Living in a State of Statelessness

Somewhere to call home. It’s a modest ambition, or so you might think. For many thousands of Roma in Europe however, this is gradually becoming sheer fantasy. Romani families hailing from the Balkans suffered dearly alongside many non-Romani families in the atrocities of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. Hundreds perished and many of those who were fortunate enough to survive, did so in foreign countries as refugees.

Families were integrated into their new surroundings to varying levels of success. Some found employment, education and a new life much happier than what they had left behind in the fractured, war-torn former Yugoslavia. Others toiled for a living in Western Europe amid discrimination and a feeling of disorientation.

Our 2009 film ‘Views from the Ground’ depicts the grim reality of past, present and future for the Roma of the former Yugoslavia:

In recent years, as part of the former Yugoslav states’ drive to join the European Union, Romani families have been returning in big numbers against their will as part of repatriation policies in several Western European countries. Some of those returning are children, who have never seen the likes of Kosovo or Macedonia, the destinations for the majority of deportees.

European Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, has repeatedly expressed concern for these developments and the widespread statelessness among the Roma in Europe as they are moved from one country to another without any consideration for their own interests or well being.

On November 22, he released a statement in response to the Republic of Macedonia‘s adoption of strict border control regulations aimed at stopping visa-free travel to the EU for many of its citizens. Hammarberg was particularly alarmed by the singling out of Roma implied by the tough new legislation.

Hammraberg stated: “Many of those who have moved and sought asylum within the EU have done so on their own initiative and because of a genuine experience of physical and/or economic insecurity. They have wanted to get away from injustices and/or poverty and abject misery. The fact that the Roma are overrepresented in this category only reflects their real situation in the region.”

He then went on to describe the pitiful picture being painted across Europe with a feeling of reluctance becoming widespread when it comes to accommodating or assisting asylum seekers or deportees. Again, he identified the Roma as particularly vulnerable in this respect.

“The increase in asylum applications in some countries is a symptom rather than the core problem. It represents another sign that Europe has failed to break the cycle of anti-Gypsyism, discrimination and marginalization of Roma populations. It should be seen as a reminder that serious action is overdue.”

You can read the whole statement here – Thomas Hammarberg speaks out