Bringing home Roma reality to the heart of the EU

On 8 April, we brought home the daily reality for Romani people to the European Union headquarters, when Roma community activists (alongside members of local and international organizations) marked International Roma Day by staging a flash mob outside the European Parliament in Brussels.

It is a commonplace reality, centuries old, of  widespread persecution, prejudice, and discrimination in all areas of life. It leads to unlawful eviction, racial segregation in housing and education, even racially motivated violence and murder. This reality continues today within countries of the EU: it is time for the Commission to act.

To portray this we created a Roma settlement, complete with furniture and fittings, a shower and toilet, on the square at the entrance to the European Parliament. At a given moment, Amnesty and Roma activists in the character of local inhabitants, police officers and municipal officials staged a dramatic portrayal of a forced eviction, which enfolded before an audience of more than 200 people.

This action was not only to highlight the human rights violations and suffering of the Roma. It was also a celebration of the strength and resistance that individuals and activists from across Europe show every day. Some of the people there were not acting out scenes they had seen on TV. They were remembering real events and their own experiences of forced eviction or racially motivated violence.

We stood up together to demand equality and human rights. We shouted loud and clear that we expect and demand the EU to take decisive action to end discrimination and racism against the Roma.

Claudia Greta, a Roma activist from Cluj-Napoca, Romania said: “What you saw today is not just theatre. It is something that happens on a daily basis to the Roma across Europe. We suffer abuses; we are discriminated against in all areas of life, at school, at work, on the streets, on the buses. EU institutions should take a stance and hold to account states that violate the rights of Roma.”

On 9 April, Helen Flautre, Member of the European Parliament , hosted a hearing at the Parliament building for Amnesty International and the European Roma Policy Coalition.  Roma activists sat on the panel alongside the EU representatives. In a room packed with Members of the European Parliament and other EU representatives, we listened to powerful and shocking testimonies by Roma activists who inspired us all with their courage and determination. Their stories brought home a powerful truth. Urgent action is needed to end the human rights scandal of the discrimination and racism against Roma.

“I had to fight to get my children into an ordinary school in France. Roma children are part of the community and need to be included in schools. I am so tired of words! Now is the time for action!” explained Roma activist from France, Mirabela Margelu.

One thing was clear from almost all who spoke at the event: we cannot afford to waste more time; the EU must act now and must act decisively. The European Commission has the responsibility, the obligation and the tools to ensure compliance and fight the discrimination and violence that Roma face. We called on the Commission to use their legal powers to ensure that the EU’s Race Equality directive was actively enforced.

And we got our response: Pia Lindholm, the Commission’s representative said: “[t]he European Commission is ready to take action and open infringement proceedings against member states if they do not comply with their obligations under the Race Equality Directive.”

Now we need to make sure that the Commission will stick to this commitment. We can mobilize a mass of people around this call. During the last few days, Amnesty International and partner organizations across Europe have asked the EU and national governments to take action across Europe and beyond.

So far, more than 20,000 people around the world have signed, our petition to  Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, calling on her to ensure the EU uses all its leverage (including the infringement procedure) to end discrimination against Roma. 

By Fotis Filippou, Regional Campaign Co-ordinator for Europe and Central Asia and Joey Hasson, Demand Dignity Campaign Co-ordinator