Displaced Roma Families Head into Brutal Winter without Adequate Housing

This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Around 100 children, women and men, forcibly evicted from their homes by the Romanian government six years ago, continue to live in dirty, inhumane conditions.  With nowhere else to go, they are stuck in small, overcrowded metal shacks that stand next to a large sewage plant. A sign outside the plant warns of “toxic danger”, yet the authorities have failed to heed this warning and the Roma families are suffering.

The Roma families are from the Romanian town of Miercurea Ciuc, and despite the fact that authorities told them the movie was only temporary, six years have passed and there are still no plans to relocate them. The 75 people remaining are living with only 4 toilets between them, 1 tap for water, and shacks that do not provide protection from the elements, which is of serious concern for the winter season when temperatures drop below -25 °C (-13 °F). In addition, the families are also living within 300 meters of toxic waste, which is prohibited under Romanian law. Many Roma have expressed concern about their health, and the health of their families, reporting an awful stench that constantly lingers in the air.

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Displaced children at risk in Sri Lankan camps

Yesterday, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (of which Amnesty International is a member) issued a briefing paper on children affected by the recent conflict in Sri Lanka.  The paper details how children in the military-controlled internment camps for displaced civilians are being abducted for ransom, for forced recruitment into pro-government armed groups or due to suspected links with the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In May of this year, the Sri Lankan government completed its offensive against the LTTE, recapturing all the territory formerly held by the group and killing their senior leaders, thus ending the 26-year-old conflict.  The LTTE had been fighting for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  Both sides committed gross human rights abuses, including war crimes, during the course of the conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were displaced earlier this year by the fighting.  By the end of the hostilities, over 280,000 civilians (included a reported 80,000 children) were being held in overcrowded, military-run camps.  Most of the civilians are not allowed to leave the camps.  The Sri Lankan government has said that they must be screened first to determine the presence of any suspected LTTE combatants.

The Sri Lankan government should tighten security at the camps so that children are no longer at risk of abduction.  But they should also allow all the civilians in the camps freedom of movement, a right they’re entitled to as citizens of Sri Lanka.  Those who wish to leave the camps should be immediately allowed to do so.  Haven’t the displaced children and their relatives suffered enough already?

Children abducted from Sri Lankan camps

I read some shocking news this morning.  The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (of which Amnesty International is a member) said yesterday that children are being abducted from refugee camps in northern Sri Lanka by Tamil paramilitary groups allied with the government.  It’s not clear what the motives are for the abductions.  Some children may have been taken due to suspicion of links with the opposition Tamil Tigers, while others appear to be kidnapped for ransom.  The abductions are happening at night when security at the camps is reduced.

The Sri Lankan government recently completed its military offensive against the Tigers, recapturing all the territory held by them and reportedly killing their leaders.  The Tigers had been seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  About 270,000 civilians were displaced by the fighting in recent months and are now in overcrowded camps in the north which they’re not allowed to leave.

The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said recently that she was negotiating with the Sri Lankan government to send a special envoy to assess the situation of children in Sri Lanka first hand.  The Sri Lankan government has reportedly agreed in principle to such a visit.

It’s urgent that the Sri Lankan government provide adequate security immediately at the camps to protect the children.  We can’t wait for the UN special envoy to arrive in Sri Lanka.  The people of Sri Lanka have suffered enough during the war between the government and the Tamil Tigers.  No more parents should experience the anguish of losing their children.

The Killing of Children in Gaza

Sir John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, said he was said he was shocked by “the systematic nature of the destruction” in Gaza.

Equally troubling are the reports about shooting and killing of children by Israel during the conflict. The BBC reports:

One of the most alarming features of the conflict in Gaza is the number of child casualties. More than 400 were killed. Many had shrapnel or blast injuries sustained as the Israeli army battled Hamas militants in Gaza’s densely populated civilian areas. But the head of neurosurgery at the El-Arish hospital, Dr Ahmed Yahia, told me that brain scans made it clear that a number of the child victims had been shot at close range. Samar’s uncle said the soldier who had shot his niece was just 15m (49ft) away. ”How could they not see they were shooting at children?”

There are othere reports that suggest that some parents were lined up and shot in front of their children. The Telegraph writes

One nine-year-old boy said his father had been shot dead in front of him despite surrendering to Israeli soldiers with his hands in the air.

Another youngster described witnessing the deaths of his mother, three brothers and uncle after the house they were in was shelled.

He said his mother and one of his siblings had been killed instantly, while the others bled to death over a period of days.

A psychiatrist treating children in the village of Zeitoun on the outskirts of Gaza City, where the alleged incidents took place, described the deaths as a “massacre”.

In a powerful video, the Guardian documents some of the horror experienced by children in Gaza. Clip here to watch the video.