‘Where Is This Going To Lead?’: Roma People In Europe Face Coronavirus Disaster

Like other marginalized populations:

The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority — and among the most marginalizedEuropean citizens, excluded from society for decades. With the coronavirus pandemic, now they’re facing a potential humanitarian disaster.

Many of the estimated 12 million Roma in Europe live in shantytowns without access to water, electricity or sanitation — not to mention with sometimes limited access to doctors.

“You have many family members living in the same improvised structure, when they’re supposed to be social distancing to survive,” says Ciprian-Valentin Nodis, a Roma and researcher from northern Romania. “And they can’t eat because there’s no work due to the pandemic. Where is this going to lead?”

COVID-19 testing is limited in Central and Eastern Europe, and it’s unclear how many Roma have been infected, though there are some documented cases. But Nodis and other Roma activists say the conditions for a swift outbreak are there.

In northwestern Romania’s Pata-Rât, where Nodis has documented conditions, some 2,000 are crammed into huts made of rotting wood that are built right on the local landfill. Residents sort through the trash for recyclables to sell.

“The children there are covered in so much dirt that you can’t see the diseases on their skin,” he says. “Many residents suffer from tuberculosis and hepatitis.”

Nodis contributed to an upcoming report by the European Environmental Bureau, a collection of nonprofit groups, which documents environmental discrimination against Roma communities in Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and North Macedonia.

At Europe’s largest Roma settlement, outside the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, about 60,000 Roma are cut off from clean water and sanitation. In Hungary, where Roma communities also lack access to basic services, Roma leaders say they cannot obey curfew orders if it means their families will starve. In Slovakia, the government sent the military to quarantine Roma settlements to prevent a potential spread of COVID-19.

In Albania, the Council of Europe is helping municipalities deliver food, water, medicine and hygiene products to Roma settlements.

“People in our community leave to work in France or Italy,” says Brisilda Taco, a Roma activist in Tirana, Albania’s capital. “When the coronavirus outbreak took over Italy, I knew people who were very afraid to say they were sick because they were afraid how the authorities would react.”

She says they grow up hearing insults about the Roma, that they’re the cause of society’s problems. “We have always been the scapegoats,” she says, “but a virus never discriminates.”

Source: ‘Where Is This Going To Lead?’: Roma People In Europe Face Coronavirus Disaster

Roma Culture 101: Opening Minds With Song, Talk and Laughter – The New York Times

Good initiative:

For one week in August, a group of students in Lanciano, a hilltop town near the Adriatic Sea, sang songs, played music, danced, ate and went on field trips.

But this was no ordinary summer camp. This was the second annual Roma Summer School, a full immersion in Romani culture.

And so the roughly dozen participants — including “gadji,” or women of non-Roma origin — learned basic expressions in Romanés, the Romani language spoken in Abruzzo; gobbled up Roma cuisine; and were invited into Romani homes.

And they graduated with a better understanding, and appreciation, of the Roma and their struggles, returning home with a message of appreciation and integration.

At least that was the organizers’ intent.

“Only by sharing, understanding, drinking, eating and being welcomed by Roma families do you begin to have encounters on an equal footing,” explained Santino Spinelli, the ebullient director of the school. “That’s how you overcome the negative stereotypes and the widely held preconceptions and prejudices against Roma.”

Mr. Spinelli is arguably Italy’s best-known Roma personality, or at least the most famous Italian who admits to being a member of an often vilified group.

On stages elsewhere, he goes by the name Alexian, the accordion-playing leader of a Roma musical group that, he proudly says, has “played for three popes.”

As a musician, he has helped promote Roma culture, but he has also wanted to find a way to dispel persistent anti-Roma prejudice.

Last spring, Mr. Spinelli was at the seaside in San Vito Marina, taking a stroll after lunch, and the idea came to him: Why not have an intercultural school where Italians could meet Roma families and see for themselves what the Roma were really about?

“I am trying to get people to know the unknown side of the Roma, the families that are integrated, the Roma who work, who are honest, who have lived here for centuries but continue to preserve their culture,” he said.

The course emphasized Roma culture, but it unavoidably touched on modern social issues and preconceptions — like the notion that Roma are a nomadic people who feel at home living in filthy insalubrious camps.

Nothing could be further from the truth, he said.

“Roma have been living in houses in Abruzzo since the 14th century,” said Mr. Spinelli, who owns a lushly decorated villa just outside Lanciano that he shares with his aging parents, his children and his wife, Daniela De Rentiis, who coordinated the logistics of the school (and cooked tirelessly).

Camps do exist, but the Roma who live there are merely the latest wave of Romani refugees escaping persecution and war in their countries of origin, he said.

