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2005 – A new year of discrimination against Europe’s Roma

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Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has highlighted its serious concern at the continuing high level of incidents of racism and violence against Roma communities and apparent lack of progress of measures to address a ‘Europe-wide epidemic’ of discrimination. Reports have demonstrated examples of the murder of Roma by police, destruction of Roma houses, extreme racism against Roma in school textbooks and discriminatory policies to prevent Roma from travelling legally and entering countries including the UK. MRG described the continuing failure to confront racism as ‘a source of shame for all European states’.

MRG’s comments, condemning the continuing violation of Roma rights, follow a December 2004 House of Lords decision that the UK Government was guilty of ‘inherently and systematically discriminatory’ practices against Roma. The decision, highlighted by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), found that the UK Government had pursued a deliberately racist policy when screening passengers travelling from Prague Airport in the Czech Republic from 2001. The overwhelming number of those prevented from travelling were Roma, who were found to be 400 times more likely to be refused entry to the UK than non-Roma, based on the assumption that they were more likely to claim asylum in the UK. The House of Lords ruled that the practice was illegal under both domestic and international anti-discrimination law.

In early January 2005 reports from Albanian Roma told of attacks against Roma and destruction of Roma homes with the complicity of government officials and police. Officials were described as displaying ‘open racism and xenophobia against the Roma People’ and acting under alleged government ‘policies of exterminating the Albanian Roma’. One reported incident involved a night-time ‘assault’ on a Romani shanty-town by Tirana police which left a 22 year old Roma man, Dritan Hashimi, dead. The community claim that Mr Hashimi died from wounds inflicted during the police assault. According to the Albanian Roma, they continue to lack any access to the Albanian press, or representation in political parties or parliament.

MRG also received information in December 2004 regarding anti-Roma racism is popular Russian textbooks intended for secondary school students. The textbook ‘Basics of Private Security’ was commissioned by the Russian Federation, Ministry of Education. The textbook states that: ‘Touching the homeless and Gypsies, their clothes, their hands, the objects they have been using, even the place where they sat or lay (in the metro or in underground passages)… infection is possible with pediculosis, gastric and enteric diseases, respiratory virus diseases, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, grippe, syphilis, spotted typhus’. MRG points out that it has also drawn to the attention of the Government of Turkey and the European Union, anti-Roma language in current school textbooks available in Turkey.

MRG spokesperson, Graham Fox, stated: ‘Continuing racism and discrimination against Roma communities is widespread throughout Europe and manifests itself in almost every imaginable form. This situation is unacceptable in a Europe which in 2005 marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, of which Roma themselves are the often forgotten victims. This should be considered a source of shame for all European states’.

MRG has proposed wide reform to address the rights of Roma and combat discrimination against them under seven broad principles: education, equality of treatment, the need for comprehensive approaches at the international level, the need for Roma participation, non-discrimination, the recognition of identity and the right to self-designation.

Notes for editors

Download MRG’s report ‘Roma/Gypsies: A European Minority‘.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

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