11th International Metropolis Conference,
Lisbon, 2-6 October 2006
FORUM-Workshop ‘Social Housing, moving people into business and
interaction’: The Roma Case in the Netherlands, presented by Peter Jorna 1 .
I am grateful to have the opportunity to reflect on ‘the Romacase’ 2 . Especially here: identifying this particular issue for a
cosmopolitan and multi-disciplinary conference, with an
audience composed of academics, public functionaries, policy
makers as well as representatives of the civil society. This week
we have the opportunity to work towards a cross-sector
approach, to exchange views on how to address the problems
and challenges inherent to a globalized and urbanized
environment: how to develop, design or project a ‘Metropolis’
in which immigrants, minorities, newcomers and outsiders feel
at home, forming an integral part of a sustainable livelihood.
To my opinion the ‘Roma-case’ -not the Gypsy- ‘problem’,
mind you - I referred to, should be part of that complex issue.
The Roma form a transnational minority. Migratory and mobile,
even when settled for ages in a particular country or nation-state.
They are neglected, generally, rather unknown at best, and
puzzling us how to be approached. They are part of Metropolis,
‘Paths and Crossroads: Moving people, changing places’, as the
Conference underlying motto is, is quite appropriate a phrase in
the particular case of the Roma. Imagine the approximately 810 million Roma, a ‘true European Minority’, being here
Staff member of FORUM, the Dutch Institute for Multicultural Development, and permanent member
for the Netherlands of the Committee of Experts on Roma and Travellers for the Council of Europe.
The term Roma used here follows the ‘code’ generally accepted in International (non)Governmental
circuits, such as the Council of Europe, and refers to Roma, Sinti, Manouches, Kalé, Gitanos, Ciganos,
Zingari, Travellers, Gens du Voyage, and aims to cover the wide diversity of related groups in Europe
concerned. In the context of the UK also, by self-nominating, referred to with the term ‘Gypsies’.
amongst us since medieval times, but still marginalized and
excluded as important public European bodies stated 3 .
Imagine that they are an all inclusive part of the projects we are
heading for: no longer the ‘Other’ we come across, an ‘Outsider’
trespassing, or ‘the Stranger unwished for’ as Roma people are
generally seen, but ‘being fully there’, enjoying the full fledged
rights of citizenship, in which a far reaching and deeply rooted
cultural richness has been taken into account. Not any longer
considered as ‘economically non-existent’ or worse, ‘human
waste’, but as a ‘logical’, natural partner in coping with the
continental challenges that are at stake. Later on I will treat the
situation in the Netherlands and trace some good practices. I am
glad Médecins du Monde will share their experiences and
expertise with us today. And the fact that the situation in the
hosting country, that is the City of Lisbon, can be touched upon
as well, is a good thing. We are glad that mr. Toy, working for
the city council as mediator and ‘Cigano’ or Rom himself, has
been found ready to bring in some local developments. We
thank mrs. Manuela Mendes, of the Technical University of
Lisbon, and the Portuguese High Commission for Immigrants
and Ethnic Minorities for their efforts to make it possible that
the Roma mediator is in the opportunity to participate today.
Before unfolding my story, I would like to share with you a
‘petit histoire’. It is about the origin of a large project called
‘New Babylon’: a symbolic representation of a visionary
Metropolitan town. It is not the skyrocketing New York look-alike with the concomitant new type of man that Fritz Lang
envisaged in his famous movie in 1927. It is a vast, low leveled
network of interdependent ‘Sectors’, developed by Constant
Nieuwenhuys (1920-2006), founding father of the CoBrA group
(the avant garde movement of painters and architects, forming
the continental triangle Copenhagen – Berlin – Amsterdam).
Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Res. 1203/1993 and the report of the High
Commissioner on Human Rights, 2006; the EU Parliament, Res. April 2005). Their presence is not
restricted to the European continent: the Americas, Australia, Asia and Africa account for appr. another
4 million persons.
For this utopian and minutely detailed plan for the city of the
future the ‘Gypsy Camp’ served as a model and key element for
artistical and ideological inspiration. Under one roof, with the
aid of moveable elements, a shared residence is built; a
temporary, constantly remodeled living area, a ‘camp for
nomads on a planetary scale’. A Gypsy Town turned into an
architectural project lasting for more than ten years. It generated
a series of maquettes of a complex that could be taken apart,
transported and reassembled.
The project New Babylon started in the aftermath of World War
Two, in the fifties, when the flat bombed cities were rebuild, and
it was part of the reaction against the modern, rationalist
architecture of city planners and, in the end, against capitalism 4 .