“The Roma’s presumed vocation to nomadism has been the result of repression and persecution throughout Europe,” he said. “Running away is not a choice; it’s called forced mobility.”

And the camps that have been created by city governments to house these refugees — mostly from the Balkans — negatively reinforce the myth of a wandering people.

“They’re really an example of racial segregation, a crime against humanity,” Mr. Spinelli said. “As an Italian I am ashamed of this treatment.”

During the week, the students visited museums and a fairground run by Roma, ate with Roma families, and went on outings.

Roma say they’re being barred from flights to Canada

Not surprising given the overall emphasis of controlling and managing the number of in Canada claims:

Ottawa is being accused of preventing Roma travellers from boarding Canada-bound flights and denying them the possibility of seeking asylum here.

Since the end of last year, advocates and lawyers say a slew of Roma passengers from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — all currently visa-exempted countries — have reported being stopped from boarding flights to Canada via transit points in England, Poland, Belgium and Germany.

The federal government denies that it is to blame. Ottawa says that while it provides assistance and advice to airlines, it’s ultimately up to the airlines themselves to decide who boards flights to Canada, and that all travellers coming to the country are subjected to scrutiny and can be denied entry.

Airlines found to have carried an improperly documented foreign national to Canada will be fined up to $3,200 per passenger and are liable for additional removal and medical costs, according to the government’s manual on the obligations of transporters.

“Ninety per cent of these travellers have valid plane tickets, the electronic travel authorization (eTA) issued by Canada and an invitation letter from their friends and relatives in Canada,” said Toronto settlement worker Paul St. Clair, who has helped many in the community write up their invitations.

“The interdiction is happening everywhere. I have had 50 Roma families in Toronto coming to us in the last six months, asking me what to do about it, how they can help their relatives come to visit.”

While advocates including St. Clair agree that many Roma, who were once known as Gypsies, may intend to come to Canada for asylum, they say Canada cannot stop legitimate refugees from travelling and accessing its asylum system if they have the proper documentation to visit the country and solid grounds to support their need for Canada’s protection.

Last year, asylum-seekers from three major source countries of Roma refugees in Canada all had acceptance rates over 50 per cent — Slovakia, 74.6 per cent; Hungary, 66.9 per cent; and the Czech Republic, 56.5 per cent, according to data from the Immigration and Refugee Board. The overall acceptance rate for refugees to Canada was 63 per cent.

“We had people already on the plane being taken off the plane and some were stopped at checkpoints. They are told Canada doesn’t want them,” said Toronto immigration lawyer George Kubes, who said he is aware of some 30 such cases in the past month from his former Roma clients in Toronto.

“They may end up filing a refugee claim here, but if they are real refugees, they have every right to make the claim when they get here.”

The accusation against Canadian border officials is not new. The Canadian Romani Alliance has complained about Roma travellers being denied since Canada lifted visa requirements against Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, after which asylum claims soared.

Last week, Ottawa took its first step to ease the travel requirements for Romanians and Bulgarians. Both countries have large Roma populations.

Visitors from those two countries are now only required to obtain an electronic travel authorization online, instead of a visa, if they have held a Canadian visitor visa in the past decade or currently hold a valid United States visa. The visa requirement against them will be fully removed Dec. 1.

Gina Csanyi-Robah of the Canadian Romani Alliance said the problem of Roma travellers being prevented from coming to Canada seemed to have improved after media reports in 2015 highlighted the issue.

She wondered if the renewed reports from Roma travellers have anything to do with the planned removal of the visa requirement for Bulgaria and Romania.

“Screening passengers is one big way to stop refugees from coming,” said Csanyi-Roba. “If they won’t need a visa to come to Canada, I won’t be surprised many Roma will try to find safety here given the persecution they face in those countries. It is going to be a challenge in terms of how the Canadian government is going to address the situation.”

Source: Roma say they’re being barred from flights to Canada | Toronto Star

Why are so many Hungarians deported? A look at Canada’s ‘Unwelcome Index’ 

The Globe continues to impress me with some of its serious evidence-based reporting (e.g., unfounded sexual assault cases by police department) with this being another good example of reporting by obtaining and analyzing data and explaining what it means:

The U.S. government’s determined efforts to restrict immigration and the number of refugees entering the country has invited comparisons with Canada, heralded by some (including The Economist) as a last bastion of openness among Western countries. But Canada has its own apparatus for ejecting the unwelcome; the Canada Border Services Agency is charged with removing people who don’t meet entry requirements.

