How Roma refugees from Ukraine fight prejudice

The accusation that they obtained services fraudulently is a common prejudice against Roma. This text aims to categorize two observations that supposedly support these claims.

Claim 1: Lost Ukrainian passports are an indication of asylum tourism

One of the allegations that surfaces online and is also exploited by the AfD concerns the loss of Roma passports in refugee accommodation. In a press release, the AfD member of parliament wrote that the majority of Roma do not come from Ukraine, “but from Hungary and other Eastern European countries” and are only “pretending” to be Ukrainian refugees. In addition, 30% do not have ID cards.

Short Classification

According to the police, all people staying in city shelters have valid Ukrainian passports.

However, it is true that some gypsies from Ukraine do not have an identity document. Among other things, because, according to representatives of human rights organizations, there is a deep distrust of the authorities and because purchases will be expensive. In addition, some Ukrainian Gypsies with cultural ties to Hungary do not have Ukrainian passports but Hungarian passports.

long rating

In order to be able to correctly classify this claim, you need to understand the realities of life of 200,000 to 400,000 Roma in Ukraine. It begins with the term “Sinti and Roma”. In the press release for the AfD, it was used by groups from Eastern Europe. This is not true – because gypsies, and not Sinti, live in Ukraine and other countries of Southern and Eastern Europe. Sinti live mainly in Germany.

Why do some Roma do not have ID cards?

Some Roma in Ukraine live marginalized and participate little in cultural, political or economic life. It is especially difficult for them to obtain identity documents, for example because their parents did not have any or because they simply did not have enough money to apply for identity documents, explains Stefan Müller of the Central Council of Sinti Germany and Rome, who is Specialist in Roma in the Western Balkans:

“If I want an ID, I have to get a birth certificate first. Then I also need my parents’ birth certificates, which they may not have either. Some families have really failed at the cost.”

Another reason is that some Roma still have old Soviet-era identity papers and have never applied for Ukrainian citizenship.

For the authorities, the missing documents are partly a reason for not issuing any passports themselves, says Julian Kondor of the Ukrainian Roma organization “Cherikli”. Sometimes, parents would officially assign their children to relatives because they had documents. Because of this complexity, some parties do not want to deal with it and refuse the request.”

However, before the war, there were also international programs, for example from the United Nations, aimed at making it easier for Roma to obtain passports.

It is difficult to estimate the number of Roma who do not have identity papers. In general, there are very few exact figures about Roma in Ukraine. According to a report by Minority Rights Group Europe from 2019, NGOs assume that there is a significant difference between city and country: while in cities perhaps 10 to 15 percent of Roma live without identity documents, in some areas of the country up to 30 percent.

Jonathan Lee of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) also attributes the fact that many Roma in Ukraine are undocumented to discrimination. In an email to #Faktenfuchs, he wrote that sometimes officials in Ukraine directly discriminate against Roma when they try to apply for ID cards. But it also refers to procedures when applying for identity papers that indirectly discriminate against Roma.

In addition, many Gypsies have had bad experiences with the authorities over several generations and are therefore reluctant to contact them. The others did not receive relevant information or support from the authorities when applying, says Stefan Müller of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma.

Why do some Roma have Hungarian ID cards?

The AfD politician also claimed in a press release that the “majority” of the refugees came from Hungary, among other places.

You have to know that there is a group of Gypsies who have Hungarian passports. This is the result of a law passed by the Hungarian government in 2010, according to which citizens of neighboring countries (mainly Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine) who can prove the Hungarian “line of descent” can apply for a Hungarian passport.

According to Stefan Müller of the Central German Council of Sinti and Roma, the fact that one of the ancestors lived in an area that once belonged to Hungary is enough.

The Roma group in Ukraine is very diverse – individual communities have a different history, speak differently and have a different culture. One community does not speak the Romani language anymore, but speaks Hungarian – also known as Hungarian. Some hold Hungarian passports but live in Ukraine.

What does that mean to escape?

