What was discussed at the conference in Warsaw?
In October of this year, the Plenary Session V of “Warsaw Human Dimension Conference”, “Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights”, “Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe” took place. The event was devoted to tolerance and included discussion of such issues as the rights of persons belonging to national minorities; treatment of citizens of other countries and the rights of migrants; issues of Roma and Sinti; equal opportunities and rights of women and men; combating violence against women and children.
The National Monitor of the youth organization “ARCA” Anastasiia Zhuravel, attended the Plenary meeting, and also spoke at an additional session entitled “Monitoring the human rights situation of Roma in Ukraine and neighbouring participating countries”, which was organized by the OSCE Contact Point for Roma and Sinti issues.
During the conference, they talked about the difficulties faced by Roma who were forced to leave their homes in Ukraine as a result of the war. The speakers emphasized that the principle of equality and non-discrimination should be fully implemented when providing assistance to Roma refugees. Neither public bodies nor private individuals can narrow the circle of persons whom they help based on the refugees’ ethnic origin.
Positions of the conference participants regarding the situation faced by the Ukrainian Roma
The representative of the United States of America to the OSCE noted that the Roma historically suffered oppression in Europe and were victims of genocide during the Second World War. At the same time, the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities noted that the Roma, who were forced to leave Ukraine as a result of the war, face special problems. For example, there are reports that some families offering rooms for refugees accept only white refugees, and some volunteers who distribute food and water deny Roma, claiming they are not “real” refugees.
Without access to private housing, Roma refugees rely only on national governments, which also segregate Roma and house them in substandard accommodation, in conditions far worse than those offered to other Ukrainians. Roma who refuse to live in such poor conditions lose their right to further assistance. Systemic problems such as lack of official documents and statelessness also make the situation of Roma fleeing war much more difficult. They may have problems proving that they are from Ukraine, or they may be denied assistance in countries that require refugees to have an ID with an exit stamp.
The representative of the European Union noted that the EU undertakes to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of displaced members of the Roma and Sinti communities and to prevent stereotypes and segregation, which was also emphasized by the Director of the ODIHR at the beginning of the war. He also added that the EU highly appreciates the work of civil society, which provides assistance to Roma refugees.
Costel Bercus, Executive Chair of the Center for Education and Human Rights (ACEDO) in Romania, emphasized that the state bodies and international organizations of the European countries to which refugees arrived, including those of Roma origin, are unable to demonstrate their humanity to all refugees from Ukraine. He called on international humanitarian organizations and national authorities to stop discrimination against Roma refugees from Ukraine.
Threats to Roma in European countries
Florentina Manea – Human Rights Monitor from the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) in Romania, highlighted in her speech the problems that Roma still face: humiliating and violent treatment, ethnic profiling, institutional racism, hate speech and, as a result, crimes based on hatred against the Roma population. According to an ERRC report released this year, despite two decades of recommendations, “such cases are almost never prosecuted, and provisions on racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance are rarely applied”.
She also added that it is necessary to work not for the Roma, but together with them. She emphasized that qualitative changes can be achieved only by learning from the mistakes and experiences of the past and building the future by attracting opinions from different collectives and sectors, cooperating with lawyers, as well as Roma and non-Roma activists who work in the field of protection of Roma rights at the national and international levels.
Ionut Paun, head of the Youth Organization – Roma Party “Pro-Europa” (Romania), sees a threat to the Roma communities in the OSCE countries from the right-wing radical parties. In addition to the numerous crises faced by the Roma in the OSCE countries, more worrisome are the extremist parties that are gaining considerable popularity across Europe. He also believes that populism creates false expectations, including for Roma communities who still face racism in their daily lives. Work in and with Roma communities must start from the bottom up, and must create opportunities for the voice of those who are not usually listened to. States Parties need to strengthen existing instruments for the effective protection and realization of Roma rights.
The situation of Ukrainian Roma who were forced to leave their homes as a result of the war
Anastasiia Zhuravel spoke on behalf of “ARCA” about the difficulties faced by Ukrainian Roma both inside our country and abroad after the beginning of the full-scale invasion. She emphasized that the problems are diverse and require a comprehensive solution at the level of international intergovernmental organizations, such as the UN, the European Union and the OSCE. Challenges faced by Roma within the country are the following:
– Roma communities from the East and Central part of Ukraine were convinced to become IDPs, lost their usual opportunities for earning, and some of them lost their homes;
– Roma are denied humanitarian aid due to the presence of anti-Gypsyism;
– Roma children and youth do not have proper access to education, not all of them have the opportunity to participate in online education;
– in winter, the situation will be close to a humanitarian disaster due to damaged heating systems in the east, some parts of the south and central Ukraine;
– there is a forecast of a second wave of migration of Roma communities to the west of Ukraine and to neighboring countries this autumn.