For further details on the elaboration of this movement, see Peter Wollen’s essay on ‘ Situationists
and Architecture’ (New Left Review 8, mar-apr 2001, p. 123-139) and on the elaboration of the New
Babylon project, see Constant Nieuwenhuys in the Exhibition Catalogue published by the Haags
Gemeentemuseum, the Hague, 1974).
the aid of boxes and planks left behind by the traders. The need
to clean up the market place every time the Zingari passed
through had let the town council to forbid them access. In
compensation, they were assigned a bit of grassland on the
banks of the Tamaro, the little river that goes through the town:
the most miserable patches! It’s there that in December 1956 I
went to see them in company of the painter Pinot Gallizio, the
owner of this uneven, muddy, desolate terrain, who’d given it to
them. They’d closed off the space between some caravans with
planks and petrol cans, they’d made an enclosure, a ‘Gypsy
That was the day Constant conceived the scheme for a
permanent encampment for the gypsies of Alba and, in the end,
of a project called New Babylon. I am not suggesting a plea for
a presupposed precious contribution of the ‘Beauty of the
Gypsy’ or the ‘Primitive Isolate’. And even more, being an
cultural anthropologist by profession, I have been learned that
one should not take the ‘Native’s point of View’ for granted.
Neither the artist’s one: the engagement of a ‘Bohemièn’ with
the Gypsies seems to be romanticism nowadays. But what we
could learn from this is a key element of a sound approach,
promoted by all important European institutions: to collect first
hand information in direct contact, face to face with the people
‘targeted’. Policy makers, project designers, city planners and
architects should actively reach out for consultation of the Roma
in function of a co-produced or interactive policy.
What about the concept of the ‘Gypsy Camp’ and the ‘Nomadic
Way of Life’? And what about the settled ones? This ‘petit
histoire’ of Alba could have been of all places and all times.
Classical elements and forces of push and pull, that makes me
think of the first entrée of the ‘Egyptians’ in the mercantile
townships of the Low Lands (Deventer and Utrecht, 1420).
Indeed, the itinerant lifestyle, in extended families or compania,
whether or not in function of trades and crafts, still occurs. In
Italy as well as in the Netherlands. But settlement or
sedentarisation is the norm, and nomadism is getting
exceptional. ‘Camps’ turn into ‘shanty towns’ in the outskirts of
the larger cities close to, f.i., airports. Nowadays the use of the
term ‘nomadism’ for policy reasons is under fire. The old
‘argument’ that Roma people are nomads, as a pretext not to
invest in proper housing or to move them because of new city
plans without decent alternatives, needs to be strongly
So let’s face reality, anno 2006, and see that something still can
be done, f.i. on the field of social housing, on the European and
local level, and in the light of European standards and
enforcement 5 .
That European legal measures are brought tot the local levels
(with the possibility to be put into practice?) shows the
organized action towards Italy’s housing policy.
Only recently, a Roundtable took place on ‘Combating
Segregation and Social Exclusion of Roma and Sinti in Italy’
(Rome, 8th of May 2006). The meeting convened representatives
of the Council of Europe, Italian authorities, grass roots NGO’s
as well as the European Roma Rights Centre.
The ERRC had submitted the collective complaint under the
Revised European Social Charter mechanism. Shortly before
this Round Table meeting, the European Committee of Social
Rights condemned Italy’s ‘Campland’ Policies in three distinct
violations of Europe’s Premiere Social Rights body, referring to
Article 31 on effective access of the right to housing. Ruling on
the ERRC complaint the Committee contested unanimously:
- The insufficiency of campsites for nomadic Roma.
- The forced evictions and other sanctions.
- The lack of permanent dwellings 6 .
Two important recommendations of the Council of Europe have adopted by the Committee of the
Ministers of its member states, on The Movement and Encampment of of Travellers, Rec(2004)14, and
on Improving the housing conditions of Roma and Travellers, Rec(2005)4.
Press release ERRC, Rome, 24-04-2006. Article 31: ‘to promote access to housing of an adequate
standard (1), to prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination (2), and to
make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources’ (3), taken together with
In addition to this Collective Complaint, the Decision of the
Committee and the subsequent Roundtable in the field, there had
been political and diplomatic ‘peer pressure’ within the Council
of Europe. The Committee of Ministers adopted a Resolution
referring to this collective complaint, taking notice of the
decision and requesting measures as well as reporting on the
improvements 7 .
Of course, Italy is not the only one, but only one of the filed
examples. Recently Council of Europe’s Commissioner for
Human Rights draw the attention towards an increase of this
widespread phenomenon in recent months, referring to Greece,
France, the UK, Czech Republic, Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria and
the Russian Federation 8 .
As a resume and by way of conclusion so far, I want to
underline the observation that poor housing conditions is a
major cause of Roma exclusion in Europe.
