.[135] According to police, the incident was part of an ongoing conflict between Pakistani and Romani groups over access to recyclables at the landfill.[135]

On the Greek island of Kalymnos, Romani persons scavenge waste and set fire to the local landfill to help clear debris, according to Kalymnos deputy mayor Mikes Rigas.[136] In an interview at the landfill site, Rigas acknowledged the issue, stating

Look, we have a problem more generally with Roma individuals who come and gather materials from here and set fires, of course in the summer with the heat, fires start by themselves with the amount of material and plastic that there is. I don't want to say it is only them causing the problem, but they are part of it.[136]

Smoke from the landfill, which has been likened to a "volcano", is a cause for health and quality of life concerns among locals, yet the fires have also been identified as a means by which excessive buildup of garbage has been averted.[136] Both non-Romani and Romani workers on Kalymnos, especially younger persons, increasingly rely on waste scavenging and recycling as a means to survive.[136] According to legally employed scrap recycler Giannis Velis, who is ethnic Romani, people from the local community, both Romani and non-Romani, set fire to the garbage in order to ensure the waste does not build up.[136]

Spata Romani settlementEdit

In 2000, a Romani settlement near Spata was temporarily relocated by local government authorities to a location situated on an isolated hilltop five kilometres from the town.[128]:38 The site is only accessible by a rough track.[128]:38 Shortages of water, no garbage collection services, poor water quality, inadequate sewerage, and outbreaks of hepatitis A have been reported at the settlement.[128]:38 As of 2009, the settlement had not been relocated.[128]:38 There have been unverified reports that the location is potentially contaminated with toxic waste, as it may have been the site of toxic waste dumping prior to settlement.[128]:38

Alan Koyou Romani settlementEdit

As of 2009, 1,700 people inhabited a Romani shantytown settlement in the Alan Koyou area of central Komotini.[128]:38 The community, which was surrounded by piles of garbage, was only serviced with two water taps, and experienced a hepatitis A outbreak in 2007 which resulted in the hospitalization of 60 children.[128]:38 Efforts to relocate the community to a site with healthier conditions in Kikidi have encountered opposition from residents there.[128]:38


Aspropyrgos, a municipality near Athens, is one of the largest industrial areas in Greece, containing hundreds of factories, warehouses, and other industrial facilities[131] including an oil refinery which caught fire in 2015, severely injuring six workers.[137] One environmentally problematic site was the Aspropyrgos Romani settlement, which was located on a garbage dump in an industrial sector of the community.[129]:19 Between July 2000 and February 2001, homes of Greek and Albanian Romani were demolished to ostensibly make way for potential Olympic developments, even though the area had been turned down for development by the International Olympic Committee in 1999.[129]:19 The destruction of the community was referred to by municipal authorities as a "cleaning operation".[129]:19

On July 7, 2015, a major fire occurred at a private scrap metal warehouse nearby.[138] Shortly after the blaze came under control by firefighters, groups of Romani persons entered the still-burning structure to scavenge for scrap metal.[138] According to news reports, those entering the fire scene to collect scrap were "jeopardizing their lives" and in danger of sustaining burns and respiratory problems.[138] Police had to be called to the scene to prevent Romani scrap collectors from entering the fire zone until firefighters could fully extinguish the blaze.[138]

Nea AlikarnassosEdit

In the municipality of Nea Alikarnassos, efforts to relocate a Romani settlement to make way for Olympic developments were halted by the Magistrate's Court of Heraklion, which ruled twice, in 2000 and 2001 respectively, that the relocation plans were "abusive", and that relocations could only take place under the condition that the new settlement location be provided with adequate housing and infrastructure to ensure a decent standard of living for its inhabitants.[129]:20 As of 2009, the settlement continued to occupy the area it had been situated for twenty years, between an industrial area and a major roadway.[129]:20 As of 2009, the settlement did not have electricity, sewerage, garbage collection, or clean water infrastructure.[129]:20


