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Romania’s ‘invisible’ Roma battle for identity

STOENESTI (ROUMANIE) (AFP) – 

Denisa, Robert and Calin have never celebrated their birthdays: the three children, like thousands of other Romanians, don’t have birth certificates, leaving them in an administrative black hole.

“It’s very hard. Without birth certificates I don’t get any allowances and I can’t register for school,” said their mother Gabi Matei, 22, a member of the Roma community in Stoenesti, southern Romania.

The young mother, who is illiterate, adds that she has forgotten the birthday dates of her children, aged between nine months and seven years old.

To register them, the local mayor demands that she produce identity documents, but she also doesn’t have any.

“My mother left the hospital immediately after I was born, and she never applied for a birth certificate for me,” she said.

Given this, she has been advised to seek help from the local departmental archives’ office, or to hire a lawyer. But both options are impossible for Gabi, who lives by buying and selling scrap metal.

Dozens of her Roma neighbours recount similar stories.

“My husband doesn’t have a birth certificate or identity papers. Because of that he can’t be hired or go abroad to work,” 19-year-old Alina Matei told AFP.

Some 160,000 Romanians, or about 0.8 percent of the country’s population, live without identity documents, including 10,000 who have no birth certificate, said Ciprian Necula of the Romanian EU funds ministry, who campaigns for the rights of Roma, or gypsies.

– Vicious circle –

He points the finger at legislation dating back to the Communist era, when all citizens had to be registered so that authorities knew “where to come and find them”.

“It’s a vicious circle: these people can’t get identity papers because they don’t have a home address, and don’t have a home address because they don’t have identity papers, Necula told AFP.

For Romania’s Roma community, which numbers up to two million according to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), housing is a thorny question: most of them live in unhygienic accommodation and only rarely own property.

This is also the case for Gabi Matei: her parents-in-law bought the house where she lives with her family, but without going through a notary.

Romanian authorities also point the finger at the indifference of some Roma, many of whom are poor and uneducated, towards official bureaucracy.

“You can blame their ignorance, but .. for these people, among the poorest in Romania, the priority is: ‘What am I going to eat today?'” said Necula.

– ‘Non-existent’ –

Some 30 kilometres (about 20 miles) from Stoenesti, in a poor suburb of the town of Slatina, residents are angry. “The mayor promised to sort out the problem of identity papers but he’s done nothing,” said Viorel Voiculescu, 36.

He said several hundred people were given permission some 15 years ago to build houses on the banks of the Olt river. But the local town hall subsequently refused to confirm their legality, meaning they still can’t get permanent identity documents.

“We’re non-existent, how is that possible?” asked Voiculescu, whose 14-year-old son can’t go away to summer camp because he doesn’t have the vital document proving who he is.

The town hall says a new law forbids it from granting property rights to housing building in zones at risk of flooding.

“I know of cases where dead people couldn’t be buried because the family didn’t have the birth certificate,” said Necula, adding that there was “a whole load of problems” to do with schooling, hospital or for dealing with notaries.

Romania’s technocratic government, which took office in November last year, is confronting the problem by a decree which aims to make paperwork easier for people without identity documents.

The decree notably obliges authorities to issue a birth certificate for newborn babies even if the mother doesn’t have one, while also helping her to obtain documents.

Necula says obstacles won’t disappear overnight, because some local authorities see people without identity papers as “people who are easier to manipulate”.

© 2016 AFP

Article source: http://www.france24.com/en/20161027-romanias-invisible-roma-battle-identity