Friday, October 18, 2013

The Roma Racism

The media has on a number of occasions provoked panic among the public about Roma immigration. Often the metaphors used (“deluge”, “flood”) have considerably distorted the scale of the issue, which frequently involves no more than a few score or several hundred persons. Discussion of  “floods” of Romani migrants arriving at Western European ports frequently masks the fact that what is at issue are human beings pursuing their own interests, rights and visions of a good life, acting on personal decisions as to how best to improve their personal circumstances, which are often extremely difficult and also considerably influenced by the fact or the probability of racial discrimination.

“Roma migration” frequently conjures up an image of unified masses of people. The impact of this media attention, as well as other factors, seems to have resulted in the authorities frequently regarding arriving Roma as “fraudulent” when they approach the public authority for legitimate entitlements, including social welfare assistance, access to refugee determination proceedings, etc. Finally, authorities at national level have come under pressure from the media and inflamed public opinion to undertake draconian measures to stop Roma from arriving.

It is now generally accepted by scholars that the Romani people of Europe are descended from groups which left India around 1,000 years ago and began arriving on the territory of today’s European Union in or around the 14th century. The history of Roma in Europe – and the Romani identity itself – is to a great extent bound up with ideas around migration, “nomadism”, diaspora and exile. Nevertheless, the great majority of the Roma of Europe is sedentary. Roma occupy a particular place in the European imagination as “nomads”, a fact many if not most regard as stigmatizing and erroneous. The abolition of slavery of Roma in Romania, and the subsequent destitution of the freed slaves and their descendents made the end of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century a time when many Roma fled South-Eastern Europe for points West and North, in search of a better life, and at times in search simply of food. Some Roma were excluded from citizenship of new states as the three major Eastern Bloc  federations – Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union – collapsed and new nation-states were formed. Following 1989, old ideas about “Gypsies” have been dramatically reawakened in Western Europe, in part as a result of the return of Romani migration from Central and South-Eastern Europe.

Today, more than ten million Roma live in Europe, a large proportion of them in the EU.  Most
 Austrian, German and Czech Roma were killed in the Holocaust. The Roma of Europe are an immensely diverse group of individuals and communities. Some speak Romani and their national language. Some speak only their national language, possibly together with second languages. Some may speak as a home language other minority languages such as Beash, Jenisch, Shelta or Pogadi Chib. Many Roma and others identified as “Gypsies” choose to conceal their ethnic identity – particularly when asked by a public authority.

The Romanian Embassy in London provided an unofficial estimate of around 100,000 Romanian nationals arriving in the United Kingdom in recent years. Romanian activists and journalists living in the United Kingdom believe that in reality only 50,000 to 60,000 Romanians arrived in the United Kingdom in recent years and that 5 to 10 per cent of them are Romani. The basis for both of these estimates is unknown. If the latter is the case, Romani migrants from Romania may comprise not more than 5,000 to 6,000 people. However, this may be an underestimate. Whatever the case, here again, the numbers of persons at issue is comparatively small: all told – including the much larger native Traveller and Gypsy community – Roma, Gypsies and Travellers make up 0.40 per cent of the general population in the United Kingdom.

All Roma in Europe are covered by bans on discrimination yet many European states have resorted on a number of occasions to individual and collective expulsion as a means of addressing the arrival of Roma. Expulsions of Roma have been carried out by France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Despite the obvious impact of these actions on the human lives involved, as well as on communities and societies, few European states have resisted applying such measures with respect to Roma at one time or another. States have also exercised bilateral influence. For example Poland’s Roma policy came about as a result of pressure by the United Kingdom Government to stop Roma from migrating to the country. Romani migration has also sometimes threatened to derail EU expansion and/or integration. For example, when
scores of Roma from Hungary were granted asylum in France in 2000 in a high-profile case, questions were raised as to Hungary’s readiness for free movement. Similar discussions took place periodically in a number of EU Member States with respect to Slovakia’s then-candidacy for the EU. Canada also re-imposed visa requirements for Hungarian citizens, in order to stop Roma from emigrating from Hungary to Canada, and discussions about lifting the visa requirement centred primarily around “seeking guarantees that Roma will not
migrate to Canada”.

To make matters even more complex, a number of European states – including EU Member States such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Poland – have become both countries of migrant origin and countries of emigration for Roma. Roma  from the Czech Republic, for example, continue to migrate particularly to the United Kingdom, while Roma from Romania and Slovakia – also EU Member States – migrate to, among other places, the Czech Republic. Russia is a target country of migration for Roma from Moldova, Ukraine and the countries of Central Asia, as well as possibly from other countries; Ukraine is both a target country of Romani migrants (particularly from Moldova) and a country of Romani migrant origin. Like other Europeans, Roma have frequently exercised the EU right of free movement, and have also crossed the external Union borders or other third-country borders in Europe, either (i) temporarily; (ii) as migrants seeking to establish themselves in a country other than their own; or (iii) because they were fleeing persecution.

The ability of Roma to access goods and services is limited throughout Europe by factors including lack of educational qualifications among significant segments of the Romani communities, as well as by ethnic or racial discrimination, driven in particular by anti- Gypsyism -- that is, a widespread, deeply rooted prejudice and intolerance directed against Roma in Europe. Denial of access to key goods and services has concrete
implications notably for the exercise of the right to freedom of movement in the EU, where the Roma concerned leave one EU member State and arrive in another, as well as for the ability of Roma from outside the EU to arrive in and settle legally in an EU member state, or another state in the OSCE region. In addition, anti-Romani sentiment has in some cases resulted in an erosion of the right under international law to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

In some cases Roma are unable to prove their citizenship of any country, notwithstanding their genuine and effective links to particular European States, because of rigid legal practices, restrictive laws in the context of State succession, or for other reasons. Since 1989, the issue has been particularly pronounced in countries that adopted new citizenship laws in the context of State succession (particularly Croatia, the Czech
Republic, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia), as well as where other large-scale transformations of the legal regime governing citizenship and/or personal documents has taken place (Russia).

In addition to the absence of documents and statelessness giving rise to the denial of legal status, certain types of residence or protection status provided in particular European States are of concern. Authorities in some countries have apparently developed practices stopping short of deportation from the country, but which aim at making the lives of the Roma concerned miserable, in the hope that they may leave on their own. In Italy, for example, the authorities have regularly engaged in forced eviction of Romani migrants
from their homes, frequently in contravention of international law, as well as involving the destruction of property. In some cases, whole Romani settlements have been summarily destroyed, and the inhabitants simply left on the street.

Vigilante mobs have attacked Roma encampments. In May 2008, assailants burned the Ponticelli Romani camp in Naples, Italy, to the ground, causing the approximately 800 residents to flee, while Italians stood by and cheered. It is unclear what is preventing the Italian authorities from identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of the attacks. High ranking Italian officials have not spoken out to unequivocally condemn any of the recent attacks on Roma taking place in the country.

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