Her family had twenty minutes to pack their belongings. Then they had to leave their apartment. From now on equal. When seventeen-year-old Roxana comes home from school, her parents and six siblings are already out on the street. They don’t know where to go, whether they might even have to sleep on the street.

The building regulations office in Duisburg cleared the entire residential building. The reason: structural defects. Panicked, Roxana’s family calls relatives and friends, looking for accommodation. An uncle says that for the time being they can live with him in Berlin. They are there for three months. Roxana had to interrupt her training as a nanny for so long. Only then did she and her family find a new apartment in Duisburg.

Such evictions are common in Duisburg. There is the so-called “problem real estate” task force, which checks residential buildings for structural defects. In practice, it often works like this: A house inspection takes place in the morning, the result comes at noon that there is a danger to life and limb, and then the task force is ready to pack with blue garbage bags.

In the last year alone, more than 500 people are said to have been affected by these evictions, says Lena Wiese from the Solidarity Society of the Many e. V.”, which supports those affected. The evictions mostly affect people from Romania and Bulgaria, often Roma. Roxana’s family also migrated from Romania, her mother is Romni.

The evicted people then often stand on the street, not knowing where to go, says Wiese. The city does offer emergency accommodation, but these are usually on the outskirts of the city. It would be so difficult for children to reach their school. In addition, the accommodations are often not suitable for families with several children. According to Wiese, these are containers in which there are only two bunk beds per room.

It may take time for those affected to find something new. Racism makes it difficult. Roxana explains: “As soon as the landlords find out that we are from Romania, they no longer want to rent the apartment. They say we won’t pay our rent – and steal.”

In Dortmund, for a long time, house clearances were similar to those in Duisburg, but the city now deals differently with so-called “problem properties”. Local clubs have been looking for solutions together with the city of Dortmund. If structural defects are found in a house, these are either remedied or new apartments are found in advance so that people do not suddenly find themselves on the street.

The city of Duisburg says that such a procedure is not possible in the case of serious defects, since immediate action must be taken if there is a risk to life and limb. Wiese accuses the city of Duisburg of racism because the evictions mainly affect people from Romania and Bulgaria, including many Roma.

The Independent Commission on Antiziganism, which examined the situation of Sinti and Roma in Germany from 2019-2021, also speaks of institutional racism.

Various scientific studies on Duisburg point to this. For example, the ethnologist Max Matter and the social researcher Joachim Krauß state that representatives of the Duisburg city administration in network conferences on how to deal with new citizens from Romania and Bulgaria spoke openly about the fact that it was about “creating the atmosphere so unfavorable for those affected that they leave the city”. The city of Duisburg firmly rejects these allegations and says that they would treat everyone equally.

Duisburg is not an isolated case. Roma are also losing their homes in other cities. The activist David Paraschiv, who is currently training to be an educator, lived in the popular Berlin district of Friedrichshain. The house, a brown-grey block of flats in which he lived with many other Roma families from Romania, is now empty. Windows were ripped out, entrances barricaded with wooden boards, sprayed with graffiti.

For a long time he and his family were worried about ending up on the street: “My father was really scared. Everything in the block was already being torn down while he was still living there: they cleared out the rooms, ripped out the windows. It looked terrible. We were afraid of not finding a new apartment fast enough.”

Here it was the landlords who wanted to get rid of the residents. With account changes and other tricks, they made sure that the tenants were in arrears, according to the daily newspaper (taz). That led to evictions. The eviction was prevented shortly beforehand. Nevertheless, all tenants had to leave the house as quickly as possible. David now has an apartment, but now lives in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district, drives more than an hour to his training place and to the “Roma Trial e. V.”, in which he is involved.

Landlords often take advantage of the Roma’s difficult situation. They let people live in shabby houses, with mold on the walls, don’t repair damage. The 21-year-old Berliner and Romni Maria also experiences this. Her family is also from Romania. She prefers not to reveal her real name – she is too afraid of being thrown out of the apartment. She recently graduated from high school and would like to study soon.

But she suffers from her living situation. The landlord does not care: defects in the electrical system, so that there were fires; the front door could not be closed, so homeless people often slept in the corridors, the rubbish piled up there. The landlord also often delivered rubbish to the backyard, which he didn’t pick up for weeks.

“You just don’t feel at home. The living situation affects the psyche. Many would give a lot to live somewhere else,” says Maria. Your home has often been in the media: “Sometimes you feel like you’re in a zoo. The press is mostly against us: we are the bad guys who disturb the neighbors. The reality is not shown – that we are being taken advantage of and living in inhumane conditions.”

Sinti have been living in what is now Germany for more than 500 years. But even members of this community often have to live in settlements in need of renovation. In Cologne, for example, houses were so dilapidated that many residents had to move away. Others don’t even have houses. Sintiza Jasmin Mettbach’s family lives in Duisburg only in construction containers.

The origin of the poor housing situation can be found in the post-war period. The Nazi persecution of the Sinti and Roma was not recognized for a long time, and racism continued after 1945. The survivors of the death camps had lost everything to the Nazis. Instead of receiving help, however, they were pushed to the outskirts of the cities in slums. There they had to live in old buses and train cars until 1975.

In some places, the municipalities now want Sinti to leave the settlements, for example in Baden-Württemberg. Jasmine is also worried: “We are constantly afraid, we grew up with fear. Our place has already been cleared twice from one day to the next.”

There are currently no plans to clear the space in Duisburg. However, there is a regulation that no Sinti are allowed to move in and no more construction containers are made available. This means that as soon as the children grow up and want to move out, they have to move out. The place then dies out by itself. Jasmin wants to go back to take care of her grandmother – a Nazi survivor – but the city of Duisburg doesn’t allow it.

“I really only wish that our place is preserved, that we can continue it as a younger generation, that we can live our lives,” says Jasmin.

Autor: Nadine Michollek

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The original for this article “Life in ruins and construction containers” comes from Deutsche Welle.