Romanian Mayor Moves Hundreds of Roma to a Decommissioned Chemical Factory

By • on June 8, 2012

On June 1, the mayor of Baia Mare, a town in northern Romania, decided to force hundreds of Roma, who until then had lived in very bad conditions in the ghetto called Craica, into an improvised accommodation in a former chemical laboratory of the decommissioned chemical factory CUPROM. The move was widely seen as part of Mayor Cătălin Cherecheş’s electioneering in the run-up to 10 June local elections in the country.

The factory used to be known among Romanians as a “plant of death,” because it used to be the second most polluting chemical plant in Romania. Still, the mayor explained he wanted to abolish Craica and that living conditions for the local Roma would be better in the former factory.

While the plant no longer operates, containers with hazardous chemical substances were stored on the premises, which would explain why in just a few hours after their arrival 22 Roma children and two adults showed symptoms of poisoning.

Emergency medical services were alerted, so ambulances with medical staff, complete with doctors with oxygen masks, soon came to help the poisoned Roma citizens, who were then taken to hospital.

Unsurprisingly, the Cherecheş’s move was widely condemned, with local and national press labeling him a Nazi, and national and international institutions debating the issue. Asked why he forced the local Roma to move, Cherecheş claimed his aim was to help social integration of the local Roma. He also said the action was legal and that the premises to be used as housing for the Roma at the decommissioned factory had been cleaned.

MOTHER AT THE SCENE

On 3 June, the events took a rather bizarre turn. The mayor’s mother, Viorica Cherecheş, who is director of a local hospital, came to  CUPROM, accompanied by representatives of local police. She asked the freshly rehoused Roma to collect all the bottles containing toxic substances found on the premises and take them to another place. The Roma conformed and gathered all containers with chemicals with bare hands and without any safety equipment.

“Although the mayor’s mother is a physician … she didn’t explain to those Roma that they were exposed to risk when handling containers filled with chemicals. We believe that the mayor’s mother removed evidence of inhuman action started by her son,” said Marian Mandache, the executive director of the Roma rights organization Romani CRISS. “We don’t know in what capacity Ms. Chereches took local police officers to the local chemical plant where the Roma now live, forcing them to collect those containers with toxic substances with their bare hands,” Mandache added. Romani CRISS asked local authorities to initiate an investigation on the mayor’s move and subsequent action of his mother.

CIVIL SOCIETY PROTESTS

Members of 36 Roma and non-Roma NGOs protested on 7 June in front of the Romanian Government building over the Baia Mare mayor’s policy. The 36 organizations signed an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Victor Ponta. “The signatories publicly protest against the fact that the Romanian Government has so far remained impassive to these serious violations of human rights, which allowed the mayor to continue the racist policy towards the Roma and sent a signal to other local authorities to act in a similar fashion,” the letter said. The human rights activists also expressed their concerns about the “extreme danger posed by the use of anti-Roma feelings in the election campaign.”

This is not the first anti-Roma move of the current mayor of Baia Mare. Last year, Cătălin Cherecheş ordered the erection of a six feet-high and several hundred meters-long wall surrounding a local Roma district. Despite numerous protests and attempts by Romanian and international officials to persuade the mayor to remove it, the wall is still there.

(Photos source: www.evz.ro)