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German MEP of Romani origin Romeo Franz: The situation for Roma in Ukraine is shocking, I could not believe Roma live in such conditions in Europe

12.8.2022 10:02
A Romani settlement in the woods near Lviv, Ukraine. (2022) (PHOTO:  Facebook profile of Romeo Franz)
A Romani settlement in the woods near Lviv, Ukraine. (2022) (PHOTO: Facebook profile of Romeo Franz)

The situation of Romani people in Ukraine is unbearable and the war has massively increased their exclusion. Conditions in the settlements there are unacceptable and discrimination against Romani people is happening during the distribution of aid in the context of the war.

Those are the findings of German Roma and Sinti representatives who visited Ukraine in July. The delegation included the Commissioner against Antigypsyism of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mehmet Daimaguler, the co-chair of the Federal Association of Sinti and Roma, Daniel Strauss, and MEP Romeo Franz (Greens), who visited Kyiv, Lviv and Uzhhorod.  

The delegation met with several Romani organizations and representatives of the Government of Ukraine to get an idea of the situation in the war zone. Before the February invasion, an estimated 400,000 Romani people were living in Ukraine.

Strauss said about 70 % of Romani people were living in localities that are segregated. "The 30 % who live in regular residential areas frequently downplay their [Roma] identities out of fear of being discriminated against," Strauss said.  

MEP Romeo Franz: The situation of Romani people in Ukraine greatly disturbed us

"What we saw there shocked us all and greatly disturbed us," Franz said at a press conference on the delegation's visit. In an interview for news server Romea.cz, he added the following: "The impression [is] that resentment towards Romani people has developed sufficiently in large parts of Ukrainian society [who] not only implicitly shrug [their] shoulders [at their plight], but also quite explicitly and openly... label Romani people as second-class citizens, [which] is worrying." 

"On the other hand, the perception of Romani people as fundamentally equal fellow human beings seems to be the exception rather than the rule," the MEP said. The delegation visited a Romani settlement in the woods near Lviv where about 1,400 Romani people live.

Most of those in the settlement are children or youth. There is no electricity at the settlement and no access to medical care. 

"I could see with my own eyes how the situation is - it is an urgent state [of] emergency. Especially for Romani people living in [the] woods without sufficient infrastructure, water, health [care], housing, electricity," the MEP said. 

"I couldn’t believe that Romani people are living in these conditions in Europe, and I saw a lot traveling through Europe. But I wasn’t prepared for these conditions, the situation is urgent," Franz told news server Romea.cz.

"The work of the human rights activists and NGOs impressed me. They work at a national level to ensure that human rights issues facing Romani communities in Ukraine are firmly on the political agenda," the MEP said of civil society in Ukraine.

Romani activist from Ukraine:  The war interrupted the aid to Roma that had begun

According to Alya Yurchenko, a human rights activist from the Romani community, the war has interrupted aid that was underway to Romani people living in such destitution. "After years of advocacy work by all Roma rights defenders in Ukraine, the government has paid attention to such camps and is ready to work on this direction together with [the] Roma community and NGOs. But the process was stopped by the war," she told news server Romea.cz, adding that because Romani people cannot access programs of support if they are not registered IDPs or refugees, the Romani organizations themselves are providing that support. 

"... thanks to Chirikli we got one-time food and hygiene aid for this camp, now we found a foundation who provides us with food for the camp once a month until September. Then we will find something else (I hope)," she described the assistance being given to such Romani people, acknowledging that it is not systemic to work this way.

"But when people have nothing to eat and drink, it is difficult to think about long-term plans. We are convinced that we will return to strategic plans as soon as Putin leaves our land," she told Romea.cz, adding that the settlements will need even more aid in the winter.

The majority and minority must address Romani Ukrainians' unacceptable situation together

Franz said his visit to Ukraine was of enormous importance. "It is not easy for anyone who wants to research the situation of the Romani people in Ukraine to obtain sufficient information. There are no reliable government statistics on the subject, nor is there an effective competent authority. There is also a lack of sufficient research and project work on the part of the state," he told Romea.cz. 

"[This] vicious circle of poverty, lack of prospects and discrimination [is] revolving largely away from the spotlight of social discourse in the media. I want to change that. Awareness-raising is an important step for change. Therefore every article, discussion or media coverage regarding the fatal situation for Romani people in Ukraine is urgent and important," Franz said.

"It is extremely important that civil society, the private sector and public institutions are aware of the discrimination and precarious situation of marginalized groups, especially Romani people. It is often the case that people with a Romani background who flee Ukraine experience such forms of discrimination and exclusion in the EU that they return to Ukraine. Romani people are the most marginalized group in the European Union, but many aren’t aware of it," said the MEP, reiterating Romani people must be included in designing solutions to their problems.

As an example, the MEP described how the state of Baden-Württemberg in the Federal Republic of Germany does this in practice by establishing collaborations through a treaty, and the moment minority-related problems arise, they are immediately discussed by the minority council and the state association, after which minority representatives and state-level representatives work together with the relevant state-level ministries to design solutions that go directly to the state-level ministries. "This clearly shows that we can only solve the problem of unequal participation and antigypsyism together with the mainstream society and the minority. Baden-Württemberg could actually be a blueprint for all of Europe and Ukraine in this regard. I‘m open... to discuss the state treaty with Ukrainian officials, if they need any help," Franz concluded his interview with Romea.cz. 

The delegation from Germany who visited Ukraine are insisting that the Government of Ukraine should officially recognize Romani people as a minority. Romani men and women have been living on the territory of what is today Ukraine since the 15th century. 

Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Discrimination, Germany, Immigration, Racism, refugee, Ukraine



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