Abroad, there are also some worrying trends persisting in many European countries such as Moldova, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland:
– Roma refugees face discrimination based on their ethnic origin, they are perceived as a “second class” population at the border and in neighboring countries. Also, they are sometimes refused to leave Ukraine on the basis of accusations that they are going to engage in begging in neighboring countries. Ukrainian border guards often consider them to be economic migrants and not “real refugees”.
– in some cases, Roma families are denied assistance, housing, education, and medical services. They are subjected to ethnic profiling, they are segregated in refugee centers, and they often live in much worse conditions than Ukrainians of non-Roma origin.
– thanks to the solidarity and help of European Roma NGOs, a short-term solution was found. But the authorities must find an appropriate solution in the long term;
– many Roma refugees return to Ukraine because they face discriminatory attitudes in the host countries.
It is worth noting that the most vulnerable and often the poorest, women with children and the elderly, are often denied humanitarian aid, housing, as well as special protection status, and are often misinformed about the opportunities and assistance they may be entitled to. They face discrimination, prejudice and lack of compassion just because of their ethnic origin and the unfavorable conditions they have lived in due to the structural discrimination present in Ukraine. Additional field research is needed to assess the extent and variety of forms of discrimination faced by Ukrainian Roma in European countries.
Roma youth: challenges and plans for the future
Special attention was paid to the situation of Roma youth. In 2022, the Youth Organization “ARCA” published the results of the “Research on the Thoughts of Representatives of Roma Communities and Interested Parties Regarding the Needs of Roma Youth”. The following problems faced by Roma youth were identified in this study: difficulties in getting an education, vulnerable socio-economic situation, low level of social skills and interactions with residents of communities outside the Roma community. All this and other factors lead to the “isolation”” of Roma communities; patriarchal distribution of gender roles in Roma communities, in particular with regard to the education of girls, as a result of this – the problem of early marriages, as well as conservative traditions of certain sub-ethnic groups regarding the education of young people, restrictions on the free choice of a profession. The war has already significantly exacerbated the already existing challenges faced by Roma youth in Ukraine. It is difficult for them to defend their rights and assert their identity and belonging. Other challenges faced by Roma communities are reflected in the transition of young Roma to adulthood. Obstacles on this path are poverty and lack of opportunities in the community and beyond, as well as difficulties in accessing the exercise of one’s rights. This situation puts certain groups of Roma youth in an even more unfavourable position due to cross-sectoral discrimination. The situation of the Roma youth movement is declining, becauseyoung people now have to take care of their basic needs first.
But one cannot fail to mention the solidarity of Roma and human rights organizations from European countries, which offered enormous support and help to Roma youth and their families in these difficult times. Some contacts with foreign organizations were established even before the war, within the framework of close cooperation of Roma from Ukraine with Roma from EU countries, these connections played a decisive role in times of uncertainty and immediate danger to the life and safety of some Roma in Ukraine.
The work of Roma youth before the war focused on empowering young people of Roma origin and facilitating their access to education, training, artistic self-expression and communication. Since the beginning of the war, the priority has been to ensure their lives, health and safety, help in resettlement and adaptation to new realities. However, Ukrainian Roma youngsters still want to continue working on priority projects. That is why the youth organization “ARKA” started monitoring the access of Roma youth to education in Ukraine. The aim of the project is to shed light on the barriers that prevent young Roma from obtaining secondary and higher education, identify dynamics in different regions and examine how COVID-19 and the war have affected the quality of education offered to children and youth of Roma origin.
Access to education for Roma and Sinti
In the second session, which was dedicated to access to quality and inclusive education for Roma and Sinti, important ideas were expressed that in strong and healthy societies everyone has a chance to succeed and prosper.Education experts, representatives of OSCE participating States and civil society discussed the effectiveness of anti-segregation policies applied in different countries of the world, access to desegregated schools for Roma and Sinti children, as well as key educational reforms and their impact on Roma and Sinti children. They also discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Roma and Sinti educational outcomes.
“Education remains a treasure that must be passed on to the next generation of children and future citizens. It is vitally important that Roma and Sinti children have equal opportunities in education,” said Costel Bercus, Executive Chairman of the Center for Education and Human Rights (ACEDO) in Romania. It is important to publicly highlight the violation of Roma rights and involve the general public in discussing the issue of non-discrimination of Roma both within Ukraine and beyond. Ukrainian and European organizations, such as the Women’s Fund “Chirikli” and the European Roma Rights Center monitor the observance of the rights of internally displaced Roma and Roma refugees. International organizations should support NGOs and activists in their work to document Roma rights violations and their legal protection in strategic cases both at the national level in the courts and – in the future – at the European Court of Human Rights.
The article was written by Anastasiia Zhuravel, national human rights monitor at the ARCA within a framework of the “Djanes” media platform content production supported by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC)