Global Policy Forum

The situation of Roma: Discrimination and human rights violations in the middle of Europe

Picture: Водник

Throughout Europe, the situation of Roma is worsening – from a bad starting point. New laws and practices as well as a worsening racist discourse are putting pressure on an integral part of European societies that has been marginalized for decades and longer. GPF’s Tim Pfefferle gives a short overview of recent developments in this ongoing story.

2 August, 2013 | Tim Pfefferle/GPF

The situation of Roma: Discrimination and human rights violations in the middle of Europe

In Slovakia, a recently proposed new law has sparked controversy over the continuing violations of human rights to which Roma are subjected in various European countries. As reported by and Deutschlandfunk, the law would compel local authorities to demolish illegally constructed dwellings. These are often inhabited by Roma, who would be forced into homelessness by the proposed law in the face of their lack of alternatives. While, on the face of it, the law aims to crack down on rampant illegal construction in Slovakia, its ethnic target is obvious: Lawmakers intend to get rid of the Roma minority by forcing them to emigrate.

In the past, there have been a number of incidences where Roma were evicted from their homes in Slovakia. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) says that, in late October 2012, Slovak authorities evicted 150 Roma from their homes in Košice on the grounds of environmental concerns. According to the ERRC, the “eviction and demolition orders were issued under the Košice Municipal Council’s decision no. 237 (from 21 Feb 2012) on communal waste removal”. The centre reports that another group of Roma were evicted in April 2013 by the municipality of Košice, which is one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2013. It questions the legal basis of these evictions, stating that they are in contravention to both Slovak and EU law.

The evictions are embedded in a general atmosphere of rising tensions between Roma and other Slovaks. Since 2008, fourteen walls have been erected in various cities in the country, designed to segregate the Roma population from their neighbors, invoking comparisons to similar practices in European cities towards Jewish quarters in the past. Furthermore, there have been instances when water services to Roma communities have been cut off. The EERC says that “more than 400 mayors of towns and villages have signed up to a movement called Zobudme sa! (Let´s wake up!)”. This movement intends to declare Roma settlements as waste dumps in order to force the eviction of their inhabitants.

Animosity towards Roma seems to persist in other European countries as well. Amnesty International reports on a rise in anti-Roma sentiments in the Czech Republic, warning that “far right groups are staging anti-Roma protests in up to 13 different Czech towns”. The organization also referred to the concerns expressed by the UN Human Rights committee with regard to the anti-Roma climate in the Czech Republic, which extends to political office-holders, the media and far-right organizations. In June, the birth of a quintuplet of Roma children led to an online hate campaign which demonstrated the entrenchment of racist sentiments towards Roma.

This situation has compelled the European Commission to call on member states to do more to protect the rights of Roma in the face of findings “that Roma continue to be marginalised and mostly live in very bad socio-economic conditions”. The problem is not confined to Eastern Europe, however. The Council of Europe points to the images witnessed in 2010, when the news picked up on large-scale expulsions of Roma from countries in Western Europe, which sparked a row between EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and France.

Roma groups are evicted from their homes in Slovakia, and in turn expelled from countries such as France and Germany, where political discourse increasingly tends to become racist towards Roma migrants. They seem to be welcome neither here nor there. Therefore, laws such as the one proposed in Slovakia pose a special danger to their livelihood. Interviewed by Deutschlandfunk, a woman suggested that, in the face of threatened eviction, they would “defend themselves with sticks”.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.