Marginal groups and cultural boundaries: The case of the Greek "Roma" and their spatial and social exclusion from the urban context of the city

The overwhelming majority of Greek "Roma" people live on the edges of the Greek cities of the 21st century, in a state of absolute marginalization, to which they have been led - mainly over the last few decades - by the country's development model. This model, through its process of urbanization of Greek society, has leveled cultural diversity and assimilated cultural and social pluralism, creating new social relations and balances.

The growth of the Greek cities forces the Romany communities to relocate continually, as land uses change, land values increase continually, and the Roma are driven out of their homes which - for the most part, of course - were on public or privately owned land.

In these circumstances, the already impoverished Romany community becomes poorer still, losing its ability to generate the necessary income for survival, while often finding itself compelled to approach closer to the Greek cities, which are developing as centres of economic growth where there are opportunities for secondary employment. However, the development of the urban centres, expanding the cities and paving the way for new exploitation of the land (particularly through the mechanism of antiparochi - the sale of land to property developers in exchange for a share in the new development) forces the "Roma" into less and less satisfactory homes on the periphery of Greek cities, in areas which bear the scars of environmental and urban decay and neglect.

It is above all locations outside the city plan, industrial zones, areas of unauthorized and anarchic construction, areas where land is degraded and depreciated in various ways, which attract socially excluded "Roma" groups to set up their encampments, creating enclaves of poverty and social exclusion, but above all creating the conditions for increased social decline. These areas around the Greek cities are characterized by what is usually a total lack of the most basic infrastructures - both technical (water supply, sewers, transport, etc.) and social (schools, medical and social services, etc.).

The "Roma" communities live in a variety of different accommodation, varying in terms of the kind of structure (conventional house or makeshift construction) and its quality, the degree of integration into the communal fabric, the permanence and other characteristics of the location. The following general categories of accommodation are to be found:

- Camp in permanent location - huts, shacks, tents - used all year round or seasonally
- Camp at shifting location within broader area, used all year round or seasonally
- Camp featuring mixture of houses and makeshift constructions (shacks, tents), usually in permanent use
- Neighbourhoods - mostly consisting of houses, permanently occupied, often in run-down parts of the city
- Conventional houses or apartments scattered around the urban fabric

Different problems are experienced in these various categories, some of them shared with the general population (although affecting the "Roma" more severely), some of them affecting the "Roma" communities alone. These problems can be grouped in the following general categories:

The aim of the Conference was the re-activation of a forum for dialogue and consent among the different parties of social dialogue: the Government, the Local Authorities, the Rom citizens through their representing bodies and the citizens active in the NGO field, in order to establish alliances between the public and social front:

a) through the promotion of institutional and legislative regulations and the provision of solutions for the implementation of the National Scheme for the residential rehabilitation of the homeless Rom, and
b) through organizing and disseminating the know-how for the planning of an integrated methodology for problem solving within the rational of social inclusion.

The proceedings of the Conference focused on the integrated planning for the residential rehabilitation and the social inclusion of Rom citizens, emphasizing on theoretical and methodological documentation and in connecting it with actions already taken and the current developments that could lead to the implementation of the National Scheme. During the Conference the moral basis of the social residence was illustrated, as well as the institutional and legislative basis of the issue, focusing on the special and numerous problems of Rom homeless in Greece.

- Lack of housing
- Inadequacy of basic housing structure
- Planning system
- Property ownership system
- Inadequate technical and social infrastructure
- Lack of reception spaces for traveling “Roma”
- Inability to access housing support mechanisms
- Housing security
- Social rejection

The majority of the "Roma" population remains marginalized, socially excluded, living in wretched conditions in respect of their housing within the city limits and of their access to basic social rights and commodities. This state of affairs generates the conditions for general and extreme (as a matter of actual physical survival) social exclusion, and all its consequences: absolute poverty and the struggle to survive, exclusion from institutions and social rights, isolation and introversion.

It is absolutely certain that these conditions cannot be tackled through suppression, or greater contraction of the "Roma" peoples' rights, or by intensification of their spatial and social exclusion - as has been the case in the past, and continues to be the case today. These phenomena can be reversed only by organized and long-term policies for inclusion.

Social exclusion and cultural segregation are both born in the same environment: the basic cell of 'social biology' - the 'neighbourhood'. At the level of the "neighbourhood", and especially the "neighbourhood in crisis", of urban exclusion, characterized by poverty, unemployment, the lack of infrastructures, the absence of social support mechanisms, with all their consequences, the divorce from local social institutions, criminality, the same vicious circle of exclusion and cultural segregation is produced and re-produced. And with each cycle of exclusion the balance is further reduced, eventually leading to a state of complete social annihilation.

For this reason, any actions and initiatives must focus on the neighbourhood as their key point of reference. In neighbourhoods where the "Roma" people live initiatives need to be launched to promote mutual recognition and acceptance of all inhabitants. Each action must seek to create permanent, small institutions to highlight Romany cultural identity and to promote and ensure the organic inclusion of the "Roma" into structures and activities at local community level.

Each action must create a meeting point for different cultures, an opportunity for social involvement, dialogue and debate - the ultimate objective being the mutual acceptance and understanding of citizens on the level of the neighbourhood and the local community.

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