A special regulation allows Ukrainians who do not have a passport to leave Ukraine and enter Germany. The Federal Police wrote to the hashtag #Faktenfuchs on the request that war refugees who test positive will be treated at border control points in the same way as refugees holding a Ukrainian passport, as long as “credible evidence” is provided.

Critics warn that the statelessness of some Roma from Ukraine should not be in their favour. Markus End, an expert on anti-intolerance at the Technical University of Berlin, tells #Faktenfuchs: “For example, if discriminatory minority policy (in Ukraine, editor’s note) leads to more Roma in Ukraine becoming stateless than in non-Roma: Well, then the German authorities didn’t discriminate against anti-homosexuals on paper because they treated everyone equally. But previous unequal treatment ensured that resources – in this case sexuality – were distributed unevenly. Ignoring this is structural discrimination.”

Affirmation 2: Lack of knowledge of the area indicates fraud attempt

Another accusation made against the gypsies who fled, for example in “Bild”, is that they do not know regions of Ukraine and cannot indicate on the map the region from which they came. In fact, this says a lot about Roma access to education in particular.

short classification:

According to the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), 90 per cent of Roma children finish school before the end of compulsory education, and the level of education is correspondingly low. Some children never go to school.

According to the ERRC, the main reasons for this are social exclusion and financial pressure – and as a result poor access or even exclusion from the education system.

The long answer:

Gypsies in Ukraine are not only culturally diverse. There are also big differences when it comes to the level of education. However, a large percentage of Roma have little or no education.

Current figures from the ERRC from 2020 show the following: while one percent of Ukraine’s Roma have a higher education (“higher education” – usually a university education), nearly a quarter of Ukrainian Roma have no education at all. 23 percent are illiterate and 34 percent do not speak Ukrainian, ECCR’s Jonathan Lee wrote to #Faktenfuchs upon request.

what is the reason? Experts point to the financial burden as one of the main reasons for the lack of education. That could mean exclusion from the education system, he told me: “Although education is theoretically free, some schools require informal parental involvement to cover operating costs.” Many gypsy families could not stand it – not only in Ukraine, but in many countries of Eastern Europe.

According to a 2011 UNICEF study on the educational status of Roma in Romania, 55.8 percent of respondents said “financial reasons” were to blame for the fact that they never sent their children to school. 13.7 percent cited household chores, which the study authors say is also linked to the financial status of Roma families.

Those who can go to school suffer discrimination there. For example, because they are only allowed to attend segregated schools, i.e. schools exclusively for Roma children which, according to the European Roma Rights Center, are also of markedly poor quality. Or because they were sent to private schools. In Ukraine, a Roma family recently complained that their children were not allowed to go to a “normal” school – and they got justice. The European Center for Human Rights summarized more information on this here.

Against this background, it is understandable that many do not know the geography of their country of origin or cannot determine exactly where they came from.

Background: the transnationalization of social problems

What is currently circulating about Ukrainian Gypsies can be described as “the racialization of social problems”, according to the Department of Democracy in the city of Munich. Her manager, Miriam Heigl, told #Faktenfuchs:

“This means that only people who come from precarious social situations are seen as Roma – Ukrainian Gypsies who do not conform to this prejudiced world view are not.”

According to Heigl, many of the topics described relate to social problems, which in turn are due primarily to the massive exclusion and discrimination of Roma in Europe. “This is particularly perfidious in this context: Sinti and Roma bear responsibility and contempt for the fact that Sinti and Roma have been pushed to the margins of society through anti-violent prejudices and structures.”

conclusion

It is assumed that Roma refugees from Ukraine are not “real” Ukrainian refugees.

Among other things, because some Roma do not have Ukrainian passports. However, depending on the region, ten to thirty percent of the Roma in Ukraine live without passports, which is partly due to financial and partly cultural reasons. The same is true of the observation that the gypsies who have fled know nothing of the country. However, a large percentage of Roma in Ukraine do not have access to an education and live marginalized.

According to the Department of Democracy, this is about the ethnicization of social problems: Roma are despised for lack of education or lack of identity – this is the result of anti-gypsy prejudices and structures.

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