European countries are failing to curb - and in some cases are even fuelling - discrimination, intimidation and violence against Roma, Amnesty International said in a new report launched on International Roma Day (8 April).
Amnesty’s 40-page report - 'We ask for justice': Europe’s failure to protect Roma from racist violence - examines hate-motivated violence and harassment of Roma by officials and ordinary citizens in Greece, France and the Czech Republic.
It finds that the governments of these countries fail the Roma in multiple ways, with discrimination, forced evictions, segregation and sub-standard education the norm.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director, said:
“There has been a marked rise in the frequency of anti-Roma violence in Europe in the last few years. The response to this alarming phenomenon has been woefully inadequate. It is unacceptable that in modern-day Europe some Roma communities live under the constant threat of violence and pogrom-like attacks.
“All too often European leaders have pandered to the prejudices fuelling anti-Roma violence by branding Roma as anti-social and unwelcome. While generally condemning the most blatant examples of anti-Roma violence, the authorities have been reluctant to acknowledge its extent and slow to combat it. For its part, the European Union has been reluctant to challenge member states on the systemic discrimination of Roma that is all too evident.
“On many occasions law enforcement agencies are failing to prevent racist attacks and ensure that hate motives are properly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. The fact that racist attitudes remain entrenched in many police forces is more often denied than addressed.”
Amnesty is calling on national governments and the EU to commit to eradicating the scourge of anti-Roma discrimination, intolerance and violence across the region.
The estimated 250,000 to 350,000 Roma living in Greece have been at the receiving end of discriminatory treatment for generations.
During 2012 and 2013 a series of pogrom-like attacks against a Roma community took place in Etoliko, a village in western Greece.
Irini told Amnesty of an attack on 4 January last year when approximately 70 individuals threw Molotov cocktails, stones and wooden planks at their homes:
“When I saw them coming, I grabbed my children and locked us up in the house. My children were crying, screaming… I was frightened. Looking out of the window I knew most of them, we grew up together. They threw a glass bottle from the window and set the house on fire.”
Six houses and four cars were firebombed or damaged by the attackers that day. Several Roma told Amnesty that they felt betrayed by the police. One said: “I could see just two policemen from inside the house… They were just staring and asking people to stop. They did nothing more than this.”
Having fled discrimination in their home countries, many of the 20,000 Roma in France live in informal settlements where they rarely have access to basic services, such as water and sanitation. They are often forcibly evicted from their shelters, harassed by the police or other citizens, and sometimes attacked.
On the evening of 22 November 2011, the police went to an informal settlement next to the church of St. Martin d’Arenc in Marseille with the aim of forcibly evicting the ten Roma families who lived there. They allegedly sprayed tear gas inside the tents where children were sleeping and then destroyed the tents and other personal belongings.
“R” was beaten up by the police. He said: “I wanted to run away but I couldn’t see anything, I just saw a gate in front of me, I tried to reach out to it but as soon as I approached it, I just had the feeling that my leg broke and then I don’t remember anything else. “R” underwent surgery for a fractured thigh bone and spent six months in a rehabilitation centre.
Roma migrants in Marseille do not generally report cases of harassment and violence because of a lack of trust in the police or fear of further victimisation. “S”, a Roma social worker who used to live in an informal settlement, said: “Roma people are really scared of the police; I usually take kids to the hospital for medical treatment and they are afraid whenever they see the police on our way”.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 2013, Czech far-right groups staged a series of anti-Roma protests in dozens of towns and cities across the country, protests which amounted to systematic harassment of Roma communities.
Between June and October last year, residents of the city of Èeské Budìjovice joined far-right extremists in regular marches to a housing estate following a conflict at a children’s playground between Roma and non-Roma adults.
Štefan, a Roma man, told Amnesty: “Some people do not realise that [during the demonstrations, the Roma] have to stay at one place, that children… are afraid. This lasts the whole day and leaves trauma... Nobody deserves to experience something like this. People experienced this during the war and I think that in the year 2013, in the 21st century, we don’t have to experience it again.”