Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stop forcible returns of Roma to Kosovo

28 September 2010 (source)

Many Roma are forcibly returned often with nothing but the
clothes they are wearing
© Charlotte Bohl/Romawood 2010
  European Union (EU) countries should end the forcible return of Roma and other minorities to Kosovo, Amnesty International said in a report published on Tuesday.

Not welcome anywhere: Stop the forcible return of Roma to Kosovo, details how Roma and members of other minority communities, including children, are forcibly returned to Kosovo often with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, to face the possibility of continuing discrimination and violence.

"EU countries risk violating international law by sending back people to places where they are at risk of persecution, or other serious harm. The EU should instead continue to provide international protection for Roma and other minorities in Kosovo until they can return there safely," said Sian Jones, Amnesty International's expert on Kosovo.

"The Kosovo authorities must also ensure that Roma and other minorities can return voluntarily and reintegrate fully in society."

Many are picked up by the police in the early hours of the morning and – with little time to gather their belongings – are often sent back with only the clothes they are wearing.

Few receive any assistance on their return to Kosovo, meaning many also face problems in obtaining access to education, healthcare, housing and social benefits.

Very few Roma are able to find work, with unemployment levels reaching 97 per cent. Roma communities are twice as likely as other ethnic groups to be amongst the 15 per cent of Kosovo’s population who live in extreme poverty.

Inter-ethnic violence continues while discrimination against Roma in Kosovo is widespread and systematic compounded by their perceived association with Kosovo Serbs. Largely Serbian-speaking and often living in Serbian areas of Kosovo, the Roma are still perceived to be allied with the Serbian community.    

"Despite recent measures introduced by the Kosovo government aiming to improve conditions for reception and reintegration of returnees, the authorities do not have the funding, capacity, resources or political will to ensure a sustainable return for them," said Sian Jones.

It has been estimated that around 50 per cent of forcible returnees will leave Kosovo again.

These forcible returns are taking place under bilateral agreements negotiated, or under negotiation, between the Kosovo authorities and European Union (EU) member states and Switzerland.

It has been reported that almost 10,000 Roma were legally obliged to leave the country and are therefore at risk of forcible return to Kosovo from Germany alone.

While genuinely voluntary returns must not be excluded, Amnesty International said it is concerned by reports that people agreed to go back only under the threat of forcible return.

"Until the Kosovo authorities are capable of ensuring the fundamental human rights of Roma and other minority communities, including Serbs and minority Albanians, they will return to face a climate of violence and discrimination," Sian Jones said.

"Until then, the international community is obliged to provide them with protection."

After the 1999 war in Kosovo, many Serbs and Roma fled to Serbia, others sought international protection in EU member states and Switzerland.

In March 2004, Serbs and Roma were again forced to flee Kosovo as inter-ethnic violence broke out between Albanians and Serbs, which also affected Roma communities.

Many of those now being forcibly returned also left Kosovo in early 1990s, when war broke out in what was then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  

Following Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008, the Kosovo authorities have come under increasing pressure from EU member states to accept returnees.

Left Out - Violations of the Rights of Roma in Europe

Amnesty International has just come out with a 30 page report on current discrimination that many Romani people are currently facing across Europe. It details the violations in respect to the right to adequate housing, healthcare, education, work and the failure to protect the Roma against discrimination.

Here are some excerpts from the publication:

