Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” specializes in defending the rights of vulnerable minorities, including Roma people. For more than ten years now the organization has struggled against discrimination of Russian Roma, focusing on the residents of compact Roma settlements. On many occasions the experts of ADC “Memorial” have tried to draw the attention of Russian authorities to the unresolved problems of these communities, which are rooted in the discriminatory policies of the Soviet era, when the Roma people were forced to abandon nomadic life, to build houses and live a settled life, but property rights to housing were not normalized. Unfortunately, neither the adoption several years ago of the “Comprehensive action plan for socio-economic and ethno-cultural development of the Russian Roma for 2013-2014” (which was abandoned since), nor any other federal and regional policies provided Russian Roma citizens what was most need by them – documents guaranteeing their right to housing and land, the possibility of legal use of water, heat, electricity. In the course of the ongoing economic crisis in Russia, the situation of the Roma population has deteriorated, and the harsh reaction of the authorities to the protests of Roma people in the Tula region after hundreds of their homes were cut off from gas communications has only aggravated the situation.
House fires already started in Plekhanovo, a Roma settlement in Tula region. On April 2, 2016 residents of two houses, including 10 children, were rescued by firefighters, but their homes were lost. This was a direct consequence of the disconnecting of Roma houses from gas communications two weeks before, which forced the villagers to heat homes using hastily assembled fire stoves. Disconnecting the Roma settlement from gas communications was widely covered in the media, as Roma protests were violently suppressed by a large detachment of riot police.
The Russian Federation has more than a hundred compact settlements of Roma people, like the one in Plekhanovo, and all of them risk finding themselves in a similar situation where people would have to heat their homes by other means, putting themselves and their children at risk of mortal danger. It was reported that on March 22, 2016 gas communications were also disconnected in a Roma settlement in Lipetsk region, which means high risk of fires occurring there.Fortunately the fires in Plekhanovo were localised, but the risk of fatalities increases if – as often happens – the settlements are located far from urban firefighting departments, the local roads being in extremely bad shape, and passage of fire trucks and fire-fighting brigades made difficult by the limited street space or because some of the prosperous Roma settlers fenced off their houses from the rest of the “camp” by cutting roads with a concrete wall (as was the case several years ago in a Roma settlement in the Krasnoyarsk region).
ADC “Memorial” calls upon the Russian authorities to take legislative measures to ensure the systemic resolution of the problem with compact Roma settlements. It is necessary to legalise the existing houses and land rights, to provide new allotments to the families in need who have many children (in full accordance with the existing Russian legislation), to ensure that Roma settlements are in a position to legally and safely use the necessary communications (of which the Russian Federation has no deficit).
It should be immediately in order, to avoid danger to the lives of people – and especially children – to stop the police operation disabling gas and other resources in Roma settlements, to create conditions to connect each house to those in the field of life of people networks (thermal and other), to help in the transition to other safe forms of home heating, and to create an effective fire protection system.
Official representatives of the authorities, who speak to the mass media, have a particular responsibility as it is their duty to protect people from tyranny, to help those who find themselves in a difficult situation, not to emphasize ethnic and cultural characteristics of those Russian citizens, who find themselves in a situation of distress. The duty of the state as a whole and each of its individual officers lays in the prevention of racism, hatred and conflicts.