Roma part of #BlackLivesMatter

Roma part of #BlackLivesMatter

On 25 May 2020 George Floyd, an African American man, was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mass protests in response to his death quickly spread across the United States and internationally in a joint mobilisation against police violence and structural racism. Across the world, people have started to take down statues of colonisers and racist figures. A global Black Lives Matter movement is surging alongside  wider anti-racist movements in an attempt to restore centuries of injustice, killings and oppression of people of African descent, but also institutional and structural racism and discrimination of all ethnic and racialised minorities.

As ERGO Network we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and we say it loud and clear: In Europe, Black and Brown Lives matter! We hope that everyone now protesting on the streets takes this into account in their political demands as well as in their own everyday lives.

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

Structural racism and discrimination against ethnic and racialised minorities are deeply rooted in European societies. Across the EU, people of African descent, Roma, Muslims, Jews and immigrants face widespread and entrenched prejudice and exclusion. Racial discrimination and harassment are common place.

Roma in Europe are more likely to live in poverty than the majority population, have a higher risk of unemployment and have poorer health – as tragically seen during the Covid-19 pandemic. They are exposed to racism by their co-citizens (with, in some countries, one third to half the population not wanting to work with Roma colleagues according to a Fundamental Rights Agency survey), and more often victims police brutality. Just in the last couple of months, 14 year old Gabriel Djordjevic was severely beaten by police in Paris, 5 Romani children between 7 and 11 were beaten by police in Slovakia, approximately 20 Romani men and women were beaten by police in Romania and a young man during a police control in the Netherlands.

The pandemic exposed the racial bias of the police even more: Between March and May 2020, Amnesty International documented cases of militarized quarantines of ten Roma settlements in Bulgaria and Slovakia. This disproportionate restriction on freedom of movement that selectively targets ethnic minority groups, without evidence that they represent an objective threat to public health or security, imposes an unnecessary and disproportionate burden on this group and amounts to discrimination.

It is regrettable that 70 years after the adoption of the European Convention of Human Rights and subsequent international and EU standards on equality and anti-discrimination, minorities continue to be racialised, harassed, attacked and killed in Europe because of their innate characteristics. It is scandalous that the EU and national legislative frameworks and state institutions fail to protect them and to educate themselves and the majority populations about historical facts, diversity, compassion and living together as equal human beings.

Looking at the construction, priorities and progress of the European Union, it is safe to claim that European leaders have prioritised economic growth over the protection of the most vulnerable groups in our societies and over ensuring equity of wealth and wellbeing across the world. The strong awakening, protesting and mobilisation of the majority population in times of a global pandemic to the persistent racism and dehumanization and consequences of colonialism, slavery and historic oppression such as the Holocaust is an unprecedented moment in the history of humanity. It speaks to the urgency with which world and European leaders need to take corresponding unprecedented steps to bring about fundamental changes in our society. Only with systemic change can we set up a social contract that ensures justice and equality for all, prioritizing those most marginalised and oppressed to date.

Since the start of the protests, many political figures in Europe have spoken out in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. While we appreciate condemnation of police violence in the US, the EU leadership has not said or done enough to acknowledge and address structural racism and racist police violence in the EU against ethnic and religious minorities. As quoted in the Financial Times on 3 June 2020, European Commission Vice-President Schinas went as far as  saying “I do not think that we have issues now in Europe that blatantly pertain to police brutality or issues of race transcending into our systems.” This is a slap in the face of all victims of police violence in Europe, including many Roma. Member of the European Parliament Pierrette Herzberger Fofana set the record straight when she had the courage to publicly talk about her personal experience with racist police violence at the Gare du Nord in Brussels just a few days after Schinas’ comment.

Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

In a rushed action, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on anti-racism protests (2020/2685(RSP)) on 19 June. It shows that public pressure can work and that the Parliament sees an urgency to react, but failed to appropriately address structural racism in Europe. The title of the resolution is related to the US protests following the death of George Floyd, without a clear intention and focus on structural racism against all racialized minorities in Europe, triggered by events in the US. An immediate reaction and a resolution by the European Parliament requesting an unprecedented response by the European Commission and EU Council like in the case of Covid-19 is still necessary; therefore such a resolution should have focused primarily on EU Members States, Enlargement and Neighborhood Countries and involved Roma and other anti-racist civil society and racialized minorities in drafting it. Structural and institutional racism cannot be tackled without listening to those suffering under it. When it comes to its ambitions, the resolution is asking for an European Anti-Racism Summit, a comprehensive strategy against racism and discrimination and an EU Framework for National Action Plans Against Racism, the creation of a EU Council mechanism for equality and an interinstitutional task force to fight racism and discrimination at EU level.

Following the adoption of the resolution, the all-white European Commission held an internal debate on racism and decided that an “Action Plan to address racial discrimination and Afrophobia” would be prepared by Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli. While we believe this is a too low of a bargain for racialized minorities, we truly hope that this Action Plan on paper will really be followed up by REAL  Action – not just by the EU institutions but also by its Member States and adhering countries, and that it will be prepared in close consultation and at equal level with ALL racialized minorities, including Roma, and CSOs.  

Here are some of our recommendations to the EU institutions and member States.

  • Finally adopt the 10-year old draft of the Horizontal Anti-discrimination Directive
  • Systematically record and publish disaggregated data on hate crime
  • Fully transpose and apply the provisions of the Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia, treating racist and xenophobic motivation as an aggravating circumstance
  • Address ongoing ill-treatment, profiling and over-policing of minorities by police officers.
  • Reform internal policies and working methods in order to ensure a fair representation of minority populations within EU institutions as well as an adequate participation and consultation of minority groups in EU decisions in policies, programmes and funding
  • Commit to an ambitious, comprehensive, and binding EU Strategic Framework for Roma to achieve equality, social and economic justice, and combat antigypsyism.
  • Ensure equitable access to quality inclusive education for all children and invest consistently in raising awareness and adequately teach European societies about their colonial and racist past, including the history of antigypsyism.
  • Define segregation as illegal in housing and in education.
  • Address discrimination of minority groups in employment.
  • Take into account the needs of racialised minorities and define them as a priority in all mainstream policies and measures of the Covid-19 recovery plan; meaningfully involve Roma stakeholders and their civil society organisations in the design, implementation, and monitoring of such recovery plans
  • Ensure funding for equality and fundamental rights of minority groups under the Multi-Annual Framework.

Find here a  detailed briefing paper on the fundamental rights situation in Europe and a full list of our recommendations.

For more information on our work addressing antigypsyism in Europe, please contact Senior Advocacy Officer Isabela Mihalache (i.mihalache@ergonetwork.org).