Over the last two decades, Roma and related groups – often described as Europe’s forgotten people – have left their countries in Eastern and Central Europe to seek asylum in other parts of Europe and the world. Due to the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, many tens of thousands of Roma left their countries. As a result of the conflict in Kosovo about 120 000 Roma had to leave Kosovo.Note Recently, a wave of violence against Roma entailing eight deaths and many injured have swept the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. Many hundred of Roma from the Czech Republic have been granted asylum in Canada as a result. Those who have sought asylum in European Union member states have, however, been denied protection. The EU Qualification Directive provides that EU member states shall be regarded as "safe countries of origin" with regard to claims of persecution. The Assembly should propose action aimed at dealing with the issue of Roma asylum seekers. All action must be prepared and undertaken in consultation and cooperation with the Roma themselves.
Many thousands of Roma asylum seekers from Kosovo are still living in neighbouring countries or in Western Europe either with some form of protection or as “tolerated”. They are now threatened by return. The UNHCR has stated that it is not safe to return Roma and related groups to Kosovo. The reason is that there are lingering adverse feelings among the majority population vis-à-vis Roma, who normally speak Serbian and who are often accused of having collaborated with the Serbian forces. Moreover, both in Kosovo and Serbia proper, the social situation for Roma is such that returns cannot be expected to be sustainable. The Council of Europe and its member states should work to find a durable solution for these Roma whose security and human dignity would be threatened if returned to Kosovo or Serbia proper.
Over the last few years, Roma in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have been the targets of racist violence. Many of the attacks have been aimed at families and children and have included firebombing, shooting, stabbing and beating. During 2007-2009 eight Roma have been killed through this form of racist violence in the countries mentioned six of whom in Hungary alone. This wave of violence has led to a climate of fear which has forced many Roma to leave their countries in order to apply for asylum in other countries, some of which are member states of the European Union (EU).
EU legislation provides that all EU member states shall be considered “safe countries of origin” in respect of each other in asylum matters. Consequently, a citizen of one EU member state may not be granted refugee protection, or complementary protection, in another EU member state. Whereas Roma from Hungary have been refused asylum in France, Roma from the Czech Republic and Hungary have sought and been granted asylum in Canada. In 2008, 860 Roma from the Czech Republic applied for asylum in Canada. 40% of them were granted refugee status. For the first half of 2009, the number of asylum applications lodged by Czech Roma in Canada had already exceeded 1 000. Also around 1 000 Hungarian Roma have sought protection in Canada during 2008 and 2009.
To simply use their right to movement within the EU is not an option for many Roma. The so-called EU Citizen Directive sets out that every EU-citizen has the right to reside in any EU member state during a period of three months without any other requirement than a valid passport. For longer periods of stay, the person concerned must be able to show that he or she has certain financial resources or employment. A majority of Roma asylum seekers cannot fulfill these requirements. Roma who are forced to flee their home country therefore find themselves in a state of limbo with the remaining options being to seek asylum in a country outside the EU, to become irregular migrants, or to go back and face persecution.
The wave of violence which now threatens life and limb and property of many Roma is closely connected to social exclusion, discrimination and racism that they continue to face in Europe and while much has been written and is being written on this including by the Parliamentary Assembly, there is not up to date current analysis of the situation of Roma asylum seekers in Europe.
In view of the above, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should: