Belgium has not taken sufficient account of the situation of Travellers

20 June 2023
Area of action: Housing
Grounds of discrimination: Racism

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) issued a decision following a complaint of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) concerning a police operation in 2019 in Belgium. Police and judicial action was part of a large-scale investigation into car fraud. Caravans were seized and bank accounts blocked, among other measures. 

The Belgian State condemned by the European Committee of Social Rights 

The ECSR concluded that the Belgian State had not taken sufficient account of the specific nature of the situation, and that this was a violation of the European Charter of Social Rights

Unia reported twice about its concerns on the situation of the Travellers affected by the police operation in 2019. Information from those reports was used by ERRC to motivate its complaint before the ECSR. 

Decision related to freezing of bank accounts 

The ECSR states that there “cannot (be) conclude(d) that due to freezing of bank accounts and the alleged lack of provision of social assistance by the Belgian authorities, the Travellers concerned were deprived of adequate resources to live a decent life and meet basic needs in an adequate manner”. 

Unia sees the conclusions of the ECSR as cautious, probably because the situation was too confused. We remind the Belgian public authorities that they are responsible for guaranteeing access to banking services, even and especially for the most vulnerable.  

Decision related to the right of housing 

On the other hand, the ECSR states that “Belgian authorities failed to demonstrate that they took due and positive account of the particular housing situation and different lifestyle of the Travellers families concerned by the seizure of caravans, nor did they take sufficient steps to ensure that such families could effectively continue to enjoy their right to adequate housing”.  

Unia calls for structural policies for Travellers 

The ECSR's conclusions illustrate the difficulty of taking proportionate police and judicial action affecting Travellers in a context characterized by a lack of appropriate public policies consistent with Travellers' way of life.  

The Belgian State has been condemned in 2012 by the ECSR for its general failure to provide suitable housing conditions for Travellers. 

Many of the Travellers affected have not found access to effective legal defence, even though some of them had recourse to a lawyer.  

Was it proportionate to quickly resell the seized caravans to third parties, given that these caravans were the main homes of many families? Was a sufficient distinction made between caravans that were in order from a legal point of view and others? Were the offers of temporary rehousing eventually made to some families a realistic option for people who don't live in buildings?  

Unia asks the Belgian public authorities to improve living conditions for Roma and Travellers. A structural housing policy tailored to their needs must be adopted. Each region must guarantee sufficient sustainable residential land where they can stay safely and legally without the constant threat of eviction. Such land is a prerequisite for children's access to education. Education, in turn, is a prerequisite for access to decent work.  

Without these measures, Travellers will be further marginalized in Belgium. 

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