In one instance, tree-planting has been documented as a proposed means to conceal the presence of Romani settlements during the lead-up to the Olympics.[129]:20–21 In Lechaina, Western Peloponnese, plans to relocate 35 Romani families next to the highway between Patras and Pyrgos (which is also the primary highway to Ancient Olympia) were abruptly placed on hold as a result of direct intervention from the Director of the Town Planning and Environment Directorate of the Western Greece Region.[129]:20–21 In the words of Alexandridis,

The Director informed Mr. [Dmitris] Hadjigiannis [the mayor of Lechaina] that because the suggested plot of land was within visual range of the national highway, the settlement's establishment should not go ahead as foreign visitors on their way to Olympia should not see the Gypsies living there. Mr. Hadjigiannis, thinking that this was a joke, called the Ministry of Interior, where the official with whom he spoke not only agreed with the rational [sic] of the Director of the Town Planning Directorate but also suggested that an alternative could be the appropriate landscaping of the settlement so that a small hill be created between the settlement and the national highway, upon which trees could be planted so that no visual contact between the settlement and drivers on the national highway could be established.[129]:21

As of 2009, the resettlement had not taken place.[129]:21

Migrant agricultural workersEdit

Ethnic Pakistani and Bangladeshi agricultural workers in Greece have been subjected to well-documented cases of marginalization and violence within an environmental context, producing food and economic revenue for the Greek economy while themselves facing precarious living conditions and workplace environmental hazards, such as extremely harsh temperatures inside greenhouses.[130] On the Peloponnese, thousands of undocumented ethnic Bangladeshi workers work harvesting potatoes and strawberries for extremely low-subsistence wages, often finding themselves working "under conditions akin to modern-day slavery", according to a report by Deutsche Welle.[130]

In 2013, 28 workers on a strawberry farm in Nea Manolada (Manolada) were shot and wounded for demanding six months of unpaid wages.[130][139] Approximately 200 workers were owed nearly 150,000 Euros, according to seasonal worker Liton Khan.[130] In the words of Khan at the time, "We want our money, and we want justice. In the summer we slave away in greenhouses at temperatures up to sixty degrees Celsius."[130]

Strawberry greenhouses in Ilia

In court, the owner of the farm, Nikos Vaggelatos, and the head foreman were acquitted, while two other men were convicted of aggravated assault.[140] The two convicted were initially sentenced to fourteen years seven months, and eight years seven months, respectively, however they were later released on appeal.[140] The ruling sparked widespread outrage among anti-racist and immigrant-rights supporters and activists; in the words of far-left Syriza Party MP Vassiliki Katrivanou, "[the ruling] sends the message that a foreign worker can die like a dog in the orchard".[140]

In Nea Manolada, hundreds of South Asian workers have settled into informal agricultural settlements under severely substandard living conditions.[130] Due to the Greek economic crisis, the migrants have arguably become increasingly important to the economy, performing vital agricultural jobs that are generally not performed by Greek citizens, many of whom face unemployment.[130] Bangladeshi workers near Nea Manolada live in camps made of plastic and other scavenged materials, lacking water, sanitation, and adequate cooking facilities.[130] In the words of a migrant worker and camp-dweller named Doulak, "We can't go back to Bangladesh, we don't have enough food or work there. Here at least we have enough to survive."[130]

Ejaz Ahmed, a translator working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has stated that migrant agricultural workers in Nea Manolada are reportedly faced with many restrictions to freedom of movement, such as not being allowed to sit in the town square, being barred from cafes, not being permitted to go swimming at nearby beaches, and denied the option of renting houses.[139] Ejaz further added that workers are reportedly forced to live inside "chicken coups, warehouses, and derelict buildings".[139]

On July 1, 2014, the Pakistani Community of Greece, the Immigrant Workers League and the United Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA) held a press conference regarding alleged working conditions.[139] Migrant agricultural workers publicly shared their experiences with workplace or work-related violence and the non-payment of wages.[139]