Numbering between 10 and 12 million people, the Roma are one of Europe’s largest and
most disadvantaged minorities. On almost every indicator of human development, in almost
every country, the Roma fall far below the national average. On average, they have lower
incomes, worse health, poorer housing, lower literacy rates and higher levels of
unemployment than the rest of the population. These are not, simply, the inevitable
consequences of poverty. They are the result of widespread, often systemic, human rights
violations. They are, in particular, the result of prejudice - of centuries of societal,
institutional and individual acts of discrimination, that have pushed the great majority of
Roma to the very margins of society – and which are keeping them there.
Overcoming the chronic exclusion of Europe’s Roma, requires an understanding of the
interconnectedness of all human rights. All too often, the violation of one right can expose
victims to the violation of several others. Thus, millions of Roma, living in isolated slums,
often without access to electricity or running water, are at greater risk of illness, but less able
to access the health care they need. Receiving inferior education in segregated schools, they
are, in turn, severely disadvantaged in the labour market. Unable to find jobs, millions of
Roma cannot access better housing, afford medication, or pay the costs of their children’s
schooling. Socially marginalized, the Roma are also politically excluded. And so the cycle
continues, aggravated all the while by the discrimination that is routinely denying Roma
equal opportunity, equal treatment and the full enjoyment of all their rights.
Governments can and must do something about this. By eliminating discrimination by public
authorities, by implementing effective programmes to promote the social inclusion of
marginalized Roma and combating societal discrimination, governments can break the
vicious cycle of prejudice, poverty and human violations that Roma are all too often trapped
in. The dignity of Europe’s Roma demands it.

 Discrimination within education systems continues to be a significant cause of the
educational underachievement of Roma. In many countries discrimination is not limited to
individual acts of prejudice by teachers and education professionals. It is often deeply
ingrained in education systems, reflecting, in part, broader patterns of societal
discrimination. However, it is also the result of policies and practices that have the effect of
excluding many Roma from accessing quality education.


Jakub is 16 years old and lives with his family at the Romani settlement on the outskirts of Plavecký Štvrtok, a
village 20km north of Bratislava. His story is the same as thousands of Romani children in Slovakia who have
been unjustly placed in inferior education. Jakub started school in the mainstream class, where he stayed until
grade four. An excellent student, Jakub even received a scholarship for his achievement. But when he reached
the fifth grade, Jakub was sent for assessment following a disagreement with his teacher. His parents were
not informed about the assessment and he was immediately transferred to the special class. His mother was
later told it was a class for “slower pupils”, but she wonders how her son can be ‘slow’ when he received good
grades before.
One of Jakub’s former teachers spoke to Amnesty International: “Some of the children, as I see it, are wrongly
placed. For example, [Jakub] had been placed in [a class for children with mild] mental disability… on the
grounds of hyperactivity... at the Malacky [assessment centre] they are classified by people who, in fact, have
never worked with them. The kid should have been in a normal class. He was a genius.”
Having now finished elementary school, Jakub clearly feels frustrated by the injustice he suffered: “What they
did to me was nasty… They made an idiot out of me. I was getting a scholarship of 100 crowns per month. I
was one of the best pupils in fourth grade. If I could turn the time back, I would do it. But it’s too late now.”

~ Robin Andreae

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hungarian TV Blocks Anti-Roma Ad

Just days before the impending October 3 elections, Hungarian television blocked the far right Jobbik party commercial that targets Romani people. However, on Monday morning, the National Election Committee upheld the airing, stating that it complied with free speech. Hungarian television was forced to air the ad.

In the ad in question, a young woman who is afraid to go into the street asks "Are Gypsy criminals allowed to do whatever they want?" as a hooded figure lurks. The Jobbik ad says that it targets "Hungary's parasites". But it clearly targets Romani people. (source) The Jobbik plan is to place them in what they term as "Public Protective Camps". Let's pray that they are not elected.

~Robin Andreae

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Way of Protest

People have found many diverse, if not creative, ways to protest throughout the centuries. A few ways that readily come to mind are green-peace enthusiasts chaining themselves onto trees; individuals starving themselves; the devoted Buddhist setting himself on fire. And of course, we have protests that have literally changed the course of history! For example, the women’s rights protests by feminist movements from the 18th to 20th centuries. From this example we can clearly see that something positive may come forth from protests, to the point of changing society’s social structures, world view and traditions.

But why protest? Protesting comes from an inner drive most often grounded on the need for social justice. Protests often herald a human trait called Compassion. And when ethical codes are disregarded, and moral standards ignored, there will be protesters who will arise and cry for justice, compassion and integrity.

Such a need for protesting has recently occurred throughout Europe. On September 4, 2010, thousands of individuals have stood up against France’s Roma (Gypsy) expulsion policies backed up by French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. This policy and its modus operandi is reminiscent of Nazi regimes, as is reported, “France has attacked Viviane Reding, a Luxembourger and the EU’s Justice Commissioner, after she threatened legal action over Mr Sarkozy’s policy of expelling the Roma. She said it was a ‘disgrace’ that reminded her of World War II round-ups of Gypsies and Jews” (source).

Let us set aside red tape surrounding country border regulations; indeed, let us set aside sterile government policies. And for a minute let us consider that Roma (Gypsies) are human beings like you and I. Humans with human needs and feelings. Let us consider that Roma are parents who long for the protection of their innocent babes. Let us consider that Roma are young children who dread soldiers who come dressed in their threatening uniforms, bearing arms, expelling them from their homes. And when we allow our hearts to feel compassion, when we open our minds to human reason, we beg the question, “What is so wrong with allowing people seeking asylum to remain in our country?”

Whether it be Australia dealing with boat refugees, or America dealing with Latin Americans, the ethical consideration remains the same: It is unjust for a first world, well to do country, to bar its gates on people seeking refuge and asylum. For a first world country to bar its gates on refugees only broadens the unethical, and seriously harmful, “gap” between the rich and the poor. And this “gap” is being exploited by the greedy, who care not for the suffering mother and child, no matter what your ethnic background may be.

No matter what ethnic background, the gap between the rich and poor is being felt throughout the world. And Roma are no strangers to the gap, as they are one of the most persecuted, marginalised, ethnic groups in the world. Indeed, there is a history of Roma being a pariah to general society. Being expelled from a country is nothing new to Roma. Being illegal to even be an ethnic Gypsy is not new to Roma. Being murdered by a government is not new to Roma. What is new are the protests, by all kinds of people, from all walks of life, for Romani (Gypsy) rights. Like never before, society in general is publicly pleading for compassion for the Romani people.

On one hand, it is true that we may always have heartless people. On the other hand, it is also true that those who act on compassion will also abound. I’m reminded of a gentleman in history, of Romanichal (English Gypsy) descent, who cried out for compassion and the softening of the heart. This gentleman is said to be the highest paid entertainer in history and had a intrinsic influence on the movie industry in its infancy. This gentleman is none other than Charlie Chaplin.

Chaplin “is most recognized as an icon of the silent film era”. But the film I want to focus on is “Chaplin’s later film ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940), which was his first ‘talkie’, which created a stir. In the film, Chaplin plays a humorous caricature of Adolf Hitler. Some thought the film was poorly done and in bad taste. However, it grossed over $5 million and earned five Academy Award Nominations” (source).

I believe that when Chaplin spoke in “The Great Dictator” he was speaking as a prophet, that is, deep and inspired words. With apprehensions of leading governments turning into Nazi-like regimes, heartless and cruel systems, Chaplin cries out for compassion. Every time I hear him utter his speech I get chills:

In the light of the protests for Romani rights; above speaks Chaplin, of Romani descent, crying out for human rights. In light of Viviane Reding, EU’s Justice Commissioner, comparing France’s expulsion policies to World War II round-ups of Gypsies and Jews; above is Chaplin, in a movie based on a satire of Nazism pleading for the unity of all peoples. And in Chaplin’s own words, I end this blog, “Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers. [Let us] do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason.”

Blog "A Way of Protest" derived from:

Related Post from Tatcho Drom, "Eurocentrism and Its Impact on Romani Gypsies".

Monday, September 20, 2010

What Can France Teach Us About Botched Immigration Policies?

From The New Republic:

What Can France Teach Us About Botched Immigration Policies? 

