Galicians up in arms over Gypsy shantytown relocation programme

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Initiative has been supported by politicians, while incensing potential neighbours

28 March 2008

PONTEVEDRA / A CORUNA - Galician lawmakers have suggested building "transition villages" for evicted Gypsy residents of soon-to-be-demolished shantytowns in a bid to cool increasingly heated racial tensions in the northwestern region.

The proposal, tabled by Galician Deputy Premier Anxo Quintana on Wednesday and supported by Premier Emilio Pérez Touriño yesterday, comes amid increasingly aggressive campaigns by residents of several Galician towns and cities against the regional government's plans to rehouse Gypsy slum dwellers.

Protestors have recently taken to the streets of Pontevedra and A Coruña, even barricading roads in some new suburbs of subsidised housing where residents fear Gypsy families will be given homes. And the mayor of the town Poio needed Civil Guard escorts on Tuesday night after an angry mob destroyed his car and attempted to break into the town hall over an attempt to move five Gypsy families into traditionally non-Gypsy neighborhoods.

"This is a difficult and complex problem that we are treating with necessary prudence and sensitivity," Touriño told reporters yesterday. He said the proposal to create "transition villages" is not an attempt to create "ghettos" but rather places where Gypsy families will be offered the means to integrate into society and escape marginalisation. Quintana had noted that the "transition villages" would have a "permanent police presence".

Out of Galicia's 10,000 Gypsies, around a third live in slums and shantytowns, considerably more than the national average of 20 percent. Gypsy shantytowns are often viewed by locals as being havens for drug dealers, although efforts to eliminate them have had only mixed success with residents often opposing evictions and relocation schemes.

In the case of Galicia, however, the most vehement opposition has come from non-Gypsy residents of subsidised housing estates who do not want to become neighbours of Gypsies, apparently fearing that relocation schemes will increase crime in their neighbourhoods.

Organisers of recent protests in A Coruña say they are not motivated by racism but rather by concerns that places where Gypsies are rehoused will become "drug supermarkets."

[Copyright El Pais/ Lara Varela/ Paola Obelleiro 2008]  

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