The Future of Roma in Europe: Combating Antigypsyism in the Face of Rising Far-Right Trends and European Elections

The Future of Roma in Europe: Combating Antigypsyism in the Face of Rising Far-Right Trends and European Elections

International Roma Day 2024 marks not only a celebration of Roma culture and heritage—as it will often be seen and carried out by national governments and international institutions—but, most importantly, a critical moment to reflect on the ongoing challenges Roma, Sinti, and Travellers across Europe face.

This year, the International Day marks the launch of the Romani Week 2024, a yearly event coordinated in Brussels by the ERGO Network for civil society organisations, European institutions, and other international and intergovernmental organisations. It aims to raise awareness of the situation of Roma, Sinti, and Travellers in Europe. All relevant stakeholders, including Roma representatives and European youth, attend the event. This time, it coincides with a pivotal moment in European politics — the upcoming European elections. The voices and rights of marginalised communities, including Roma, are at stake amidst the rise of far-right movements and the looming shadow of antigypsyism.

The director of ERGO Network Gabriela Hrabanova commented that in recent years, Europe has witnessed a surge in anti-racism movements spurred by initiatives like Black Lives Matter:

“However, paradoxically, this surge has been accompanied by the ominous rise of far-right ideologies and xenophobic sentiments across the continent. These trends manifest not only in street-level bigotry but also in the corridors of power, with far-right political groups gaining ground and threatening to reshape the European political landscape.”

At the heart of these challenges lies the pervasive issue of antigypsyism — an entrenched form of racism and discrimination specifically targeting Roma. Despite efforts at the European level to address this systemic injustice, progress remains obstructed by the lack of political will and fragmented policies across member states. National Roma Strategic Frameworks often falter in implementation, leaving Roma communities vulnerable to social exclusion and marginalisation.

Against this backdrop, Romani Week 2024 emerges as a dialogue, advocacy, and action platform. Its objectives are clear: to foster discussions on political, economic, and human rights changes in Europe and ensure that Roma, Sinti, and Travellers are not sidelined in these conversations. By amplifying our voices and experiences, Romani Week aims to compel policymakers to prioritise the equality, inclusion, and participation of Roma communities across all spheres of society.

Key topics on the agenda include the alarming threats posed by antigypsyism and structural discrimination, the imperative of promoting Roma participation in decision-making processes, and the urgent need to monitor and implement National Roma Strategic Frameworks effectively. Moreover, Romani Week will advocate for truth and reconciliation processes to confront historical injustices and pave the way for a more equitable future.

Today on International Roma Day – a day when our voices are heard probably a little louder than usual – let us reaffirm our commitment to combatting antigypsyism and advancing the rights of Roma, Sinti, and Travellers. Let us harness the power of collective action to challenge bigotry, dismantle systemic barriers, and build a Europe where every individual, regardless of ethnicity or background, can thrive and flourish. In the upcoming European elections, let us vote with empathy, solidarity, and inclusivity, ensuring that the voices of Roma communities are counted in shaping the future of our continent.

Welcome to our Project Coordinator

Welcome to our new team member

The ERGO Network secretariat is growing! We welcome Marko Pecak, a new team member who joined as the Project Coordinator for Jekhipe.

Within the ERGO Secretariat, Marko has the following responsibilities:

  • Coordination of the Jekhipe project
  • Work on anti-discrimination and antigypsyism files
  • Coordination of transitional justice initiatives

Read more about Marko in his own words:

“My family’s determination and persistence as Romani refugees in the United States is the heart of my motivation for a policy and research career centred on Roma inclusion and anti-racism.

With nearly a decade of experience in research, policy analysis, advocacy, and project management focused on Roma inclusion, combating antigypsyism, and general anti-racism, I am pleased to join the ERGO network as the Project Coordinator for the Jekhipe Project.

I managed and conducted a series of projects on the representation of Roma in European textbooks and Romani Holocaust education. As the Research Officer at Roma Education Fund, I collaborated with the Council of Europe and the Georg Eckert Institute. I led a team of eight researchers to analyze over 850 textbooks.

The efforts highlighted the prevailing representation and discourses surrounding Roma culture, identity, and history within the educational system. Through an independent research study, I explored the representation of the Romani Holocaust in European textbooks with two colleagues. Through critical discourse analysis, we unearth that textbook representations mirror broader societal discourses and may reinforce Roma exclusion.

