An empty space, but no home allowed…

Since 2014, the woonwagen culture in the Netherlands has been recognized as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. A woonwagen (mobile home) is an essential part of this culture, yet many municipalities and housing corporations are uncooperative when it comes to providing designated sites. In the Netherlands, there are approximately 30,000 to 60,000 woonwagenbewoners (residents of woonwagens) living on over 7,700 designated sites, with one-third of these sites owned by municipalities and the rest owned by housing corporations.

Until 2018, municipalities were allowed to implement an “extinction policy.” The goal of this policy was to gradually reduce the number of woonwagenbewoners in the country. When a resident passed away, their woonwagen was removed and replaced with a parking space or concrete block. As a result, there are now hundreds of vacant camps and thousands of Roma, Sinti, and woonwagenbewoners forced to live in “regular” houses against their will. Woonwagenbewoners are thus confronted with a government that wants their culture to die out.

Currently, there are approximately 7,700 designated woonwagen sites in the Netherlands. However, the latest research indicates a shortage of about 2,000 sites, and the actual shortage is even greater. The last study on the shortage of sites was conducted in 1999, and since then, an additional 3,000 sites have been closed due to the allowed extinction policy. Urged by the College for Human Rights and the National Ombudsman, Minister of the Interior Kasja Ollongren ordered municipalities to cease this policy.