What about the Netherlands? What happened here in policy
terms since the sixties of the twentieth century – the decade in
which Constant developed his long term project New Babylon,
inspired by ‘the Gypsy Camp’.
In the reconstruction period following World War Two, the
Dutch policy was focused on settling down and concentrating
the itinerant, traveling population into large camps (50) of
approximately 100 sites each and spread over the country in the
margins of urban zones. It started as an ‘all inclusive’ policy,
intentionally designed to ‘emancipate’ this as a substratum
considered part of the Dutch population. A package deal was
Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers, Resolution ResChs(2006)4, Collective Complaint No.
See the Viewpoint-article of the High Commissioner, Thomas Hammerberg, first published (04-092006) on www.commissioner.coe.int. In a recent speech (18-09-2006) on Joint International Helsinki
Conference on Housing Rights the Commissioner stressed the importance of non-discriminatory
legislation in ensuring socially inclusive housing policies for vulnerable groups such as the homeless
and the Roma. See also The Report on the Human Rights situation of the Roma, Sinti and Travellers in
Europe, CommDH (2006)1.
enforced upon the former mobile group of Travellers and
Gypsies: a ‘social welfare for settling down-swap’. Traditional
trades and crafts ran out of custom and practice in the rapidly
industrializing Netherlands. Traditional occupations were
replaced by the car-demolition activities, all present on the
camps and gradually moved to separate locations because of
Featuring the risk of isolation and segregation, this policy of
concentration was turned, from the seventies onwards, into the
other side: the large camps at the outskirts of the cities were to
be transformed into more and smaller camps, incorporated into
the inhabited urban and rural zones. This policy making process
of de-concentration, de-centralization and normalization has
recently coming to a close.
Policies towards the traveling population were designed in
function of and set by the Caravan Act (1918 – 1999). This
special law was supposed to contain the traveller population,
geographically and demographically, by defining who is where
allowed to inhabit a mobile home and what is exactly a caravan
or ‘mobile home’. Normative and quantitative planning was
enforced upon municipalities by regional governments
(provinces); the monitoring and providing task was taken care of
by the central government. After the abolishment of the
‘Caravan’ Act, municipalities are left free from supra
governmental pressure, trying to transfer their obligations to the
housing corporations (as the ‘mobile home’ is acknowledged as
a legitimate form of housing, according to the law on public
housing in 1993). The longstanding shortage in the supply of
campsites (3.000 fall short on the available 9.700 sites) still is a
real problem, especially for the younger generation. In fact, the
campsite turned into a commodity-asset, subjected to market
‘Nomadism’ is not an issue. Mobile home-constructions are
pretty fixed and a lot of them are even doubled through second
floors in height or width. Although the Dutch camps are hardly
to be compared with the large shanty town-type settlements
treated before, they are nevertheless generally considered as ‘No
go areas’ and this way coming close to the negative effects and
imagery of the concept of a ‘nomadic camp’.
Recently, more severe controle mechanisms have been put into
force. Since 2003 the camp sites are labeled in policy terms as
‘Free States’, subjected to special treatment for law
enforcement. Public Ministry and police are operational in the
collection of taxes, rents, gas and electricity bills, as well as in
the combat of supposed wide spread illegal activities (such as
the construction and maintenance of greenhouses for the growth
In public imagery the campsites are conceived as centers of
refuge, where the notion of citizenship in terms of civil duties
and obligations are absent.
Like in Italy Dutch governments gradually grew fixated on the
physical aspects of housing (construction and maintenance of
camps and sites), within the realm of the concentration and deconcentration policies. Education, employment and care were of
relatively minor interest. Although progress has been made,
compared with the majority and other cultural minorities the
Travellers, Sinti and Roma stay far behind. In fact, regardless of
the paternalism and segregation aspects of the Caravan Act, the
addressed group itself protested against the abolition, arguing
that there is not any defense mechanism left for them and that
municipalities are not monitored anymore by central
government on implementing their tasks towards this population
and way of housing. In fact, municipalities are in a process of
transferring their tasks to housing corporations and private
Nowadays the estimates of their numbers, generally accepted,
are approximately 40.000 persons, divided roughly into Sinti
and Roma (5.000 up to 10.000 persons) and Travellers (30.000),
residing in the approximately Dutch 450 municipalities. Of this
population, 75% live in mobile homes fixed on campsites; the
other part, living in houses in or near the neighborhoods, would
like to inhabit a mobile home (sometimes: again; f.e. travelers
who moved to houses, or Roma that came here in the seventies
and were integrated through fixed houses). Other won’t even
think about living in mobile homes on camps (f.e. the Roma
refugees from the Balkan).