As an independent research, policy, and evaluation consultant for the last two years, I worked with clients on various projects on inclusion and anti-racism. One of those projects was for ERGO, where I evaluated the state of grassroots-focused funding approaches for Roma inclusion. Additionally, I have spent this time conducting project evaluations for Lumos Transforms, a prominent Los Angeles-based social enterprise committed to promoting anti-discrimination through a trauma-informed and resilience-oriented approach.

I am excited to leverage my policy analysis experience in the Jekhipe project’s goal of promoting transitional justice and supporting ERGO’s efforts in combating antigypsyism. I am committed to building collaborative partnerships, driving impactful initiatives, and influencing positive change.

Outside work, I enjoy walking and hiking with my dog Malna, riding motorcycles, relaxing at coffee shops, camping, and all the other basic outdoor stuff.”

On International Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day (8th of March), Roma women stand alongside women worldwide. While the day is often marked by celebration, we come together not just for celebrations but to raise our voices and demand change.

The Roma women, especially the young women of our communities, are powerful agents for Change. We fight for education, economic opportunities, and a voice to be heard within our families, communities, and society. We challenge traditional gender roles and advocate for equality. We face the double burden of discrimination: one based on ethnicity from society and another based on gender within our communities.

Yet, we stand in solidarity with all women on this day and every day. Let us share our achievements, amplify each other’s voices, and break down the barriers that hold us back. Together, we can create a world where all women, regardless of ethnicity, colour, religion, or sexual orientation, can succeed in a just and equal society.

(by Siljana Hyseni)

New European Solidarity Corps volunteer in ERGO Network

Welcome Siljana!

The ERGO Network Secretariat team is growing! This winter a new European Solidarity Corps volunteer Siljana Hyseni from Albania joined us in Brussels.

She will stay with us until the end of April to learn more about how we work and support all our work areas.

Here is more about Siljana in her own words:

I am a Roma woman from Albania with a strong interest in working for civil society. From a young age, as a volunteer, I joined different Roma-led NGOs, which significantly impacted my academic endeavours and equipped me with a unique perspective on human rights, social justice, and the fight against antigypsyism.

Completing a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Political Science from New York University in Tirana has equipped me with a thorough understanding of global challenges, the importance of intercultural communication, and the necessity of social justice. Throughout my academic journey, I have explored in depth the role of international organisations in conflict resolution and the rights of marginalised communities.

My passion for social justice led me to focus on the impact of armed conflicts on Roma refugees, a group often overlooked and marginalised in times of war. I am particularly interested in shedding light on their experiences and advocating for their rights as they face unjust treatment and discrimination in their search for safety and refuge.

I firmly believe that change starts at the grassroots level, and I am committed to being a voice for those whose voices are often silenced. My goal is to continue advocating for the rights and dignity of the Roma minority, working towards a society where everyone, regardless of their background, has equal opportunities and access to justice.

I am excited to continue this journey of advocacy and empowerment, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the work of ERGO Network. Being at ERGO Network, I have the chance to engage and gain a European perspective on the challenges faced by the Roma minority.

Ukrainian Roma Refugee Odyssey in Central and Eastern Europe

Challenges and Urgent Needs: Ukrainian Roma Refugee Odyssey in Central and Eastern Europe

Today marks two years since the beginning of the war in Ukraine on 24 February. Since the very beginning, ERGO Network has been supporting Ukrainian Roma both in Ukraine and abroad as they sought refuge in other countries in Europe. The war triggered a migration crisis of a proportion Europe was not prepared for: among the 5 million Ukrainian refugees, approximately 100,000 Roma individuals. From that very first day, through our work with our member organisation, Roma Women Fund Chiricli, we have followed the journeys of many Ukrainian Roma, setting up emergency funds and providing money for food, medicine or petrol to individuals and families.

In the true spirit of ERGO Network, our work on Ukraine started from the very grassroots and scaled up in those two difficult years into a fully-fledged line of work, with the support of EPIM and other smaller grants. Today, on this sad anniversary, we would like to share with you one of the results of this work: the Monitoring Report of the Situation of Ukrainian Roma Refugees in Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia. Our member organisations and associates brought it together, painting the big picture with the brushstrokes of individual interviews and research analysis.

