Foreign Policy: Guilty of Antigypsyism by Omission Globally
Foreign Policy: Guilty of Antigypsyism by Omission Globally
On Roma in Ukraine, Asylum, and Community Organizing by Concerned Citizens
When the subject of Roma arrives at any serious policy making discussion it rarely is considered a target for any ministry of foreign affairs. If a noticeably large number of Roma emigrate from one country to another, for example from Romania to France, the diplomats of the receiving country may decide to contact the diplomats of the source country, but not as the result of pre-existing proactive strategy targeting Roma. We can assume this is rather a reaction to the migrants’ arrival. To what extent this happens in cases such as France and Romania is not transparent at all, however that is not the subject of this article. Foreign Affairs may also be the contact point for the EU to reprimand member states for their ineffective social policies affecting Roma: access to housing, health care, employment and education or access to fundamental rights may be cited. National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) as per the EU Roma Framework attempt to deal with these issues within the EU. Whether or not the emphasis on social issues can be seen as producing positive results compared to some individual member states’ priorly existing policies which emphasized national security and policing efforts, essentially equating poverty with delinquency and subsequently resulting in racial profiling at the expense of fundamental rights, these matters become internal member state matters, not part of the foreign affairs strategy. Whether despite the imperfections in creating social policies with ethnic labels which further contribute towards antigypsyism by confusing ethnicity with socio-economic class and thus ethnicizing poverty, the NRIS are able to contribute towards measurable improvements in the lives of Roma, they don’t affect foreign affairs. When it comes to accession countries, DG Near of the European Commission does demand potential new member states to demonstrate efforts have been taken toward antidiscrimination and social inclusion which affect their Roma populations, at least until accession is completed, but what about Roma who remain outside of the EU?
On June 19 of this year in Paris, a public discussion was held featuring a member of the Ukrainian diplomatic corps, Oleksandr Kompaniets, economic attaché to the Ukrainian embassy in France, and a geopolitical academic expert on Ukraine, Dr. Pierre Verluise. Their presentation featured many of the economic and political barriers Ukraine has overcome and continues to face, and went so far as to support eventual membership of Ukraine in the EU as a serious option that should be considered very soon. To give an example of how far human rights had advanced, the success of organizing an LGBTIQ Pride Parade in Kiev was cited as having taken place without any major disruptive or violent incident. Rule of law, a pretty basic element needed before beginning any discussion of EU membership, was not seriously addressed that evening despite numerous other merits earned by Ukraine being mentioned. I went to this presentation with some colleagues with the express intention of asking about what the Ukrainian government was planning to do to prove it respects rule of law and has the well-being of its Romani citizens at the heart of its interests. In the previous two months, five violent attacks had been perpetrated against Ukranian citizens of Romani ethnicity. Each time, the operating mode was the same: they were hunted violently and threatened, suggesting they leave their country, and their makeshift housing was burned. These acts relayed by the media are pogroms, which connect Ukraine to an infamous past and create distance with respect the road to be travelled in becoming a state where rule of law is respected. Committed by groups from the extreme right such as the S-14, these pogroms concern us most of all because it seems that these groups have received approximately 300,000 Griwna (42,000 Euros) from the ministry of youth and sports. Also, with respect to the pogrom in Vilshany, the public prosecutor is accused of collaboration with the perpetrators.
After I stated this I received a response from each of the gentlemen. The economic attaché said he could not comment, that I should write an official letter to the Ambassador to which I received a polite response that Ukraine considers this matter important, but no further news on the follow up of these items has been made available. The academic expert proceeded to explain, that if the criterion of fair treatment of Roma were used as an excuse to prevent membership in the EU, then neither countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary would be able to join, nor countries such as France and Italy would be able to remain as members, and therefore this is not a reasonable expectation because no one has been successful at dealing with the Roma. We left the meeting after hearing that. Since June 19, two additional attacks took place, causing two deaths and several wounded. Roma citizens in Ukraine and across the world as well as non-Roma citizens concerned with respecting human rights according to international standards are concerned with the degradation of this situation.
The issues of pre-accession and post-accession member states and their respect for Roma rights remain a serious de facto issue for the EU, and a seriously doubtful commitment if you accept the anecdotal reasoning of Dr. Verluise as being indicative of what perceptions are concerning the functioning of the EU, from an educated audience’s perspective.