To understand who Canada deports, and why, The Globe and Mail requested data from CBSA showing total removals by year, broken out by citizenship, the destination to which the person was sent and justifications for these removals. The data shows Canada removed Hungarian citizens in disproportionate numbers over the past few years. The story of those thousands of unwelcome people contrasts with international perceptions of Canada’s warm embrace of foreigners.

The unwelcome

The CBSA ejects thousands of people annually. However, the data doesn’t reveal much about why those people were removed: By far the most common official justification was “non-compliance,” a sweeping category. Fewer than 10 per cent of removals cited criminality, the second most common justification.

A clearer picture emerges when one examines the citizenship of removed persons: Hungarians topped the removals list during the five-year period from 2012 to 2016.

It is perhaps unsurprising to discover large numbers of Americans and Chinese on the list: Both countries rank among the world’s most populous, and the United States and Canada share the world’s longest border between two countries. Mexico has been a major source of immigrants, and also refugee claimants: The government of prime minister Stephen Harper responded in the late 2000s by imposing new visa requirements on Mexican visitors; removals surged.

Hungary is less populous than those countries, and distant to boot. What gives?

Hungary stands out even more when one compares numbers of removals with numbers of people of the same citizenship accepted as permanent residents. The result is a crude sort of “Unwelcome Index.” Between 2011 and 2015, more than three removal orders were issued for every Hungarian granted permanent-resident status.

Backstory of an exodus

Most Hungarians removed during this period were Roma, explained Sean Rehaag, an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto who specializes in immigration law. Studying a random sample of 96 decisions of the Immigration and Refugee Board between 2008 and 2012 involving Hungarian claimants, Mr. Rehaag and his colleagues found 85 per cent involved Roma.

Roma comprise Hungary’s largest ethnic minority. There, they encounter “discrimination and exclusion on a regular basis” concerning education, employment, housing, health and much else, according to a 2014 report by Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights. The late 2000s witnessed the rise of right-wing political parties and paramilitaries, accompanied by increasing rhetoric, rallies and attacks directed at Roma. Many Roma sought asylum abroad; thousands arrived in Canada after it lifted visa requirements on Hungarians in 2008.

Gina Csanyi-Robah, a teacher and human-rights activist with Hungarian Roma roots met many applicants in her capacity as executive director of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto, and also at Toronto schools. They fled Hungary because they were “scared that their home was going to be burned down,” Ms. Csanyi-Robah said. “Tired of their children getting beaten up at school and put into segregated classes. Tired of being subjected to verbal, psychological, physical violence when they left their homes.”

 Source: Why are so many Hungarians deported? A look at Canada’s ‘Unwelcome Index’ – The Globe and Mail

The Devouring: It’s time to recognize Roma genocide

Gina Csanyi-Robah, Robert Eisenberg and Vahan Kololian on the Roma:

A slaughter that in many ways paralleled both the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 as well as the Jewish Holocaust. August 2 is the official date designated by the worldwide Roma community to commemorate the Devouring. So why have so few people heard of it?

Unlike Jewish history and what has become the best recorded genocide of the modern era, the Devouring is still little known. While the history of the Roma genocide has been passed on orally through the generations, only recently has there been a movement to record this tragic history. Following the war the Roma community was so devastated it took 60 years to rebuild.

As a result, estimates of the number of Roma killed by the Nazis vary significantly, ranging between 250,000 and 1.5 million. Dr. Ian Hancock of the University of Texas, a world renowned expert on the Roma genocide suggests “… of the estimated 20,000 Romanies in Germany in 1939, fully three quarters had been murdered by 1945. Of the 11,200 in Austria, a half were murdered. Of the 50,000 in Poland, 35,000. In Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Luxembourg, almost the entire Romani populations were eradicated.”

And there are many more in the field of genocide studies who have supported Dr. Hancock’s theory. Indeed, it is telling that the only country at this point that has recognized the Devouring as a legitimate genocide is Germany.

Like Eastern European Jews, they were designated as Untermenschen, unworthy of life. Along with the Jews, they were rounded up from their nomadic villages and thrown onto cattle cars destined for death camps. Indeed, it is said that Roma and Jews walked hand in hand into the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The designation of genocide has always been emotionally charged. Motivated by both the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, international legalist Raphael Lemkin coined the term to give specific meaning to the systemic and systematic murder of an entire people. Today, the United Nations genocide convention, which has universal acceptance, defines it as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

If denoting genocide is emotionally charged, its political ramifications can be even greater. The Armenian community struggled long and hard to have Canada finally recognize their tragedy. Threatened economic and diplomatic repercussions from Turkey – which has steadfastly refused to accept the slaughter – were lodged with Canadian authorities when it discussed recognition in Parliament. Nonetheless in 2004, the Parliament of Canada began the process that was completed two years later by the Harper government with full recognition.

