Elena Petrache and her daughter Liliana have been living in Ex Cartiera, a dilapidated shelter for Roma in Rome’s industrial suburbs, since 2011. They share a small room, and Liliana’s daughter Denisa and her son share another.
Until recently, the kitchens were outside in a courtyard, but in February they were dismantled. Now guests are prohibited from keeping cooking equipment or refrigerators in their rooms, and the cooperative managing the shelter provides two pre-cooked meals a day. There are no common spaces or natural light. The electricity and heating systems are dysfunctional.
Elena, Liliana, and Denisa and her son were moved to Ex Cartiera by local authorities after being forcibly evicted from two informal settlements on the outskirts of Rome. Having lived in those settlements for four years, they were told that the shelter was only a temporary solution, a first step on the road to inclusion.
The reality turned out to be very different.
In March, local authorities sent eviction notices to the shelter’s guests, instructing them to leave on short notice without proposing adequate alternative housing solutions. Elena and Liliana were given less than two weeks to pack their belongings and leave. They have no income or financial support, and Liliana is the only caretaker for her 80-year-old disabled mother.
With the support of several organizations—Associazione 21 Luglio, the European Roma Rights Centre, OsservAzione, and ASGI—they decided to try to stop their eviction in court. But the hands of the domestic courts were effectively tied, so they asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to issue an emergency measure moments before it closed for the Easter holiday weekend.
The request for the emergency measure was extraordinary. At the ECHR, “interim measures” can be adopted in emergencies in order to stop an “imminent risk of irreparable damage.” Usually, such measures are used to prevent people being expelled from Europe to countries where their well-being would be at risk. But the court heard Elena and Liliana’s case, and ultimately ruled in their favor.
The mother and daughter were able to prove that their eviction would violate the European Convention on Human Rights’ rules against inhuman and degrading treatment. They successfully argued that the procedure before the Italian administrative courts in this case did not provide any effective means for them to challenge or prevent their eviction from going ahead.
This is the second time that the ECHR has issued an interim measure to stop the forced eviction of Roma in Italy. The decision represents an important shift in the stance of a European institution that until recently was reluctant to take action on the issue of forced evictions of Roma. It could represent a turning point for what the court considers to be under its scope.
The intervention of the court needs to be read as a clear warning to member states that they must adopt fair approaches in their policies on housing and Roma. It is hardly a coincidence that only a week later the court issued another interim measure against Romania to stop a forced eviction of Roma.
Forced evictions are one of the most visible and concrete expressions of anti-Gypsyism, and one of the most frequent forms of human rights violations that Roma face. They affect Roma communities across Europe, whether they are living in their own country or abroad. That is why Elena and Liliana’s victory against the Municipality of Rome stretches well beyond the borders of Italy and sends an encouraging message to all those Roma fighting to end the discrimination and abuses endured by their communities.