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The situation of Roma in Europe and relevant activities of the Council of Europe

Committee Opinion | Doc. 12207 | 13 April 2010

(Former) Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population
Rapporteur :
Ms Nursuna MEMECAN, Turkey, ALDE
Reference to Committee: Doc. 11206, reference 3340 of 20 April 2007. Reporting committee : Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. See Doc 12174. Opinion approved on 30 March 2010. 2010 - Second part-session

A Conclusions of the committee

1. Roma have a history of migration. They have often had to migrate to survive in a hostile world. Being confronted with persecution, discrimination and lack of understanding, since arriving in Europe centuries ago, Roma have been forced to regularly change domicile, looking for a place where they can settle without being immediately pushed away. This necessity is unfortunately still there today. In some cases there is even a need for Roma to move within or from Europe in order to seek asylum from persecution.
2. Roma also travel for commercial reasons, following markets, fairs or the agricultural seasons or in order to maintain relations with family that might be dispersed as far apart as Norway, Spain, Ireland or the Ukraine. Due to assimilation policies and the vanishing of traditional Roma forms of trade, today only an estimated 10% of Roma travel on a regular basis, predominantly in western Europe. Thus, only a small percentage can be said to lead a non-sedentary life. This, however, has not changed the Roma mindset with regard to travel. For many Roma, travel is a subjective as well as an objective reality, a common spirit, a state of mind.
3. The committee welcomes the strong and unequivocal report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and the constructive proposals that are put forward. The committee subscribes to the conclusions of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, including that monitoring of implementation at local level and a holistic and concerted approach is necessary to improve the situation of Roma, and that enhanced access to housing and education for Roma is of crucial importance.
4. The committee notes that in its report, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has explicitly left out the field of Roma migration and asylum, in view of the report on this topic to be prepared by the committee (see Motion for a recommendation “Roma asylum seekers in Council of Europe member states”, Doc. 12073).
5. In its report, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights rightly focuses on the deplorable and unacceptable outburst of violence against Roma in some Council of Europe member states and also addresses some of the causes of these tragic events. An effect of the pogroms have been that many Roma have been forced, in a climate of fear, to flee to other countries in order to seek asylum there.
6. When fleeing from one EU member state to another, Roma asylum seekers are confronted by EU legislation which provides that in asylum matters, all EU member states shall be considered “safe countries of origin” in respect of each other. Consequently, a citizen of one EU member state may as a rule not be granted refugee protection, or complementary protection, in another EU member state, save for in certain exceptional circumstances.
7. Whereas, for example, Roma from Bulgaria, Hungary or Romania have for this reason been refused asylum in EU countries, 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. Some 40% of them were granted refugee status. In 2009, applications lodged by Czech Roma in Canada exceeded 1 000. Also around 1 000 Hungarian Roma have sought protection in Canada during 2008 and 2009. In 2009, the Canadian authorities imposed visa requirements for Czech citizens, and have recently indicated that they will consider doing so also in respect of Hungarian citizens.
8. For many Roma who are EU citizens, to simply use their right to movement within the EU in order to escape violence and threat of violence is not an option. The EU Citizens 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 fulfil these requirements.
9. In view of the EU legislation described above, and the fact that violence against Roma has largely occurred in EU member states, it is urgently required that the EU takes measures to address the situation, in terms both of law and, if under its competence and mindful of the principle of subsidiarity, of fact.
10. Roma who are forced to flee their home country therefore find themselves in a state of limbo with the options being to seek asylum in a country outside the EU, to become irregular migrants, or to go back and face persecution.
11. Furthermore, a pressing issue that needs to be addressed is the return of Roma refugees to Kosovo.NoteThere are indications that many thousands of Roma are awaiting return to Kosovo from western European countries that are in the process of concluding readmission agreements with Kosovo. Following his visit to Kosovo on 11 to 13 February 2010, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, called on European states to stop the forced returns until Kosovo is able to provide adequate living conditions, health care, schooling, social services and employment.
12. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights highlights the fact that Roma often lack personal documents. This effectively deprives Roma of access to social benefits and property. This problem effects many Roma migrants and returnees.
13. In all the problematic fields to which the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights draws attention, Roma that are at the same time migrants face additional difficulties due to their possible lack of citizenship and language skills and the general marginalisation that migrants often face. This issue remains, whether the Roma concerned are regular or irregular migrants, refugees or asylum seekers. In all the social dimensions – housing, health care, employment and education – member states should be urged to specifically consider the needs of Roma migrants.
14. One of the important objectives of the Council of Europe is to promote diversity in society. This aim should be kept in mind when trying to integrate Roma and Roma migrants. Roma migrants should be allowed to exercise and develop their culture, language and lifestyle. This implies a need for knowledge, flexibility and goodwill on the part of the responsible authorities.
15. The committee would finally like to draw attention to an exemplary project in Turkey honouring the Roma. The Turkish Government invited representatives of the Roma community to face-to-face talks with the State Minister Faruk Celik, identifying the haves and wants of the Roma community to be further addressed. Based on this and further genuine consultations, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, launched the project. On 14 March 2010, he addressed 15 000 Roma from all around Turkey invited to Istanbul to a festive gathering in a stadium. There was much joy and mutual appreciation during the festive event. The aim is to radically improve the conditions for Roma in Turkey and to change the way the public relate to Roma. The project will include measures of positive action aimed at enhancing the opportunities of Roma, such as free transport to schools, special support for studies, and improving housing conditions as well as measures to eradicate discrimination against the Roma. This is a unique project in Europe.
16. Whilst emphasising its support for the draft recommendation tabled by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population proposes some amendments to the draft resolution.

B Proposed amendments to the draft resolution

Amendment A (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 15.8. as follows:

“base all action intended to improve the situation of Roma, at every stage of the process, on prior and genuine consultation with the Roma themselves;”

Amendment B (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 15.9. as follows:

“consider taking positive action in order to combat discrimination and to improve the opportunities of Roma, in particular in the fields of education and employment, and would expect the Roma to accept that they fulfil all obligations to have an education;”

Amendment C (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 15.10. as follows:

“enhance communication, understanding and respect between Roma and non-Roma in society with a view to eradicate racism, xenophobia, discrimination and exclusion;”

Amendment D (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 15.11. as follows:

“tackle hate speech vis-à-vis Roma, whether occurring in the media, politics or in civil society;”

Amendment E (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 15.12 as follows:

“take firm measures to prosecute all perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations against Roma;”

Amendment F (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 15.13 as follows:

“promote the exercise and development of Roma culture, language and lifestyle using for instance the Roma Cultural Route developed by the Council of Europe;”

Amendment G (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 15.14 as follows:

“take special measures to afford protection to Roma asylum seekers who have fled racist violence, to ensure that EU citizens have the possibility to rebut the presumption of safety that applies in respect of EU member states, and not to return Roma to Kosovo until the UNHCR has confirmed that the situation there has sufficiently improved in terms of security and access to social rights;”

Amendment H (to the draft resolution)

Add a new paragraph 25, as follows:

“The Assembly encourages member states to apologise for past injustice and sufferings to the Roma community, if they have not already done so