Friday, October 22, 2010

Poverty forces Roma people to scavenge toxic e-waste

Persecuted Roma communities in France are being forced to scavenge for
dangerous e-waste, potentially threatening health and questioning the
country's recycling policies

Roma communities in France, currently the subject of a controversial
crackdown by the Sarkozy administration, are being forced to scavenge
growing volumes of potentially dangerous e-waste in a bid to escape
poverty, an Ecologist investigation has revealed.

Taking advantage of apparently ineffective waste recycling schemes,
impoverished Roma people living in slums on the fringes of Paris - and
elsewhere - are scouring the streets in search of discarded electrical
and electronic goods in order to break the items down and extract key
elements including aluminum, copper, iron and lead for sale to a
network of scrap dealers.

Despite the implementation of the EU-wide Waste Electrical and
Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), and the introduction of other
measures designed to allow the legal disposal of unwanted electrical
and electronic goods, recovery rates remain low and as much as half of
France's so-called e-waste is ending up in the hands of 'parallel
networks', according to Ecologic, an official e-waste recycling

The country is estimated to generate some 1.5 million tonnes of
electrical and electronic waste annually. Roma communities lack the
necessary skills and equipment to safely break down sometimes toxic
electrical and electronic goods, according to medical experts, with
cables often burned in open fires to extract precious copper and old
car batteries melted down for the lead.

Medical organisations, including Doctors of the World, are concerned
Roma communities, particularly children, are at risk of serious health
problems if the unofficial e-waste recycling continues. They cite
previous studies into the issue which they claim show instances of
lead poisoning in Roma children and the contamination of land used as
a Roma camp.

Historical persecution

The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy sparked controversy in July 2010
when he announced targeted evictions and expulsions of Roma travellers
and communities from the country, provoking wide-spread criticism and
condemnation from the European Commission.

Recent EU figures suggest there are 10-12 million Roma living in
Europe – making up the largest ethnic minority on the continent - with
a further 15 million worldwide.

According to the BBC, over a million Roma live in Turkey and Bulgaria;
400,000 live in France as part of long-established communities, in
addition to a further 12,000 from Bulgaria and Romania, many of whom
live in unauthorised and illegal camps. In the UK, there are thought
to be up to 300,000 Roma; and in Spain, numbers rise to 600-800,000.

The history of the Roma people is one of prejudice and persecution -
with the people frequently referred to as 'Gypsies' and regular
demonisation in the popular press. A 2008 Council of Europe funded
report ‘Recent Migration of Roma in Europe’ suggested that much of
this prejudice is fuelled by media distortions and the ensuing
filtration of these into the wider public imagination.


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