“Water means more than anything to me” Lili Grm from Dobruška vas told Amnesty International.
Almost everyone in Slovenia has access to safe drinking water, but some Romani communities have to fetch their water – for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene – from polluted streams, or from the public taps at petrol stations and cemeteries, sometimes kilometres away from their homes. Lili told us that when her husband is ill, she has to carry the water by herself, walking more than two kilometres to get 25 litres of water. “On those days I don’t cook, I don’t wash. Sometimes we are without water for the whole day.” The lack of water and sanitation particularly affects Roma women as they are responsible for washing clothes and for the hygeine of their children, and struggle to find privacy for their own hygiene and sanitation needs.
The lack of access to water and sanitation, however, is only part of the grossly inadequate housing conditions for many Romani communities in Slovenia at large. Most Roma live in isolated and segregated Roma-only settlements or slums and they lack security of tenure. The local authorities do not allow them to improve their homes in any way, and they are under constant threat of forced eviction. Bojan in Žabjak said “They don't tell us anything about what will happen with the settlement - only that they will demolish it if we build something. I built this shack years ago and no one said anything then. Now, when I ask the Social Work Centre for help to buy some planking, they say that this is not sensible, since I will have to demolish the shack anyway.”
The very poor living conditions in many settlements adversely affect other human rights. People are frequently ill, suffering from rashes and diarrhoea. Children do not go to school, afraid of being teased about their smell. Marjan Hudorovič from Goriča vas in Ribnica told Amnesty International: “The state says that children have to go to school but no one asks themselves if they can go there clean. No one asks themselves how they can do their homework in winter - it gets dark very early and we don’t have electricity.”
Yet, many Romani families have no option but to live in such conditions. Other communities and local authorities block their attempts to buy or rent housing, making it more difficult to move to houses or flats outside Roma-only settlements. The mayor of Semič, for example, stated that the local population “does not accept Roma at all” and that non-Roma “would never sell or rent to Roma.” Discrimination from the non-Roma community is common.
Slovenia has the expertise, experience and resources to ensure that Romani communities enjoy the same human rights as the rest of the Slovenian population but the government still falls short of fulfilling their obligations.