A rough explanation for these differences. Refugees (Roma)
recently coming to the Netherlands during the Balkan wars or
after the Fall of the Iron Curtain, were all ready sedentarised
under communism. The Roma-group that moved to and fro in
Europe, by caravans in the seventies, and finally granted
General Pardon by the Dutch government was not allowed to
opt for or settle down in mobile homes. Arguments were found
in the special clause on descent and persons entitled to live in
mobile homes (in the former Caravan Act, article 18) and in the
Dutch policy of integration through settlement in houses in
In the Netherlands the population of Roma, Sinti and Travellers
is nearly invisible in public life. Their political participation is
low or nearly absent, public functions are not within reach
because of the educational gap as well as (indirect)
discrimination 9 .
The few good practices, we treat shortly here, are all embedded
in long term processes in which Sinti and Roma themselves
operate quite active, municipalities take the lead and the risk, or
commissioned the implementation of the project to experienced,
dedicated and trustworthy organizations.
In this respect it is important to refer to the role of ‘Europe’,
finding it’s way, through Coe and EU bodies, into the
Monitor series on Racism and the Extreme Right: Roma and Sinti. Anne Frank House and Leiden
For example the Council of Europe’s research (‘Access to
Public Health for Romani women’, 2002), succeeded by the
assessment of Médecins du Monde (2003) and a training project
for women together with the grassroots organizations (2004
Another example of Europe’s effective presence on this
particular field was the visit of the Council of Europe to the
Netherlands (2005), as part of the social rights research, which
resulted in meetings with housing corporations, local authorities
and NGO’s, and site-visits to Roma and Sinti camps.
Important as well is the fact that the Netherlands is represented
through one delegate within the European Forum for Roma and
Travellers, an umbrella NGO based in Strasbourg.
And promising as well is the start of a Dutch young Roma this
month as a trainee in the internship program of the Council of
The European opportunity structure is still under used on the
local level. Some practical projects in the field of employment,
however, are promising in terms of shaping future ‘best
First, in some smaller municipalities within the Eindhoven
region an integration company implements a project based on
the approach of individual coaching towards employment 10 .
This ESF program is targeted to employ and educate Sinti and
Roma through vocational schooling. The project is operating
within an area of 5 different camps inhabited by 500 persons and
is focusing on the youth, offering intensified and individually
coached tracks, based on mutual trust and aiming towards a
diversified opportunity-structure. The path towards small
enterprises forms one possible direction, working for wages
within smaller companies is the reasonable and attractive
alternative. A music group and studio-company is one of the
results, alternatives are automobile and car repair business,
handicrafts (furniture), or cleaning.
The reintegration company is called the WSD-group, based in Eindhoven and covers the Sinti and
Roma project under the name Pluspunt.
The executive personnel is distinguishes in terms of capability,
expertise, cultural sensibility and flexibility between both
demanding sides (municipality and targetgroup). The
consultants manage to maneuver within the limits set and
succeed in visualizing the results.
Dissemination of these good results may run a chance but
mainstreaming remains a problem, running the risk that these
experiments will be seen as exceptional and not applicable to
other contexts or municipalities. As a precondition, a relatively
higher level of education provides a sound base, as well as the
involvement of parents. Still, even here, there remain several
problems to be solved, influencing directly the sustainability of
the experiment. Especially on the field of housing. Because of
the ongoing shortage of campsites for the youth, tensions
A second example is to found in the urban are of Rotterdam (the
municipality of Capelle) where an employment project (20052007) started, based on a groups approach aiming towards
family enterprises (car repair, car trade). Here the starting base
was formed, years ago (2003), when FORUM started years ago
to bridge the communication gap and broke through the impasse
between the local Roma community and the local
Having finished the training period to accomplish competences
like having a meeting, organizing, presenting one selves in front
of public functionaries - in short: ‘being comfortable and
effective in the public domain’. Having put this into practice, the
Roma men succeeded in promoting their demands for
developing a learning by doing track that is supposed to result
into family run companies. In fact, this Equal project foresees in
concrete learning tracks / routes for 25 persons (16 men and 9
women). The important step is here that Roma create
alternatives for the existing impasses, gaining self-esteem,
enforcing their position as inhabitants in the public domain and
are looking towards this initiative as project owners. Local
functionaries, as well as regional centers of schooling and
training are challenged to deal, in a constructive way, with a
group of people with whom they are only familiar in terms of
trouble or ‘from hear say’.
As a conclusion we could turn to the ‘Gypsy Camp’, the
metaphor in our ‘petit histoire’ we started with. The ‘Gypsy
Town’ as a metaphor for a ‘New Babylon’, a ‘New Metropolis’,
as a model for a new way of operating. A long term project
connecting people, organizations, making alliances or consortia,
so as to interconnect different agenda-settings of different
circuits, on a local as well as European or even global level.
Let’s optimistically end in stating that the opportunity structures
are there, let’s fancy in the discussion how to get them work