Tuesday

31st Mar 2020

Opinion

Roma statelessness in Europe is not an accident

Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights next year, the United Nations Human Rights Office is encouraging everyone to "stand up for human rights".

In Europe, we are good at spotlighting human rights abuses outside our borders, yet as we approach this year's Human Rights Day on 10 December, we should take a hard look at what is happening inside our borders and acknowledge that for many, these rights remain little more than words on a piece of paper.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

This remains tragically true for my community, the Roma living in Europe. Discriminated against for centuries, our situation has barely improved.

While I have the chance to practice my rights, many Roma are not as fortunate and many continue to be at significant risk of statelessness. This means that they are trapped without any documentation to prove their right to a nationality and therefore often without access to basic rights such as healthcare, housing or education.

At a meeting in the European Parliament on Wednesday (29 November), we, a cross-party group of MEPs, called on our governments and the European Commission to finally focus attention on the problem of statelessness among Roma and to discuss concrete steps to solve it.

This state of affairs has no place in 21st century Europe.

Agreed in December 1948, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that: "Everyone has the right to a nationality".

Yet living without a nationality and rights is a harsh reality for thousands of Roma in Europe.

Not only do policymakers need to take steps to address this issue in the European Union, but it should also become a priority for the commission and the parliament during EU enlargement negotiations. These can be a powerful leverage to get things moving in the right direction.

Verbal discrimination

One of the challenges when discussing statelessness is that the term itself can unwittingly evoke an image of people who are in some way 'outsiders,' even when the people in question were born and have lived their whole lives in Europe.

Indeed, statelessness is often not an accident, but a logical outcome of discrimination.

MEPs from all parties have shown their support for this view and the need for change by voting to adopt a report that sets out the undeniable link between statelessness and anti-gypsyism: Fundamental rights aspects in Roma integration in the EU: fighting anti-gypsyism.

Statelessness is also a problem many believe Europe solved a long time ago, but, for example, Roma children born in Italy to parents who fled there during the Balkan wars still face the scourge of growing up stateless, even though their families have been living there for decades.

In Romania, around 15,000 Roma are estimated to lack birth certificates, which puts them at risk of statelessness and struggling to obtain identification documents and access basic services.

Accession talks

Outside the EU in the Western Balkans, new research has revealed that complex civil registration procedures hinder access to crucial documents and are a leading cause of statelessness among Roma.

This is something that needs to be addressed before countries are given the green light to join the EU. Indeed we need to make sure that Europe as a whole is working together to end statelessness.

Left stateless, people face numerous difficulties in their daily lives: they lack access to health care, education, employment opportunities, property rights and the ability to move freely across borders.

It may be impossible for them to do many of the things that most of us take for granted - marry, open a bank account or get a driving licence.

The children of stateless parents are left trapped in the same nightmare, which puts up barriers to having a regular childhood and often leads to lower educational achievement and life-long poverty.

Almost 70 years after the UN Declaration on Human Rights was signed, it is not a moment too soon to break this vicious cycle and ensure that Roma enjoy the same rights, hopes and dreams as all other European citizens.

Soraya Post is a Roma activist, MEP, and co-chair of the European Parliament anti-racism and diversity intergroup

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU's Roma policy struggles to produce results

Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner for justice, is seeking more "practical" solutions to address the issue of Roma integration as she begins to rework the policy and rethink its spending.

MEPs attack Facebook over anti-gypsy hate groups

Socialist deputies in the European Parliament have condemned Facebook, the popular social networking service, for hosting anti-gypsy groups, bearing such names as "Useful work for gypsies: testers of gas chambers," on its site.

Pandemic is time to recognise gig workers' rights

Millions of gig economy workers have been left abandoned by companies during the coronavirus outbreak. Workers have complained that gloves, masks, or gel have not been made available.

News in Brief

  1. EU Commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  2. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter
  3. Globally over 780,000 cases of coronavirus, 37,000 deaths
  4. EU states losing 3% of GDP a month, IMF says
  5. Fruit pickers need to cross borders too, EU says
  6. Former Slovak minister to become EU envoy on Kosovo-Serbia
  7. Hungary's Orban wins rule-by-decree vote in parliament
  8. Bars and restaurants remain open in Sweden

Column

Only democracy can fight epidemics

As Li Wenliang, the deceased Chinese doctor who was reprimanded for reporting on the virus, said: "There should be more openness and transparency".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us