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PORTSIDE  August 2010, Week 2

PORTSIDE August 2010, Week 2

Subject:

Citizen Rights Don't Apply to Roma

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Date:

Mon, 9 Aug 2010 21:42:46 -0400

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EUROPE 

Citizen Rights Don't Apply to Roma 

By Claudia Ciobanu

August 7, 2010, Inter Press Service

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52415

BUCHAREST, Aug 7, 2010 (IPS) - All major European countries
plan mass expulsions of Roma or demolitions of Roma
settlements. Rights groups warn that these measures entail
the criminalisation of an entire ethnic group, and break EU
law.

The French executive announced Jul. 29 that 300 illegal Roma
camps would be demolished in the next three months. According
to the President's office, the camps are "sources of illegal
trafficking, profoundly shocking living standards,
exploitation of children for begging, prostitution and
crime."

By the end of this year, France is set to adopt legislation
to expel undocumented Roma residing in the country, "for
reasons of public order."

Germany is set to deport 12,000 Roma back to Kosovo over the
next years. Half of them are children and adolescents who
grew up in Germany.

Sweden has this year deported 50 Roma from Eastern Europe for
begging, even though begging is not a crime in this country.
Denmark deported 23 Eastern European Roma in July. In
Belgium, 700 Roma were forced to exit Flanders in July, and
given only temporary shelter in Wallonia.

The UK government last month announced legislation that would
lead to the eviction of tens of families of Roma and
travelers, pushing them into illegality.

The steps taken by Western governments come right in the
middle of the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015), "an
unprecedented commitment by European governments to improve
the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma."

In 2008, Italy declared a state of emergency over Roma
immigrants.

Around 10 million Roma are estimated to be living in Europe.
The largest concentration is in Romania, at two million
according to unofficial estimates. Hundreds of thousands live
in other Central and Eastern European countries.

The measures of Western governments are mainly directed at
Eastern European Roma who have moved west in search of a
better life following EU expansion. Despite being European
citizens, they are now threatened with expulsion, in breach
of the EU basic right to free movement.

Targets of evictions and demolitions are also "travelers",
groups of people who often have Western European nationality
but maintain a traveling lifestyle in keeping with their
culture. Between 300,000-500,000 travelers (gens de voyage)
are estimated to be living in France, while the UK is thought
to host around 18,000 Roma and traveler caravans.

Human rights groups say that some Western politicians are
keen on blurring the lines between travelers and Roma (itself
a highly heterogeneous population made up of mostly sedentary
groups but also of nomads) in order to give the impression
that Roma are difficult to integrate.

Additionally, claim the activists, politicians are
emphasising crimes committed by some Roma to create a sense
that entire communities of Roma are threats to public safety,
thus creating grounds for mass expulsions.

"Indeed there are Roma who are in charge of trafficking
networks, but they represent less than one percent of this
population, the rest are victims," says David Mark, head of
the Civic Alliance of Roma in Romania (a coalition of over 20
Roma NGOs).

"But because that one percent commits crimes and the
authorities are not able to stop them, all Roma are being
criminalised," Mark told IPS. "The announced expulsions and
demolitions of camps are based on the criminalisation of an
entire ethnic group, when criminality should be judged on a
case by case basis in courts of law."

"What we are seeing is a greater call by receiving countries
to restrict freedom of movement inside the EU," argues Rob
Kushen, executive director of the European Roma Rights
Centre. "The danger is that this will negatively affect Roma
rights and the rights of all EU citizens."

The European Commission (executive body of the EU) has thus
far steered clear of criticising member states for breaching
EU freedom of movement. "We are not here, as the EC, to judge
on individual cases of Roma people," said EC spokesman
Matthew Newman. "It's for each government, each authority to
make those decisions."

The French government has insisted Roma social inclusion is
the responsibility of sending states, putting pressure on
main sender Romania to take measures to contain the Westward
migration flow.

But there have also been calls for a European approach to
Roma rights. The Swedish government has demanded a European
action plan for guaranteeing access to housing, education and
jobs and even the establishment of truth commissions to
investigate anti-Roma abuses.

Rights activists, however, argue that the main obstacle to
Roma social inclusion is the blatant lack of political will
in all European countries.

According to David Mark, EU legislation is solid on Roma
rights and European funding is available, but the
irresponsibility of national governments makes it hard for
these to materialise in progress for Roma.

"If even mainstream parties (such as France's governing Union
for a Popular Movement) start adopting far-right anti-Roma
discourses, where will we end up?" Mark says.

"Much of the problem is with the willingness of member states
to use the available resources," Kushen told IPS. "Member
states do not see the size of the problem. The EC should
compel member states to collect information on the Roma that
could serve as the basis for policies. It could impose
conditions on funding to make sure it is used for Roma or at
least does not violate their rights."

Even though he considers the recent measures of Western
governments dangerous, Kushen hopes the outrage they caused
leads to a positive momentum for a comprehensive EU inclusion
programme.

Mark is more pessimistic. "We, the Roma, will always be
persecuted," he says. "The first step made by Nazis towards
dehumanisation was to stereotype. They started by classifying
Roma as anti-social. Politicians today use stereotyping of
Roma for their political goals. There is a serious danger in
this." (END)

_____________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

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