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May 24, 2022



Romani mothers and children groundlessly prevented from leaving Ukraine three times before finally crossing into Hungary

4.4.2022 10:50
Romani refugees from Ukraine in the church at Pavlovce nad Uhom, Slovakia. (PHOTO:
Romani refugees from Ukraine in the church at Pavlovce nad Uhom, Slovakia. (PHOTO: "Czechs Are Helping" / Češi pomáhají)

A 52-year-old Romani mother and her two children have been repeatedly denied departure from Ukraine, which was attacked more than a month ago by the armed forces of Russia. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) has raised the alarm about the case, noting that it is not the only instance of discrimination and racist treatment of Romani people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian border guards: We won't let you leave, you'll "abuse the Hungarian welfare system and commit wrongdoings"

The woman first attempted to cross into Hungary with her children on 20 March, but at the Beregsurányi border crossing she was told she could not be allowed to enter Hungary because she allegedly just wanted to abuse the Hungarian welfare system and would beg there. The woman's native language is Hungarian, and she was prevented leaving Ukraine a total of three times when she attempted to cross into Hungary to join the rest of her family there.

The ERRC asked the Ukrainian authorities to explain the border guards' behavior. The authorities say their border guards never received any instructions to prevent anybody leaving Ukraine who is legally entitled to do so. 

Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not permitted to leave Ukraine by law. A general mobilization was announced by Ukraine on 24 February 2022, and men in that age range must remain in the country. 

The border officials reportedly told the family to attempt their crossing at another time. When the Romani family did so, they were prevented from crossing again, with the mother reportedly being told:  "No, you are going to commit wrongdoings like the others, so we are not letting you out."

Audiovisual recordings from the border:  Threats of arrest, confiscation of personal items

The Romani mother then made a third attempt at crossing the border, informing the ERRC of it in advance and recording the situation with her phone camera so she would have proof of the discriminatory treatment by border guards. When she did so, she was threatened with arrest and confiscation of her personal items if she continued to record the members of the Ukrainian armed forces.

On Sunday, 27 March, the family attempted to cross a fourth time. That attempt was eventually successful. 

ERRC representatives believe a new set of more benevolent border guards must have gone on duty at that border crossing who allowed the family to cross. However, because the case happened on the Ukrainian side of the border, it would be quite complex to deal with the situation now.

"With little oversight of border guards’ decisions, on either side of the borders, Ágnes’ story highlights the precarious situation Romani refugees can find themselves in when attempting to find safety outside of Ukraine. Hers is not the first story since this war began where Roma have been accused of not being ‘genuine refugees’," reads the ERRC report on the issue, which goes on to say the organization will continue to monitor the situation on the border between Hungary and Ukraine to determine whether the problem could be systemic.

History repeats itself

The tactic of declaring refugees to be just "economic migrants", as well as the insinuation that people who are frequently also fleeing absolute poverty are somehow less deserving of aid, is an argument that has been used for many years in Europe to deny the rights of refugees from various minority groups, according to the ERRC. Similar arguments were also made in 1999 after pogroms against Romani people in Kosovo during the armed conflict there.

"After the 1999 pogroms of Romani and Balkan Egyptian communities in Kosovo, those refugees too were dismissed as economic migrants and nomads. It led to many European countries shoring up their immigration laws to prevent what the British press had previously infamously referred to as “the Gypsy invasion from the East,” the ERRC reports.

Cases of discrimination against Romani refugees are multiplying, accommodation problems in the Czech Republic

Cases of Romani refugees from Ukraine receiving treatment that is unequal are being reported after they manage to cross the border into Hungary, Moldova or Slovakia and also after making it into the Czech Republic. The situation in Slovakia was described at the beginning of March by Jaroslav Miko for ROMEA TV

"Romani people from Ukraine are being discriminated against at the border. There are many volunteers who are giving refugees rides further into the interior. However, if a Romani family arrives and asks for such aid, they are refused it," Miko said.

News server reported the story of two Romani Ukrainian women with four children who were twice moved on from their accommodation in the Czech Republic for no reason, as well as bus drivers from the Czech Republic who refused to transport to safety some Romani mothers and children who were originally from the Kyiv area, and other cases in which volunteers do not want to give rides to Romani families. One of the most recent cases concerned the hostile approach taken toward Romani refugees including assaults committed against them in the village of Božičany, Czech Republic.   

Cases of discrimination against Romani refugees from Ukraine are currently multiplying with regard to placing them in accommodation facilities. The Iniciativa Hlavák (Main Train Station Initiative) in Prague, for example, has reported to the case of several Romani families from Ukraine who were turned away from the Assistance Center for Aid to Ukraine, operating out of the Congress Center, and sent back to the main train station.

Those families were reportedly told that it was not possible to find them accommodation. News server will continue to investigate.

Helena Markusová, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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