Is the internet available and safe for Roma?

Is the internet available and safe for Roma?

Throughout the last years, Safer Internet Day on 9 February has become an important event, addressing the issues of online safety and digital dignity. From cyberbullying to social networking to digital identity, each year Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues and current concerns. This year, ERGO Network is highlighting the issues of online safety and digital dignity for Roma.

Online safety for Roma

From an era in which individuals communicated their ideas mostly orally and only to small numbers of other people, we have moved on to an era in which people can make free use of a variety of channels for instant communication to a large audience. More and more people make use of online platforms not only to interact with each other, but also to share news. The detachment created by being enabled to write, without any obligation to reveal oneself directly, means that this new medium of virtual communication allows people to feel greater freedom in the way they express themselves1. Unfortunately, though, there is also a dark side to this system. Social media has become a fertile ground for antigypsyism, which frequently results in the use of insulting and offensive language towards Roma.

Antigypsyist hate speech has always been present in our societies. With the use of social media, however, the phenomenon has achieved a status of normalized online behavior, where Roma are targeted and become victims of cyberhate, which further develops into practices of hate crimes. Hate speech should not be perceived from the prism of an online insult; hate speech is connected to hate crimes, as it directly influences affecting citizens outside of the internet space. It results into violation of the rights of Roma as citizens, causing direct discrimination and threats, and in some cases result in offline violence or hate crimes.

As an example we can pinpoint the recent events in Bitola, North Macedonia towards the Roma community in September and October 2020. In this period hate speech against the Roma community on social networks was drastically intensified, which resulted in the occurrence of several cases of police brutality.2

Being aware of the issue of online antigypsyism3, ERGO Network through the PECAO project aims to counter antigypsyist hate speech online by working with young people, using a combination of peer education and monitoring in order to obtain two-fold results: Peer education to achieve a direct change in attitudes and actions of a high number of young people, and monitoring to contribute to better understanding and a more systemic change of policies through advocacy based on the results.

Digital dignity for Roma

Much has changed with the pandemic and many of us thought that living in the 21st century and with the available technologies adapting would be easy. However, the pandemic made the digital divide and social exclusion of vulnerable communities such as Roma even more visible.

According to the FRA study from 20164, over 40 % of Roma in the EU Member State Bulgaria cannot afford a private computer, smartphone or internet access. With the Covid-19 pandemic, many of these long-standing issues around discrimination, educational exclusion and limited access to new technologies have been brought forward.

Beside all the direct health risks, Covid-19 deepened the existing inequalities and made the questions of poverty and lack of access to proper educational services for Roma children more visible than ever. It made clear that care, respect and human dignity in the digital age for Roma have been forgotten or pushed aside. Digital literacy and access to utilities or technologies cause Roma to be left behind; as Roma with no access to electricity or the internet cannot connect, benefit from online education or online services.

The way forward

When it comes to creating a safer internet space for Roma and ensure digital dignity, ERGO Network believes that we need to work on:

    • Higher awareness of journalists’ ethic commissions on the prevalence and impact of antigypsyist hate speech online, leading to improved self-regulation guidelines.
    • Higher awareness of national equality bodies and other relevant state institutions on the prevalence and impact of antigypsyist hate speech online, leading to better programmes targeting antigypsyism.
    • Stronger adherence by IT companies to the Code of Conduct on countering online hate speech.
    • Better data collection on hate crime and hate speech disaggregated by ethnicity and gender to allow analysis of trends by member states.
    • Stronger condemnation of antigypsyist hate speech in the public discourse.
    • More positive narratives promoted by young people online to counter antigypsyist hate speech.
    • Reducing the digital divide by investing in access to utilities and technologies, thus preventing the exclusion of Roma from the internet space, as well as by creating digital support and literacy programs.

1 Thirty years of research into hate speech: topics of interest and their evolution: Alice Tontodimamma, Eugenia Nissi, Annalina Sarra & Lara Fontanella

2 Hate speech in social media and the impact on the Roma community: Romalitico, Marija Sulejmanova

 

World Social Forum 2021

Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) and the pandemic, its impact and mitigation measures

 

On 26 January, ERGO Network was part of the seminar ‘Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) and the Pandemic, its impact and Mitigation Measures’ under the banner of the World Social Forum 2021.

This year, before the background of an unparalleled pandemic crisis, the seminar centered on the impact of Covid 19 on communities discriminated based on work and descent.

The main concerns of this era on CDWD are the gender dimension and access to justice, escalating with Covid 19 exclusion and lack of access to education. Further, the CDWD are blamed wrongfully for spreading of COVID19,  facing atrocities and violence from other communities. 6 regional and national leaders of CDWD from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America shared their communities’ experiences during this crisis and together determined the impact of livelihood, access to services, and developmental justice during the COVID 19 mitigation measures.

The seminar came up with clear recommendations for social movements, addressed to state authorities across the regions. As these communities( CDWD) are one of the most excluded and segregated groups globally, it is crucial that they are included in the recovery plans of the pandemic.