David A. Bell

September 3, 2010 | 12:00 am

On both sides of the Atlantic, it has been an uncomfortable summer for immigrant groups. Here in the United States there have been the quarrels over the "Ground Zero Mosque," “anchor babies,” and Arizona’s new illegal immigrant bill (not to mention yet more calls for the deportation of our “Muslim” president to his “native” Kenya by the surprisingly large proportion of the Republican Party that seems to have taken up permanent residence on Planet Zorg). Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, faced with removal from office by the voters in 2012, has continued to push legislation outlawing the wearing of the burqa in public and acted to expel several hundred Roma to Romania and Bulgaria. This last move in particular has earned him widespread criticism from the media, and widespread support from the French public.
Sarkozy’s actions and France’s continuing struggles with the immigration issue have gotten relatively little coverage in the United States. They are worth taking a closer look at, however, because they starkly illustrate many of the issues that arise from the world-wide movement of populations—issues that the United States will be confronting more and more over the coming decades.
In its attitudes toward foreigners and “immigrant-origin populations” (i.e. both immigrants and the children and grandchildren of immigrants), the French government is increasingly trying to establish French “values” as a basis for policy. For instance, earlier this summer, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux ordered the deportation of Egyptian Islamist imam Ali Ibrahim El Soudany, claiming that he “despised the values of our society,” and that his message of religious hatred “had nothing to do with religious liberty.” The ban on the burqa is similarly justified by reference not only to human rights, but more nebulously to values such as the importance of face-to-face contact. In this shift, France has followed the lead of countries like the Netherlands, where would-be citizens must now watch a film that shows two men kissing, and a topless woman on a beach, so as to understand Dutch “values.”
This all raises the obvious problem of how national “values” can possibly be defined. Sixty years ago, by most present-day definitions, a large majority of the French (like a large majority in most countries on earth) held homophobic and bigoted attitudes. So should national values depend on shifting majority opinion? If not, who decides their content? Perhaps Sarkozy’s new “Ministry of Immigration, Integration and National Identity”? Moreover, if the values of “the French” can be so neatly packaged, why can the same not be done with other groups, whose values might be judged fundamentally antithetical to “French” ones? What of “Muslim” values, for instance?
Meanwhile, the expulsion of the Roma illustrates the tensions between the politics of immigration and citizenship on the one hand, and the realities of population movements on the other. Sarkozy, in an Arizonan vein, describes the people expelled as threats to public order who, as foreigners, had no right to stay on French soil. Yet, in practice, like most Western countries, France has many categories of resident foreigners (legal immigrants, temporary workers, asylum-seekers, citizens of other EU countries, etc.) who enjoy a wide variety of rights. The Roma expelled this summer are mostly citizens of EU member states Bulgaria and Romania, and, while France had the right to expel them, under EU law, the Roma had the right to re-enter the country the day after their expulsion.
The point, in both cases, is that nationality is not a single, rigidly bounded thing, defined by a particular set of values or a single legal rule. French officials, of all people, should have no trouble understanding this point. In recent years, they have repeatedly changed French nationality law (introducing complex special provisions, for instance, for children born on French soil to foreign parents). And, during the long history of the French overseas empire, their predecessors created a bewildering variety of categories of what amounted to partial or quasi-citizenship, so as to distinguish certain groups under French rule (e.g. Algerian Muslims) from others, and to limit their rights and movement.
Yet, in politics, the temptation is always to divide the world neatly into two parts: “citizens” and “non-citizens,” “us” and “them.” This is hardly, by itself, a bad thing. Democracy requires a clearly bounded community of citizens. And, arguably, elite civil servants in France, with their concern for the construction of a complex, technocratic European super-state, have only fueled populist anger by giving this point too little importance in past years and equating all opposition (including the 2005 referendum vote against the proposed European Constitution) with xenophobia.
Pushing too hard in the other direction, however, quickly devolves into sheer demagoguery. Modern nations are not hermetically walled, ideologically and ethnically homogenous little city states. The complexities of population movements and cultural diversity have to be respected. And Nicolas Sarkozy would do well to remember that strife over “immigrant-origin populations” does not only, or even principally, arise because of conflicts over “values” or an ambiguous legal status. It arises when these groups are actively made to feel alien and unwelcome. Some American politicians could use a refresher on this point as well.
David A. Bell, a contributing editor to The New Republic, teaches history at Princeton

Germany's Plans to Remove 12,000 Roma Scrapped?

Maybe it was the stern warning to France by the EU or it' just plain old embarrassment. But the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has flatly denied that her country had plans to ship 12,000 Romas to Kosovo.