In 2014, Nabil-Iosaf Morad, a medical doctor born in Syria, became the first immigrant to be elected mayor in Greece, for the district seat of Lechaina, municipality of Andravida-Kallyni.[130][141] According to journalist Kostantinos Menzel, Morad's election was politically significant because the municipality of Andravida-Kallyni encompasses Nea Manolada, where the 2013 shooting of migrant workers took place.[141] Morad has stated of undocumented immigrants in the district:

I will take care of these people. One of my first official acts will be to set up a counselling center in the town hall for migrants. I expect support from the Bangladeshi embassy. They can bring their complaints and problems to this office. We also want to offer language courses. Their living conditions have to improve.[130]

As of 2016, Morad has been the current mayor of the municipality of Andravida-Kallyni.[142]

Migrant agricultural workers of predominantly Pakistani origin held a nearly week-long strike beginning July 3, 2014, in Skala, Peloponnese.[139] The 800 workers participating in the strike were protesting "many delays in payment, inhumane living conditions and racist treatment by the Greek Police" according to Kalmouki.[139] Local media reported that the immigrants marched from Skala's city hall to the police station, where they met with police officials and indicated an intention to press charges in relation to allegations of police abuses.[139] This was the second protest by Pakistani agricultural workers in the area, who also held a strike in September 2010.[139]

In spite of local efforts to improve conditions for agricultural migrant workers and refugees, issues persist due to their undocumented status and lack of formal immigration paperwork, which can only be assigned by the Greek government.[130] According to Doulak, migrants are subjected to regular police harassment due to a lack of documents granting legal status in Greece.[130] According to Doulak, "The main problem is that we have no papers. We get picked up by the police all the time. And the farmers think that they don't have to pay us, because we're here illegally, we have to live with no electricity or running water."[130]


According to the report "Inconvenient Human Rights: Access to Water and Sanitation in Sweden's Informal Settlements", the Swedish state has, through international law, arguably aligned itself toward a legal responsibility of ensuring clean water access for all persons on Swedish territory.[143]:18, 21–2 In the words of the report, "European and international human rights norms have legal significance in Swedish domestic law. Sweden has signed and ratified both the ICESCR [International Covenant on Social and Cultural Rights], the basis for the rights to water and sanitation, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which articulates the rights to life and human dignity."[143]:21

EU Migrant-Romani camp, Malmö. Lacking water, electricity, and sanitation, camps such as the one depicted are frequently evicted on environmental grounds.[143]:16

While Sweden has a dualist legal system that does not automatically apply international law with domestic policy, "Sweden has embraced the task of integrating its human rights treaty obligations into Swedish law, principally through amending domestic law – a process called 'transformation.'"[143]:22 As a result, Swedish authorities are arguably increasingly legally responsible for upholding international human rights standards domestically, including the right to water.[143]:21–2 In the opinion of Davis and Ryan, lead authors of the report, "International bodies and human rights experts have repeatedly clarified that these rights extend to informal residents as well as formal settlements."[143]:5

Sweden faces persistent issues regarding non-provision of environmental means of sustenance to persons who have recently arrived from Eastern Europe.[143]:14 These inhabitants, who are predominantly Romani, are EU citizens who have come to Sweden legally.[143]:4 Their experiences with denial of water access can arguably be viewed as part of a larger historical precedent of water, sanitation, and energy resource exclusion policy towards Romani persons in Sweden.[143]:10–2

In the opinion of Davis and Ryan, "Water and sanitation access for vulnerable EU citizens in Sweden cannot be accurately understood without the backdrop of historic discrimination against Roma populations."[143]:10 As detailed by a 2014 Swedish Government report titled "The Dark Unknown History" examining Swedish state abuses toward the Romani minority,[144]:1–306 exclusion encompassed "invasive and degrading registration processes, forced sterilization, separation of families, limited and difficult access to housing, education and work, and bans on entering the country".[143]:10 According to Davis and Ryan,

Key players in this discrimination have been the Swedish government, the Church of Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare and the police. Over many decades, a major political justification for the control of Roma life was the need to rehabilitate the Roma. The White Paper reports that Roma were characterized as needing to be 'rescued from their inferior way of life and be brought within the framework of social care.' Another major justification for discriminatory practices was the widespread belief that Roma's situation is 'self-inflicted' or 'self-chosen.' Roma's 'nomadic way of life' provided an additional rationale for the refusal to include Roma in the national census, while their 'poor circumstances, meagre housing conditions' and children being taken into care, justified sterilization ... The White Paper concludes that Roma in Sweden in the 20th century and still currently, remain 'subjected to anti-Gypsyism.'[143]:10

In Stockholm, Romani settlement was discouraged by authorities during the 1940s when increased numbers of Romani persons began to arrive, by denying access to water and electricity.[143]:11 In the 1950s, a pilot social program was initiated in Stockholm to provide Romani families with housing; however, the poor quality of the housing, exacerbated by a lack of hot water and central heating for 22 out of the sixty families involved, resulted in the program being "deemed a failure".[143]:11 In Gothenburg, similar issues have been documented, with interview testimony from Romani resident Sonya Taikon detailing how homeless Romani people in the 1960s had to live without electricity or sanitation, deriving their water "from a stream in the middle of Gothenburg".[143]:11Davis and Ryan argue that these issues are policy-oriented in nature, stating:

water and sanitation access are central components of discrimination against Roma over the decades. As travelers in the early decades of the twentieth century seeking work, Roma communities necessarily looked for camping places where water and sanitation would be available. And when Swedish municipalities sought to deter Roma groups from settling, controlling their access to water and sanitation is often a means to that end.[143]:10–1

Contrary to stereotypes that portray Romani marginalization as "self-chosen", historical documentation exists of Swedish Romani individuals describing their close affinity with water resources, and of their efforts to gain access to water resources.[143]:10–1 As described through an oral account from an ethnographic study, one Romani woman

recalled that in the 1920s, when the family was able to stay long enough in one place, her mechanically-minded father had the know-how to build devices for daily hygiene and washing of clothes. At one point, her father built a square wash basin and toilet. He covered the floor with fir twigs, then cartons and finally rugs so the family would not get cold feet. 'It was so exciting, you never forget,' the woman remembered.[143]:11

In the same study, Romani persons interviewed "described the efforts they made to ensure that they did not disturb Swedish residents so that they could continue to access water. One interviewee recalled that her mother bound the dogs' muzzles to keep them from barking and jeopardizing their permission to obtain water from a local farm."[143]:11

EU Migrant-Romani camp, Malmö, 2015

Between January 2013 and January 2016, "83 evictions of groups of vulnerable EU citizens holding a right of residence in Romania or Bulgaria" took place.[143]:14 Of the applications for these evictions, "an overwhelming number cite the prevalence of, or risk for, sanitation hazards and littering as grounds for eviction"[143]:16 and are understood within a context of environmental impact concern[143]:16 in which the lack of access to water is cited as a central issue.[143]:5 Locations of evictions where water and sanitation access has been cited as reason for eviction have been tracked through an interactive mapping database developed in collaboration between Södertörn and Northeastern Universities respectively.[143]:3,5 Most of these cases have occurred in the greater Stockholm and Gothenburg regions respectively, along with cases in Uddevalla, Malmö, Skara, Karlstad, and Uppsala.[145][143]:14

One notable example of water exclusion can be found in northern regions of Sweden, where Romani EU citizens from Eastern Europe come to work as farm laborers in the berry harvesting industry.[143]:11–2 In one case, living out of informal camps, these workers have described having to travel distances up to 60 kilometres (round trip) to acquire water; using water from gas stations; and constructing makeshift latrines.[143]:12 Conflicts with local residents surrounding water use were alleviated as a result of the local municipality installing water cisterns for the farm workers.[143]:12

