The willingness to accept refugees from Ukraine and the flexible provision of necessary resources is unprecedented. This is how it should be – for everyone! But racism as structural violence works in every situation. In times of flight, this violence has existential consequences. Just as in states, people are treated differently at borders. At the border between Belarus and Poland last winter, people were blocked in such a way that some froze to death. These refugees are not welcome in Europe. In recent days, too, there have been increasing reports that black people and people of color are being prevented from continuing their journey for racist reasons and are not being given accommodation.
A Roma woman we were in contact with made it to Leipzig with her children. She came via Slovakia. About the situation there, Romea reports that the support for the refugees is great. „However, when a Ukrainian Roma family arrives and asks for help, they are rejected.“ Many don’t even get out of Ukraine. Reports of this are mounting on social media. For example, a Roma women from Lviv reports that currently 100 Roma are stuck there and no one is helping them move on.
Especially Roma from former Yugoslavia can remember the wars and the expulsions in which Roma became second-class refugees. Already confronted with racism during their flight, this continued in Germany. In translations of asylum applications, in counseling centers or even in shelters, Roma were and still are discriminated against by members of the local, but also by members of the exiled majority societies.
Roma are currently also fleeing from Ukraine and we fear that they will face the same conditions as the refugees from former Yugoslavia. The situation of the Roma from Ukraine is historically characterized by persecution, genocide and currently by massive racism and partly precariousness over generations.
During the Nazi period, the German security police (Sicherheitspolizei), supported by the local auxiliary police (Hilfspolizei), murdered a large part of the Ukrainian Roma. Currently, despite poor research, over 50 mass shooting sites are known. Ultimately, at least 12,000 Roma lost their lives under the German occupation forces. The memory of this genocide committed against Roma in Ukraine is mainly carried by Roma as well as international NGOs. The racism that has been perpetuated in society to this day regularly leads to the genocide being relativized.
Roma are the largest undocumented group in Ukraine, according to a 2018 ERRC report. Lack of documents is the main cause of statelessness for Roma. Most are legally entitled to Ukrainian citizenship, but cannot enforce this right without documents. They inherit this statelessness to their children, so that a cycle of transgenerational structural discrimination has been perpetuated for decades.
By 2015, 10,000 Roma in Ukraine had already fled to other areas of the country because of the ongoing conflicts in the eastern part. In crisis and pre-war situations, minority members are the first to feel the hardship and consequences of escalated nationalism.
2016: The body of a girl is found in the Odessa region. A 21-year-old Roma men is suspected of having raped and killed her. There is no sufficient investigation, and the accused denies the accusations. Nevertheless, villagers want to take revenge on the Roma. Hundreds of residents call on authorities to immediately expel all Roma from the village. Videos show the villagers smashing windows with stones and one house going up in flames. According to the Minority Rights Group (MRG), the police did nothing to stop the attackers. They only announced that they would set up a „safe corridor“ for the Roma the following day so that they could leave the village. The Roma, however, fled the night before to escape the mob.
In 2018, there were at least six right-wing/ racist pogroms against Roma, which also claimed lives. Members of right-wing terrorist groups formed sinister alliances with racist youth. With few others, we protested internationally in front of Ukrainian embassies, calling on politicians to act decisively, but were not listened to. The Ukrainian Roma had to flee. Behind these pogroms is the idea of ethnically homogeneous territories. In Kosovo in 1999, this idea resulted in the expulsion and massive crimes against Roma.
Among the people fleeing from Ukraine are also many Roma women and their children. Since men who are fit for military service are not allowed to leave, families are separated. But all those who want to leave must be allowed to do so! 20 percent of Ukrainian Roma are stateless, i.e. they have no passports – this must not stand in the way of their departure and admission to other countries.
With the transnational network Afrique-Europe Interact we stand up for the unrestricted right to flee for all who flee from war zones, regardless of nationality, passport and residence permit, and against any form of racist segregation and discrimination of war refugees.
We demand from Ukraine: Let all people leave unhindered who are fleeing from the war! No racist discrimination in the distribution of seats on trains and other means of transport!
We demand from the neighboring countries of Ukraine: Let all refugees from Ukraine enter and continue their journey unhindered, without distinction of passports, visas and residence permits!
We especially call on all those who are involved in solidarity support structures for refugees from Ukraine: Support all those who are threatened with racist exclusion in their entry and onward journey!
We need language-sensitive and racism-sensitive counseling for Roma refugees from Ukraine and the involvement of migrant Roma self-organizations in order to be able to counsel people appropriately. In our experience, there are too few contact points for members of minorities, whose initial situation is more complex due to racist discrimination in the country of origin, on the flight, and upon and after arrival.
Bundes Roma Verband e.V.
Roma Center e.V./ Roma Antidiscrimination Network
Landesverband Deutscher Sinti und Roma Berlin-Brandenburg e.V.
Rroma Informations Centrum e.V.
Förderverein Roma e.V.
boat people projekt e.V.