Swedish municipalities have initiated more than 80 evictions of vulnerable EU citizens, mostly Roma, from informal settlements on the grounds of poor sanitation since 2013, according to a new report from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and Södertörn University.
Download the entire report: “Inconvenient Human Rights: Access to Water and Sanitation in Sweden’s Informal Roma Settlements.”
Read the press release in Swedish.
“This is both a human rights tragedy and a failed policy approach to Roma settlements,” says Martha F. Davis, co-author of the report and Fulbright-Lund University Chair in Public International Law at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. “The evictions described in the report may be appropriate from an environmental standpoint, but they violate human rights law if no alternatives are offered to provide water and sanitation to the affected individuals beyond a few days.”
Access to water and sanitation, on terms that are affordable and safe, are basic, universal human rights that must be available to all people present in a jurisdiction, not just segments of the population.
The report, “Inconvenient Human Rights: Access to Water and Sanitation in Sweden’s Informal Roma Settlements,” finds that when the government fails to provide assistance with these basic human needs, the grounds for eviction are virtually assured, and this cycle simply follows the well-worn path of Roma discrimination throughout the past centuries.
“We see that often the same people who are evicted just establish a new campsite, likely near a cemetery or a gas station where they can access water for drinking and cooking. After a few days or weeks, the eviction cycle begins once again,” says Natasha Ryan, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Law at Södertörn University who co-wrote the report.
Guidance to Meet Human Rights Obligations
In a water-rich country like Sweden, with highly-developed water and sanitation delivery systems, a more positive intervention by the government is required, says Davis.
The report, published in commemoration of International Roma Day, provides guidance on how cities can meet the government’s human rights obligations with respect to water and sanitation for the vulnerable Roma individuals in their communities.
Some municipalities, such as Lund, have already developed model programs that address these basic needs by providing access to housing and shelters, often through public-private partnerships.
Other municipalities designated temporary campsites to provide vulnerable EU citizens with ready access to water and sanitation facilities.
Both of these models also have the advantage of providing a site where social service providers can interact with residents to identify medical needs and provide other necessary services, including strategies for obtaining work.
“International Roma Day provides an occasion for reflecting on the country’s history and recognizing that as a highly developed nation, and with leadership from municipalities on the front lines of this issue, we can –and should — do better today,” says Morten Kjaerum, the director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.