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UNFULLFILED ROMANI DREAM OF HOUSE

This is a story of Romani family that left Romania in the early 1990. and settled down in Poland, where they believed their living conditions would be better.

At the time, neither Romania nor Poland were members of European Union. The family, like many other Romanian Gypsies, was deported. Within a few years, they had returned to Poland.

For most of the time they've been in Poland, the family lived in Wrocław. It has one of the largest Romanian Roma communities in Poland. But after few years they decided to move to Gdańsk.

I met the family in summer of 2014, just few weeks after their shacks, built by hand at the wasteland in Gdańsk were demolished by city authorities. The ground had been sold to developer and needed to be cleared. After they spent a few weeks in tents, hidden in bushes, the family managed to rent a single room and a caravan. Here, they packed more than a dozen family members.

The room was in a small wooden house, with very basic conditions. They had to pay rent of 50 PLN, which adds up to 1500 PLN a month. This is a cost of rent of two rooms flat.

To earn money for the rent, and living expenses, family members used to collect scrap metal and waste paper; do jobs on the black market; or beg for money on the streets.

They also got help from NGOs and volunteers who managed to find another house for the family to rent. It was an old house, whose owner still lived in it. But, he agreed to rent four rooms for just 40 PLN a day. Although there was no running water, the family was happy to move to real house. And they developed a friendship with the owner. They helped him a lot to clean, cook and wash himself because he was infirm.

During this time, 22-year-old Eva gave birth to her fifth child. But the reprieve didn't last long. The owner was an alcoholic and became abusive when drunk. Finally, he turned them out and the family was homeless again.

Again they lived in tents, hidden from view. But Eva was worried about her three young sons. If police found the family squatting in tents, the boys could be taken to orphanage like Eva's two older daughters had been a few years before. Sometimes they would move into a Basic hostel or an illegal Romani shantytown in Wrocław. There, more than 60 people lived in self-made huts in simple, modest conditions with poor sanitation and crumbling infrastructure. In the shantytown, place the family organized a wedding for Eva's younger sister Tuca. They couldn't celebrate the wedding party in tents.

But, autumn was coming and it is too cold then to camp, so they began searching for a flat for rent or, at least, an old abandoned house to squat in. But no Polish landlord was eager to rent a flat to Gypsies. When I called to ask for rent, one owner told me that he would only rent to a Polish family.

Finally they found old arbour on the grounds of former piece of land. It was an area where Polish vagrants used to live or hide from police. The owners greeted the Romani family warmly and allowed them to stay there. Because one arbour was not big enough for whole family they built two other huts nearby. The family spent autumn, winter and spring there. But, the area was just next to a road leading to the football stadium.

And in May of 2016, a group of football fans going for a match started to insult the Romani and threaten them. They promised to come back after the match and burn down Romani huts. The family asked a Polish friend to call the police. But no police patrol was sent. And, as promised, drunken football fans came back during night and started to throw stones and bottles. The family escaped to nearby forest.

The next day police officers came to take Romani family to take testimony and promised to patrol the area. But, the family was worried to stay there longer. They decided to leave the huts and split up. Some family members moved to Wrocław's Gypsy shantytown again where at least they could feel safe from a mob. Others stayed in Gdańsk still looking for a flat or small house for rent. Their abandoned shacks were burnt to the ground.

Text and photographs by Przemysław Kozłowski / TESTIGO Documentary

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