Gabriela Hrabanova, Director of ERGO presented the impact of Covid 19 on Roma and Traveller’s communities, mentioning that antigypsyism spread considerably during the pandemic. She spoke about the organization’s focus on advocacy towards EU institutions to fight antigypsyism and to create equality for Roma communities.

She stated:

“We want to set a better example for governments by upholding the rule of law and human rights, to fight antigypsyism and to cover Roma in mainstream causes and recovery plans by EU  institutions”.

The World Social Forum is a visible manifestation of global civil society, that seeks international solidarity. It consists of members of the global movement for social and economic justice, meeting annually to endeavor alternative future through promoting counter-hegemonic globalization.

#WeRemember

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021 – ERGO Network statement

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated 27 January as the international commemoration day in memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust.  On 27 January 1945 the Red Army liberated the Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz, where millions of people were murdered. The Roma children, men and women from the so-called “Gypsy Family Camp” in Auschwitz-Birkenau did not live until this liberation day. The last of them, almost 3 000, had been sent to the gas chambers several months prior, on 2 August 1944, as part of the Nazis’ so-called “Final Solution to the Gypsy Question”. Sometimes known as the “Forgotten Holocaust,” the Roma Genocide was excluded from the history of World War II for decades after the end of the war.

Every year on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember all victims of the Holocaust and send a warning to today’s world: Let’s not forget that the Holocaust started with words – words that are still around us today.  Gabriela Hrabanova, Director of ERGO Network states: “Antigypsyism has never stopped and even increased during the pandemic. We cannot allow that once again we and other minorities are scapegoated and our humanity is stripped away. Let us all work together to stop the hate and ensure that history will never be repeated”.

Overdue action against racism by the European Union

PRESS STATEMENT

 Overdue action against racism by the European Union

Brussels 23 September 2020: The European Coalition of Roma and pro-Roma organisations welcomes the adoption of an Action Plan against Racism by the European Commission, providing a framework to address structural racism in the EU, including antigypsyism.  

The Action Plan recognizes the structural dimension of racism and the specific forms of racism affecting different racialised groups in Europe, including Roma. As such, it could become a key tool to support measures against antigypsyism as outlined in the upcoming Framework for Roma equality and inclusion, including in connection with National Action Plans against Racism to be implemented in all EU Member States. It also provides a more comprehensive approach to all forms of racism in Europe and could help to better address structural and intersectional forms of discrimination affecting Roma people. 

Michael Privot from the European Network against Racism: “The fact the action plan recognises the reality of structural racism and provides a comprehensive approach to racism is a major step forward. The plan is also an important tool to build solidarity across racialised groups in the fight against structural racism. We now expect national governments to develop national action plans against racism that are closely connected to Roma inclusion strategies.”

It is timely that Europe learns from its many failures in protecting the most vulnerable within our societies, including the Roma and Travellers, who remain amongst the most discriminated-against groups in Europe. They continue to suffer from unequal access to services in all areas of life, segregation in education and housing, forced evictions, criminalisation of nomadism, destruction of property and halting sites, police violence, hate speech and bias crimes due to structural and systemic antigypsyism”, stated Gabriela Hrabanova from the ERGO Network.

Isidro Rodríguez, Director of Fundación Secretariado Gitano, explains that: “This EU anti racism plan should be the keystone in mitigating the high rates of poverty and marginalisation of Roma triggered by rooted discrimination. For its implementation, it is essential to have Roma and civil society engaged in each Member State“.

We are highly concerned with the damaging impact Covid-19 has had on Roma and Travellers communities and the increasing antigypsyist political discourse and police violence in the member states. With this action plan, the EU should set up stricter funding conditionalities and indicators that guarantee fundamental rights protection”, the European Roma and Travellers Forum stated.

Adriatik Hasantari, Director of Roma Active Albania underlined: “We expect that the Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries closely follow this action plan and develop national action plans to combat racism against Roma and protect fundamental rights more effectively.”

OSEPI welcomes this ambitious initiative from the Commission to combat structural racism across Europe. The action plan includes important steps to provide institutional support for the longstanding work of civil society organisations, along with forthcoming legislation, funding and political commitment to the fight for racial justice. Together with the upcoming EU Framework on Roma equality and inclusion, the action plan could lead the way forward to fight anti-Roma prejudice and all forms of racism, strengthen the equality bodies, and implement equal treatment in the EU member states.” Heather Grabbe, Director of Open Society European Policy Institute.

Despite a number of positive legislative and policy developments in the past decade, many gaps and challenges remain in improving the application of the EU antidiscrimination law and adoption of relevant and useful policies regarding Roma and Travellers throughout EU Member States and Enlargement countries, such as the deeply rooted structural and institutionalised discrimination, the lack of adequate disaggregated data, underreporting of discrimination, lack of trust in authorities, low awareness of rights, a lack of means to access justice and a general lack of political will at national level. At EU level, mechanisms such as infringement proceedings to sanction governments against pervasive discrimination and segregation of Roma children in education have failed to correct the situation.