The focus of this crisis goes beyond sheer numbers. In Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Moldova, and Slovakia, Roma refugees from Ukraine face enduring discrimination rooted in cultural-historical issues, presenting challenges not commonly encountered by other refugees. Discrimination takes various forms, hindering access to crucial resources like housing, employment, information, and support services.

Despite the implementation of Temporary Protection (TP) and subsequent enhancements, the vulnerabilities of the Roma community within refugee populations persist. Cultural differences, discrimination, and limited education continue to shape their journey, resulting in subpar conditions and ongoing challenges.

The report, drawing from diverse data sources and covering the period until June 2023, provides a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by Roma refugees in these countries. It underscores the imperative for sustained attention and targeted interventions to address the unique challenges confronted by the Roma refugee community.

Major Findings: A Closer Look

The Roma refugee crisis unfolded in two distinct periods, with concrete measures taken by individual countries crucial for understanding and addressing challenges specific to the Roma community. Across Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Moldova, and Slovakia, multifaceted challenges rooted in cultural-historical issues permeate crucial aspects like housing, employment, and support services.

In Poland, the collective approach of Roma refugees seeking security exacerbates challenges for activists facing substantial personal, financial, and societal pressures due to antigypsyism. Hungary grapples with historical racial marginalisation, necessitating a comprehensive strategy to address prolonged shelter stays and align with EU guidelines.

The Czech Republic views Roma refugees mainly as transient, demanding urgent attention for their long-term integration. Despite a robust legal framework, Romania confronts housing, education, employment, and healthcare challenges. Moldova contends with persistent disparities, emphasising the need for concerted efforts to bridge gaps in access to services, combat discrimination, and enhance advocacy initiatives.

The Slovak Republic, while actively assisting Ukrainian refugees, highlights instances of bias and challenges faced by Roma families. Slovakia’s legal framework and support measures reveal areas where targeted interventions are crucial to address discrimination and ensure equitable treatment for all refugees, including the Roma community.

Persisting Challenges Despite Efforts

While certain aspects, such as advancements in legal frameworks and increased awareness, offer positive aspects, socioeconomic problems, discrimination, and barriers to employment persist. ERGO Network Coordinator for Ukraine Dejan Markovic criticised the ‘colour-blind’ approach of service providers exacerbates the situation, overlooking institutional antigypsyism and challenges faced by the Roma refugee community:

“Ukrainian Roma refugees, forced to flee conflict and persecution, face not only the challenges of displacement but also the risks of discrimination and marginalisation in their quest for safety and stability.”

Increased awareness regarding the discrimination faced by Roma refugees has prompted advocacy and awareness campaigns, fostering improved understanding and collaboration among stakeholders. Yet, the prolonged armed conflict has intensified challenges within Roma communities, affecting socioeconomic indicators and hindering access to essential services.

Persistent barriers to employment, particularly for Roma women, highlight ongoing challenges. Limited educational access and language barriers remain formidable obstacles, indicating the need for targeted interventions.

Discrimination against Roma refugees, particularly in Central and Eastern European countries, remains pronounced. The report emphasises the imperative for targeted interventions, ongoing monitoring, and adaptive strategies to address the distinct challenges faced by the Roma refugee community.

Recommendations for International organisations

Recommendations put forth in the report include implementing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, streamlining asylum processes, providing free legal counselling, launching public awareness campaigns, ensuring equitable healthcare access, offering language and integration classes, developing job placement and vocational training programs, supporting NGOs, fostering collaboration, and establishing data collection and monitoring mechanisms.

The report recommends sustaining and evolving collaborative efforts for international organisations, emphasising the importance of ongoing engagement with the Roma Coordination Group and incorporating contributions from thematic meetings conducted by UN WOMEN.

For the European Union, the report urges heightened awareness, the universal application of the Temporary Protection Directive, and the adoption of promising initiatives observed in certain EU countries. A multifaceted approach at the EU and national levels is recommended, encompassing legal frameworks, streamlined asylum processes, culturally sensitive services, public awareness campaigns, and financial support for NGOs.

For the past two years, we have worked jointly with our member organisations and independent Roma researchers to create a comprehensive analysis of the so-called bigger picture by bringing the perspective of the grassroots and connecting and empowering them. It is not in our power to stop the war. Still, we hope this report serves as a compelling call to action, stressing the need for sustained efforts to ensure the inclusion and well-being of the Roma refugee community in the broader European context.

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General – ERGO Network

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