In many cases, the risk or threat of significant environmental impact is invoked as a reason for eviction, even when very small numbers of individuals are involved and the actual environmental impact may arguably be minimal.[143]:16 In the words of Davis and Ryan:

sanitation hazards are viewed as equally severe regardless of the number of identified respondents to whom the eviction decision is directed, whether it be two or several dozen ... Twenty five of the eviction decisions were directed at six respondents or fewer and had existed anywhere from ten days up to three months. Despite these settlements being significantly smaller than many of the others and not having existed very long, "extensive inconveniences" in terms of sanitation costs were still cited in each decision. This was the case in a 2013 decision in Stockholm, where the municipality held that "the area around the settlement is subjected to great environmental impacts ... The decision only concerned two respondents".[143]:16

Alongside a similar case from Gothenburg in 2014, Davis and Ryan further highlight a case in Stockholm from 2015 where two persons were legally deemed by the Stockholm Land and Premises Maintenance Office to carry the same burden of environmental impact as the settlement they took up residence, which already had 49 inhabitants.[143]:16 Cases have also been recorded where assumptions of environmental damage and pollution were made, even though evidence to suggest otherwise was documented.[143]:17

Private businesses and individuals, who often provide water and sanitation services out of goodwill, often bear a disproportionate burden of pressures caused by these issues.[143]:13–4 In the opinion of Davis and Ryan, denial of water access to certain individuals can arguably impact the rights of all members of a community:

without access to on-site or nearby sanitation, and without local government support in accessing these necessities the informal camps where vulnerable EU citizens often reside can soon raise legitimate public health and environmental concerns, impinging on the rights of all in the community, creating a crisis for the municipality and incurring even greater city expenses in evictions and site clean-ups.[143]:29

Despite Sweden’s multiple legal commitments to international and domestic human rights,[143]:21–2 issues of environmental inequality, in the form of water, sanitation, and electricity access, arguably persist as a continuation of historical patterns of inequality affecting its Romani minority.[143]:5, 10–1 These issues exist in modern-day parallel with Swedish practices of racism and environmental marginalization toward the Sami Indigenous people and their territories.[146]:6[147]:6:18


There are between 500,000 and 2.5 million Romani people in Turkey.[148]:43 Most Romani, both itinerant and sedentary, live in Trakya (Thrace) and Marmara regions in the northwest of the country,[148]:43 and generally inhabit settlements that are socio-geographically distinct and isolated from majority populations.[148]:43 Romani in Turkey "suffer much higher levels of ill-health, have poorer housing, and higher incidences of discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity."[148]:43 In at least two cases (the 2010 demolition of Sulukule and the 1970 Bayramiç forest products industry dispute), conflicts surrounding access to land and natural resources has led to the dislocation of entire Romani communities.


In February 2010,[149] the predominantly Romani community of Sulukule in Istanbul, an ancient neighbourhood included on the UNESCO World Heritage list and Istanbul City Wall Preservation Zone,[3]:50 as well as the oldest Romani settlement in Europe[149] was demolished as part of an urban renewal scheme. Earlier demolitions had taken place in the mid-1960s and in 1982 when the old core of Sulukule was torn down.[150]:45 As a central area of Istanbul, Sulukule was subject to land speculation,[150]:45 while underlying ecological and environmental issues were potentially exploited as part of the arguments for demolition.[3]:49–50 According to Aslı Kıyak İngin and Pelin Tan

Throughout the year 2000, Istanbul witnessed the emergence of large-scale urban transformation projects under the headings of "urban renovation/urban development" which legitimised 'demolishment' and 'reconstruction' via abstract discourses of urban fear, ecology, cultural heritage and natural disasters. In 2005, the Urban Transformation and Renewal policy of 5366 accelerated the urban renovation/developments and it gave power to the municipalities to declare any district as an urban transformation area and to control what property rights, urban planning and architectural projects could be applied.[3]:49–50

