A Romani community in Fushe Kruje, Albania have won a case before the Commissioner for the Protection from Discrimination, after taking on the local municipality for refusing to provide them with clean drinking water and sanitation. The Commissioner found that the municipality of Kruje discriminated against Romani families living in the “Kastriot” neighbourhood based on their ethnicity and socio-economic status, and has ordered the municipality to take immediate measures to correct the situation within 30 days or face a fine.

The case was taken before the Commissioner by the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) with the support of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), who provided evidence of the ethnic divide in access to water in Albania.

“Lack of clean drinking water and sanitation is an issue that plagues Roma throughout Europe. It is one of the most severe, and most dangerous manifestations of antigypsyism,” said Nicole Garbin ERRC’s Lawyer.

“Our research shows that Roma routinely face discrimination in the supply of clean water, despite international bodies recognising and sanctioning it as a human right. This decision simply demands that authorities fulfill their obligation to provide a basic human need in access to water and sanitation,” he added.

Around 250 Romani families (1,200 people) live in the community which has existed since the late 1990’s and has long suffered from a lack of clean water. A project led by a local Roma organisation in 2005 saw water supply delivered to the area, only to be cut off by the municipality some time later. Residents of “Kastriot” have since had to rely on drilling private wells to access ground water. However, river water polluted by urban waste mixes with the well water and in 2014 resulted in an outbreak of Hepatitis A, especially amongst children. Though this made the news and authorities were aware of the health epidemic, no action was taken by state authorities.

“The supply of drinking water is a human right, and in Albania it is a public service” said Rovena Vuksani from the Albanian Helsinki Committee. “The water company is charged by law to carry out this service and cannot arbitrarily refuse to supply water to an entire neighborhood. This decision is an important step towards recognising and overcoming the institutional discrimination Roma face in Albania. We will be monitoring the actions of the municipality carefully in the next 30 days to ensure they carry out the urgent measures to restore clean water.”