As Roma and pro-Roma NGOs, we look forward to the adoption of National Action Plans against racism by all EU Member States, Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries in order to effectively address racism against all racialised groups, including by legally recognising various forms of targeted racism, such as antigypsyism, antisemitism, islamophobia and afrophobia.

We also expect that direct links of the Commission Action Plan with all major EU policy developments in the area of equality, non-discrimination and social inclusion of Roma and Travellers are made. Notably, it should be linked to the upcoming Strategic Framework for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation, and the recently adopted European Parliament resolution on the implementation of National Roma Integration Strategies, demanding a legislative act for Roma. It is equally important that the situation of Roma in the Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries is not overlooked in the implementation of the Action Plan.

As we witness that changes in the laws and policies are not sufficient to improve the situation on the ground concretely and effectively, we call on the Commission to use a further reaching and more extensive approach and tools to address deep-rooted stereotypes, negative prejudices and antigypsyism against Roma and Travellers in order to enable a more adequate response from state actors, institutions and citizens at large. This would also require a more inclusive and non paternalistic approach by the Commission and its public servants towards civil society in its daily workings and consultation approaches.

Finally, we welcome the promise by the Commission to review its hiring and staffing policies to increase diversity within. We hope that this will lead to a fairer and more adequate representation of ethnic minorities, including Roma, in EU institutions.

Members signatories:

European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO Network)

European Network against Racism (ENAR)

European Roma Information Office (ERIO)

European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF)

Roma Active Albania (RAA)

Phiren Amenca International Network

Fundación Secretariado Gitano (FSG)

Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (REDI)

Central Council of German Sinti and Roma

Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI)

For further information, contact:

Jamen Gabriela Hrabanova, ERGO Network: g.hrabanova@ergonetwork.org, Tel: +32(0)489 97 47 53

2 August – Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma

“75 years since liberation and a lesson unlearnt! Antigypsyism is still alive and present in our society.”

On 2 August 1944, over 4,300 Sinti and Roma were murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were taken during the night from their barracks to the gas chamber by SS guards, who only months earlier had been driven back by the fierce resistance of the Romani prisoners fighting with nothing but picks and shovels. Every year on this tragic day, Sinti and Roma around the world come together to commemorate the more than 500,000 Romani people who were murdered in camps, fields, and unmarked trenches all across Europe during WWII. 

Although Roma have been part of Europe for centuries, our narratives and contributions to European societies remain largely ignored and on the margins of what European history should be representing, namely united through diversity.

75 years have passed since the end of World War II, but children are still not learning about the Sinti and Roma Holocaust in school. Historical facts about the persecution of Romani people throughout centuries remain unknown and ignored by governments, the media and society at large. The historical responsibility for seeking the truth and reconcile, to recognize what has been done to the Sinti and Roma is only very slowly being taken up by governments.

The lessons of World War II are unlearnt when it comes to the Roma. We are still facing antigypsyism, discrimination, hate speech and exclusion. Prejudices and stereotypes related to our ethnicity remain the primary obstacle in our efforts for an equal start and treatment and in the exercise of our fundamental rights and obligations.

Europe is facing a real challenge to respond to the rise of antigypsyism, which is accelerating in the current crisis.  Roma in Europe are more likely to live in poverty than the majority population, have a higher risk of unemployment and have poorer health. They are exposed to racism (with, in some countries, one third to half the population not wanting to work with Roma colleagues), and are more often victims of police brutality. Locked in ghettos supposedly due to Covid-19 safety measures, we became even more targets of populism and hatred, largely ignored by policymakers in Europe.

Today, with the rise of racism and far-right movements across Europe and the world, raising awareness of the Roma Holocaust is urgently necessary. We need recognition, remembrance and commemoration of the Sinti and Roma Holocaust in order to learn for the future by remembering the past, and we need to act in the presence to prevent the past from ever happening again in the future. Ignorance and denial of the Holocaust of Roma and Sinti, as of any other event in the history of a nation, prevents opportunities to learn about each other, from each other; and to set out together on a path of mutual trust, respect and understanding.

This is our world; we must avoid that it is becoming a community of fear and hatred, instead we should strive to be a proud and equal society of mutual respect of all!

On the occasion of the commemoration of the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, we as ERGO Network join the efforts of the European Roma Holocaust Remembrance Coalition and call on governments and the international community to:

  • Formally recognize the 2nd August as the official Holocaust Memorial Day for Sinti and Roma;
  • Build, honor and preserve monuments and memorial sites dedicated to the Sinti and Roma victims of the Holocaust;
  • Invest into museums, research centers and other institutions dedicated to Roma Holocaust, Roma History and Roma Culture;
  • Make Roma history and culture part of educational curricula and textbook;
  • Acknowledge antigypsyism as a specific form of racism targeting Roma communities and adapt diverse preventive and reactive tools to fight it.