Demolition of illegal buildings in Maksuda, the largest predominantly Roma neighbourhood of Bulgaria’s Black Sea city Varna, began on the morning of August 20.
More than 100 police and gendarmerie were deployed in the area as the demolition started.
Residents of 61 houses had been notified more than a year ago of the intended demolition.
The mayor of Varna’s Mladost municipality, Hristo Hristov, said that the housing was on private property, the owners of which had threatened to take court action against Bulgaria in Strasbourg unless the illegal constructions were removed.
Most of the buildings are flimsy shacks assembled from available materials.
About 500 people are being affected by the demolition, including 200 children, who are to be accommodated at various municipal premises, Hristov said.
Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio said that there was a high degree of tension in the area because some of the Roma people were refusing to leave their homes.
BNR reported residents as saying that they would remain in the open, “but what about and what can we do with our children?”. They said that they had nowhere to go and could not return to where they came from because they had no property to live in.
Apart from police, also present were representatives of municipal administration, Roma mediators, and representatives of the Red Cross.
Hristov insisted that the demolition of buildings in Maksuda was not related to Bulgaria’s upcoming mayoral and municipal elections on October 25.
He said that those in the area had not applied for municipal housing: “How to give something to someone who has not asked?” He said that Varna could not provide them with municipal homes because they had constructed their buildings illegally, without the required documentation.
The head of human rights watchdogthe Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Krasimir Kanev predicted that Mayor Hristov will probably be convicted if he destroyed the homes of the Roma and separated children from their parents: “The standard of the European Court and other bodies dealing with this work is clear – not to divide families, to ensure the right to housing provided, however, that this is the only housing, and if it’s been several years in which they lived and created a community. We are not talking about illegal construction in general”.
A recent meeting of the Varna city council was disrupted by protesters with various demands, including demolitions in Maksuda.