The EU Roma Framework developed by the Commission does not transversally integrate Roma issues across all areas of policy that affect Roma. It has a social focus, which is appropriately a major priority. Foreign policy however hasn’t yet been seen as relevant, as far as the needs and desires of Roma citizens with respect to having input into those policy decisions. Despite that, we do thankfully still see Roma refugees from the Western Balkans obtaining asylum in France. While every road block imaginable was created for EU citizens perceived as Roma within France since the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Union in 2007, Roma from outside the EU are still eligible for asylum status. Prior to 2007, Roma from Romania and Bulgaria could obtain asylum status as well and with it, state support with respect to social inclusion programs which facilitated access to housing, employment, and education. Those families who were accompanied into the social system have in most cases since then gone on to become productive citizens, and no mention of any problems from those that were helped back then has ever captured the attention of the media. Since 2007 all such tools were discontinued and replaced with a policy of deportations and forced evictions which is still in effect for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens living in squats and shanties. Today, those Roma who were lucky enough not to be born in the EU and successfully obtained asylum status can still be offered social assistance allowing them to integrate into French society. But do we see this as result of a concerted effort of organized Romani-French citizens’ lobbying power? Not really.
While France has quietly accepted a number of Roma refugees from the Western Balkans, Germany is sending many Roma “back” to this region, particularly to Kosovo. This happens despite in some cases where the deported individuals were born in Germany and never even ever set foot in the Balkans prior to deportation. Technically they can’t go back to where they’ve never been, but that hasn’t stopped this policy from continuing to be executed by the German federal government. If we examine further member states we will see there is no consistent policy regarding Roma refugees, let alone any refugees. Accession countries pose their own set of special problems. Pre- and post-accession issues definitely need to be carefully evaluated and re-evaluated, but Ukraine is not an accession country and cannot be seriously considered so in any way whatsoever in the foreseeable future for a good number of substantiated reasons. So, until accession ever becomes a reasonable probability, what can we do in the meantime for Roma in Ukraine? How can we have a substantive policy response? What should that be? Can we consider providing Ukrainian Roma with asylum status in the EU, the USA or any other liberal state? This is a foreign policy question and we need to address it.
In the 1970s and 80s, asylum status was readily granted to Jews emigrating from the Soviet Union to the United States. Even under the totalitarian regime, there was a reasonable suspicion to conclude the state could not provide sufficient protection to its Jewish citizens in Russia and Ukraine, where mob violence against this minority was still taking place. What were the conditions that allowed for this to happen? A highly organized community demanding from its elected officials to allow asylum status to be granted. If we don’t organize ourselves to make these demands, it won’t happen. Roma are organizing, more and more. The coordinated efforts to protest the Italian government’s attempts at taking an ethnic census was met with demonstrations in Prague, London, Bucharest, Skopje and elsewhere. Roma communities have been vocal about the need to stop pogroms in Ukraine in the same way. We need however, to remain organized and to follow through with specific demands.
Probably we should begin by determining if there is any consensus among Ukrainian Roma regarding whether they would like to stay or leave, what type of support they would like to receive, and ensuring we hear from them. Despite that, shouldn’t we consider creating the possibility, should it be needed, of an escape route preventing further death and destruction? While the EU has its hands full struggling to ensure fundamental rights within the EU and within accession countries, it would be unreasonable to expect that the EU’s influence abroad can have a sufficient impact on the lives of Roma in Ukraine where it does not have the instruments at its disposal to enforce any action on the part of local authorities. Whether or not the Czech, Hungarian, Italian or French states have proven to have adequate respect for human rights and continue to struggle to eliminate discrimination against Roma is irrelevant as a basis for a foreign policy decision. People facing pogroms have the right to flee in order to live in safety according to the 1951 Geneva Conventions.
Whether or not member states have a consistent policies, whether or not they are successful in their attempt to deal with issues such as poverty and migration or any number of issues, the moral obligation to honor the Geneva Accords needs to be respected, the voices of Roma concerned with the safety of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine need to continue to speak loudly. We need to ask Ukrainian Roma how have these issues evolved since the summer, and what do they need in order to feel safe. And if they don’t feel safe, we need to make room for them, in Canada, in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South America, and also within the EU. If the monuments at Babi Yar, in Berlin, or in Lety are to have any meaning whatsoever, they should be used to preserve life first, and commemorate the dead only after we have done everything in our power to prevent the need to create new monuments.
 Access to the labor market was not allowed until 2014, which many argue would have greatly alleviated the situation much sooner for those shanty town dwelling Romanian and Bulgarian citizens already present in France.
 People in shantytowns and slums arriving mostly from Romania and some from Bulgaria, regardless of their ethnicity, were commonly referred to in the major French media as Roma and therefore the general perception of the public is that the Roma are these people, their poverty being ethnicized in popular perception regardless of whether they actually self-identified as Roma or non-Roma.