According to architecture scholar Neyran Turan, notions of "urban renewal" as a critical component of ecological sustainability have gained prominence within urban planning discourse in Istanbul.[151]:225–227 In the words of Turan, "the 'ecological turn' of Istanbul is currently limited to specific managerial perspectives on urban governance—such as 'resource management,' 'environmental risk,' or 'urban renewal and transformation.'"[151]:227 A major argument for the demolition and "urban renewal" of Sulukule was to replace existing housing stock with purportedly more earthquake-resistant construction;[152]:20 however, the impetus behind the demolition was allegedly influenced by stigma towards its predominantly Romani inhabitants.[152]:17 Some critics have claimed that Renewal Policy 5366 is often selectively applied toward neighbourhoods with large minority or Romani populations.[152]:18–19 In a June 17, 2008 interview, Mustafa Ciftci, Sulukule Renewal Project Coordinator, stated

Sulukule prior to demolition

It is not easy to integrate these [Romani] people to society, but we have to accomplish it, in the end these are our people; we have to save them. If it was up to me, as a state policy, I would take all the kids under the age of ten from their parents, put them in boarding schools, educate them and make them members of society. This is the only way.[153]

Evicted tenants were offered houses 48 kilometres away in Taşoluk, where high mortgage rates were unworkable for most residents, most of whom were low-income.[3]:50 According to Kıyak and Tan, "The renewal process as a whole has caused the disintegration of the community by dispersing the existing social fabric, their inability to continue their cultural activities, their severance from social networks of solidarity, and even graver livelihood problems."[3]:50 Without access to nearby medical care, education, or transportation to the city centre, the relocated residents left Taşoluk.[149] Many returned to the former Sulukule district, currently renamed "Karagümrük", where they subsequently constructed shanties "on the ruins of their former homes",[149] according to Demirovski and Marsh.

1970 Bayramiç forestry disputeEdit

According to Rahmi Ozel, the former attorney of Bayramiç, a series of violent attacks against the Romani community there took place between January 18 and February 22, 1970.[148]:114 Part of a larger conflict surrounding access to forest resources,[148]:57 the attacks were triggered by a dispute over ownership of a logging truck.[148]:114 While no one was killed in the attacks, the events caused significant terror among both Romani and non-Romani members of the community,[148]:132 and led to the expulsion of the Bayramiç Romani.[148]:3 Social and behavioral sciences scholar Gül Ӧzateşler has argued that the attacks, whose timing closely correlated to important dates in the logging industry season[148]:57 reflected insecurities about ethnic Turkish loss of power to Romani persons, who were gaining socioeconomic influence due to their role in the transportation sector[148]:169–170 of the forestry industry.[148]:57, 157

In the 1960s, forestry became an increasingly profitable industry in Turkey, as lumber consumption rapidly increased.[148]:56 Due to increased investment in forestry management and production, Turkey became recognized for its timber industry, to the extent that its supplies were viewed as competitive within a globalized international context.[148]:56 In 1963–1964, new mountain roads near Bayramiç were created to enable timber extraction, coupled with improvements in highway networks.[148]:57 On August 26, 1967, The Regional Administration of Forestry in Bayramiç city and the surrounding Bayramiç district was founded.[148]:56 At the time, 53.8% of provincial territory was covered by timber stands.[148]:56 As a result of these developments, employment in the forestry transportation sector increased from 30 individuals to 200 in Bayramiç during this time.[148]:57

Mural describing human rights in Turkey, 2009. Exterior of public education building, Bayramiç

In Bayramiç, conflicts over the processing, handling, and transport of timber were commonplace among locals.[148]:57 According to Ӧzateşler, "The competition was especially acute, as at that time forestry offered the best jobs for many villagers and townspeople. It is no coincidence that the attacks on the Gypsies started in January and stopped at the end of February, before the annual start date of the forestry business in the town, in the month of March."[148]:57

