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Roma part of #BlackLivesMatter

Thursday, 09 July 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
© Mugur Varzariu

On 25 May 2020 George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. 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 everywhere.

Across the world, people have started to take down statues of racist figures. A global Black Lives Matter movement is surging alongside wider anti-racist movements in an attempt to restore centuries of injustice for people of African descent, but also to call out structural racism against all ethnic and racialised minorities.

As European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO) we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and we say it loud and clear: In Europe, Black and Brown Lives Matter!

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.

Roma 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 discrimination, segregation and racism by their co-citizens and more often victims of police brutality.

In the last couple of months, 14-year-old Gabriel Djordjevic in Paris, 5 Romani children between 7 and 11 in Slovakia, approximately 20 Romani men and women in Romania and a young Roma man in the Netherlands were all severely beaten by police, just to name some examples.

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, without evidence that they represent an objective threat to public health or security.

It is regrettable that 70 years after the adoption of the European Convention of Human Rights minorities continue to be harassed and killed. It is scandalous that the EU and state institutions fail to protect them and to educate themselves and the majority populations about historical facts, compassion and living together as equal human beings.

Looking at the construction and progress of the European Union, it is safe to claim that European leaders have prioritised economic growth over the protection of most discriminated groups and over ensuring equity of wealth and wellbeing across the world.

The strong awakening and mobilisation of the majority population to the persistent racism and dehumanization of minorities and consequences of colonialism, slavery and genocide such as the Holocaust is an unprecedented moment in history. It speaks to the urgency with which world and European leaders need to take unprecedented steps to bring about fundamental changes that ensure justice and equality for all.

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 address structural racism and racist police violence in the EU.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas has reportedly said, “I don’t think that we have issues in Europe that blatantly pertain to police brutality or issues of race transcending into our systems.” This is a slap in the face of victims of police violence in Europe, including many Roma. MEP Pierrette Herzberger Fofana set the record straight when she talked about her personal experience with racist police violence in Brussels just a few days after Schinas’ comment.

In a rushed action, the European Parliament adopted on 19 June a Resolution on the anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd (2020/2685(RSP). The resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 493 votes in favour, 104 against and 67 abstentions. It shows that public pressure can work and we welcome that the Parliament saw an urgency to react.

We ask ourselves however why we had to wait for protests in the US to trigger a response to the gravity of racism that we witness every day in Europe. While the resolution acknowledges racism and police violence in the EU, the title of the resolution is related to the US protests. Instead, such a resolution should have focused primarily on the EU and involved Roma and other anti-racist civil society and racialised minorities in drafting it. Structural and institutional racism cannot be tackled without listening to those suffering under it.

Following the adoption of the resolution, the 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 Helena Dalli. While we believe this is a too low of a bargain for racialized minorities, we hope that the Action Plan will be followed up by real action and that it will be prepared in close consultation with all racialized minorities, including Roma.

At her hearing in the Parliament, Helena Dalli promised that the integration of Roma in Europe will remain a priority for the new European Commission. As an organization representing the Roma grassroots in Europe, we issued a list of recommendations to the European Commission to take into account in their Action Plan. This includes:

– Systematically recording disaggregated data on hate crime

– Fully applying the provisions of the Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia

– Addressing ill-treatment, profiling and over-policing of minorities by police officers.

– Ensuring a fair representation of minorities in public and EU institutions and decision-making

– Committing to a comprehensive, and binding EU Strategic Framework for Roma prioritising antigypsyism and social and economic justice

– Investing in teaching European societies about their colonial and racist past, including the history of antigypsyism

– Defining segregation as illegal in housing and education and addressing discrimination of minority groups in employment

– Prioritising the needs of racialised minorities in all mainstream policies and measures of the EU Covid-19 recovery plan

– Ensuring funding for equality and fundamental rights under the new Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF)

Find here ERGO Network’s briefing paper on the fundamental rights situation in Europe and the full list of recommendations.

By Christine Sudbrock and Isabela Mihalache