The Roma community in Canada, indeed worldwide, has neither the clout in government nor the institutional presence necessary to convince governments to recognize the Devouring. Sadly, global systemic discrimination was also a key factor for ignoring their history. Indeed, to this day the Roma, especially in Eastern Europe, remain persecuted targets of neo-Nazi and other extreme right-wing groups. However, time has certainly come for this recognition.

We lost Elie Wiesel last month, a Nobel laureate and a chronicler of the Holocaust. Mr. Wiesel once wisely noted: “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

Source: The Devouring: It’s time to recognize Roma genocide – The Globe and Mail

Pew Research: Anti-Minority Sentiment Not Increasing in Europe

European Perceptions of Roma European Perception of Jews European Perceptions of MuslimsInteresting recent public opinion research on attitudes in Europe, with above charts showing highlights. Summary conclusion:

The economic downturn in Europe that followed the euro crisis raised concerns that economic stress would turn Europeans against each other, as many severe economic downturns have done throughout history, sparking xenophobia and anti-Semitism. And Europe has seen a number of hostile actions against Muslims, Jews, Roma and other minorities in recent years. But the activities of a few are not necessarily reflected in the views of the general public.

The 2015 Pew Research Center survey was conducted after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the simultaneous attack on a Jewish grocery store, perpetrated by radical Islamists in Paris. But, in the wake of these events, there is no evidence that the atrocity sparked new public antipathy toward Muslims in any of the six European Union nations surveyed. In fact, favorability of Muslims actually improved in some nations. At the same time, French sympathy for Jews increased.


Odds stacked against Roma refugees, researchers find

Good statistical analysis highlighting issue:

Researchers from Osgoode Hall Law School and Western University reviewed Immigration and Refugee Board decisions on 11,333 Hungarian refugees — a group highlighted by Ottawa for abuse of the system and as a cause for reforms — between 2008 and 2012, broken down by adjudicators and lawyers representing the claimants.

It found:

  • Roma made up 85 per cent of all Hungarian refugees, the rest from other ethnicities.
  • Only 660, or 18.1 per cent, of the claims were granted, compared with 54,290, or 47.2 per cent, from all countries.
  • Among refugee judges who had handled 20 or more Hungarian cases during the period, acceptance rates ranged from 77.8 per cent to zero.
  • Three Toronto-area lawyers represented 1,139 Hungarian cases, accounting for more than a third of the total cases in the five years.
  • Lawyers who represented 25 or more Hungarian cases had success rates ranging broadly, from 1.1 per cent to 30.6 per cent. The combination of significantly below-average success rates and very high volumes of cases is identified as a concern.

The study cautioned against drawing inferences about the quality of legal representation from asylum success rates, but said, “The combination of significantly below-average success rates and very high volumes of cases does, in our view, raise serious concerns.”

It found three of the six highest-volume lawyers involved in Roma cases are currently facing disciplinary proceedings at the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Lawyer Viktor Hohots had a 1.2 per cent success rate out of 504 cases; Elizabeth Jaszi, 1.1 per cent out of 80 claims; and Joseph Farkas, 6.7 per cent out of 223.

Hohots has admitted to professional misconduct in negligence complaints made by 13 Roma, most of whom were denied asylum and deported, and is awaiting a penalty hearing. According to the study, Jaszi faces accusations of failing to properly prepare documents, while Farkas is alleged to have failed to supervise a non-lawyer who prepared refugee claims in his office. The allegations against Jaszi and Farkas have yet to be proven.

None of the three responded to the Star’s repeated requests for comment.

The study acknowledged that 52.5 per cent of the 7,669 Hungarian claims were either withdrawn or abandoned, compared with 18.3 per cent of cases from all countries.

Odds stacked against Roma refugees, researchers find | Toronto Star.

What Europe Thinks of Jews, Muslims and Roma – Pew

Some interesting comparative data on European country attitudes towards Jews, Muslims and Roma in the recent Pew study:

Roma, often dismissively referred to as “gypsies” in Europe, have suffered discrimination in Europe for centuries, and some estimates suggest that 70 percent of their European population was killed during the Holocaust. Last year, Europe’s tabloid media got into a frenzy over allegations that Roma families in Greece and Ireland had stolen “blond girls.” (In both cases, it was later confirmed that the children were actually Roma).

Many are predicting a good showing for right-wing and nationalist groups in the elections, which begin May 22. If so, these charts may be worth remembering: As Pew notes, “negative sentiments about all three groups are consistently more common among people on the ideological right.”

What Europe thinks of Muslims, Jews and Roma