Few cars existed in the Bayramiç region during the 1950s and 1960s; for example, there were only five jeeps in the town during the late 1950s, and animals were used as primary means for transportation.[148]:157 During the late 1950s, timber was the primary economic product exported from the town,[148]:157 and by 1960, there were eight logging trucks stationed in the city.[148]:157 Romani people became involved in logging truck driving beginning in the late 1950s.[148]:157 According to Ӧzateşler, Romani people "became powerful in a prestigious position" by becoming logging truck drivers.[148]:157 According to one truck driver from the era, the driving profession was viewed as having higher prestige than a state official.[148]:158 Ӧzateşler states "it was not easy to find a good driver; experienced drivers therefore had a very strong bargaining position, including a high social status. They were said to be more prestigious even than their own bosses. They were treated as kings in the coffeehouses. When they came in, people would stand up and greet them."[148]:158 However, the reason for the success of Romani truck drivers was their willingness to work an extremely dangerous job.[148]:157 In the words of Ӧzateşler, "They were just doing the dirty job at that time; as it was very tiring and dangerous due to lack of proper roads to the mountain ... one was supposed to be a little mad to be a driver as the risks were considerable."[148]:157

In 1970, a Leyland truck was purchased by a Romani family in partnership with an ethnic Turkish driver (who later helped start the attacks), and became subject of great interest.[148]:160 As a symbol of wealth, it also became a source of resentment toward the socio-economic success of the Romani community.[148]:160 According to Ӧzateşler, "All of the Gypsies mentioned the lorry as the object that triggered the attacks."[148]:161 One of the individuals responsible for orchestrating the attacks, Huseyin Kiltas, stated "What it came down to was the Leyland [logging truck]."[148]:161

Following allegations against Romani truck drivers of sexual harassment toward non-Romani Turkish high school girls,[148]:126–127 a series of violent attacks took place against the Romani community of Bayramiç.[148]:162 The first attack targeted the muhacir sub-group of Romani, who were engaged in the logging truck driving industry.[148]:3 38 houses were damaged.[148]:114 This attack then grew into a second assault against all Romani persons in the area, involving 3,000 individuals who stoned Romani houses[148]:3 and beat Romani residents.[148]:162 The crowd marched on the municipal building, which was located on the main avenue leading to the "neighbourhoods where the Gypsies lived".[148]:114 When the city's attorney attempted to stop the crowd,[148]:140 he was nearly beaten to death by a gang of 30–40 individuals.[148]:114 The Romani were subsequently forced to leave the city.[148]:3 Many Romani went into hiding, while individuals who employed Romani experienced threats.[148]:133 Some employers chose to risk their own safety and social status by protecting Romani people from the violence.[148]:140 Verbal threats of sexual assault were directed towards Romani women.[148]:132–133 According to Ӧzateşler

In cases of conflicts and war, the female body is often treated as an arena for masculine honor and prestige along with nationalistic territorial claims ... Gypsies making passes at Turkish girls was seen as a violation of the national border and the territory of Turkish men ... female agency was entirely lacking in this scenario. The actual attackers were men and the supposedly abused women remained anonymous; nobody knew anything about them not even whether they really existed or not.[148]:169–170

From the perspective of Rana Kocayar, the oldest daughter of the Romani family that had purchased the logging truck, and Bidon Hilmi, a Romani truck driver at the time who was beaten during the violence, the allegations of sexual harassment were a means to cover the primary motives of the attacks, which were an attempt to prevent Romani people from participating in the forestry sector.[148]:161 The violence ended on February 22, 1970 when word spread that one of the key perpetrators, a logging truck driver named Halit Er, was in critical medical condition.[148]:114 His injuries had been caused during an altercation with Romani in Çanakkale, who attacked him due to his role provoking the Bayramiç attacks.[148]:114 Some Romani returned to Bayramiç in the following months and years, while others did not.[148]:113 To date, no one has been prosecuted for inciting or taking part in the violence.[148]:174

See alsoEdit


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