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Several Roma families live in extreme poverty in Blăjel, a village in Sibiu County in central Romania. They lost their homes because, they claim, Roma from another tribe burned their houses down. Despite launching an investigation, the police have been unable to identify the culprits.
The local government promised to build new houses for this Roma community, who work mostly as dog-catchers, but the project fell foul of spending cuts at city hall.
Instead, eight families - including newborn babies and pregnant women - have been reduced to moving into underground mud huts, enduring temperatures as low as -25C.
They first inhabited the squalid mud huts in February 2010. More than a year on, 28 people have spent a second winter underground, sheltering under improvised roofs made from tarpaulin and even cellophane.
The dog-catchers are the newest of the Roma tribes in Romania; they are not officially recognised and have the lowest status among the tribes.
Toader Roman has been Blăjel’s mayor since 1993. He claims that City Hall, together with an Austrian foundation, tried to build new houses for the Roma population, but the project was abandoned because building permits were denied.
“I have asked the Sibiu County Council to give us some money to buy some containers [temporary housing] for these people. I was refused, I don’t know what to do anymore,” Roman says.