Tom Brake MP writes….On International Romani Day we should all remember the need for human rights to be given to all groups in Europe

Today is International Romani Day, a day to celebrate the culture and raise awareness of one of the most misunderstood groups within Europe. Romani people have faced severe persecution over the last century but are tragically often forgotten and that is why this day is important.

Tragically, Romani people are still facing persecution and are being denied equal human rights within Europe.

Our continent is buckling under the strain of the greatest humanitarian crisis it has faced since the last World War, tensions are running high in areas struggling to cope with an influx of men, women and children who have had to flee their homes to escape the destruction and tyranny of terrorist groups and dictators. Sadly, as these people reach the borders of states unable or unwilling to welcome the number of people who have arrived needing protection, human rights are often being forgotten and protection and fair treatment is not being given.

The reports from groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of the mistreatment of refugees in the Balkans is harrowing. Reports say that refugees are being beaten, having their belongings taken and not being given adequate protection from the elements. This is happening in Europe’s backyard, in an area which has just emerged from a very dark period, which people were starkly reminded of through the recent sentence given to Radovan Karadžić.
At the same time, reports show that Romani people are facing discrimination in employment, education and housing. This injustice must not be forgotten simply because another more urgent issue in the Balkans steals the spotlight.

We need a compassionate approach to alleviate the issues which the refugee crisis has brought to different regions in Europe. This compassionate approach should also be adopted by nations and communities in their attitude towards Romani people. The need for the firm upholding of human rights needs to be trumpeted as we deal with the refugee crisis and day today we should all stop and remember that, critically, human rights extends to the Romani people, remember the suffering which this group has dealt with, and strongly tell each other that the Romani people do not deserve to be ostracised and they too should be granted the human rights and opportunities which most Europeans are given and which all people always deserve.

* Tom Brake was the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington from 1997 to 2019.

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  • Anonymous (Joe) 8th Apr '16 - 12:12pm

    I post comments here semi-regularly, but I hope you don’t mind me posting anonymously (though feel free to call me Joe).

    I’d like to thank Tom for this article. Some of my family are Romani/Roma, though I identify and pass as white British (and certainly tick that box on forms when I am asked for my background). I am fortunate in that the only people who know my background are those I choose to tell – those I trust. I don’t speak in any way for the Roma or traveler community – my background is one of privilege, and I am probably more of an ally than a member of the community. That said, I still remember one of my parents informing me about my heritage as a child, and then telling me not to tell anyone – because people misunderstood what it meant, and people still hated “people like us”.

    So, in addition to Tom’s points, I’d also like to highlight the racism against Roma and gypsies in our own country. Look at the rugby player, Joe Marler, who chose to use “gypsy” as an insult, and how many rallied around to say it was only “banter”.

    Discrimination against Roma and other travellers remains acceptable in civilised society – not just in the rest of the EU but in our own country. It fills me with sorrow.

  • Ruth Bright 8th Apr '16 - 5:42pm

    We certainly need to redeem ourselves on this issue following our Deputy PM’s comments on Roma people in Sheffield back in 2013.

    It is a shame that “Joe” has to remain anonymous but I can understand why. I reported a (then) Lib Dem parish councillor back in 2011 for sending me an e-mail with (amongst other offensive remarks) the word “pikey” in it. Tim Farron who was then Party President was thoroughly supportive but it went round the complaints’ system for eighteen months with branch, constituency and regional parties dithering about it until I simply gave up.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Apr '16 - 4:30pm

    Roma need heroes, as others do.
    So who was the manager of the football team that won the World Cup in 1966?
    Who understood them best? How about Vaclav Havel? post-communist president of Czechoslovakia and then of the Czech Republic. An author of several plays, regrettably a smoker, who was “always there when his country needed him” despite his failing health.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Apr '16 - 9:15am

    There is a complicated history here. Roma were victims of the Nazi holocaust, as were the disabled and many others. In 1945 ethnic Germans were expelled from the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia which had been shamefully conceded to Hitler at Munich in 1938. Roma were resettled into the vacant housing. When the communists took over Roma were housed but not allowed to travel, which had been customary. After the Velvet Divorce Slovakia had a three party coalition including the SNS, whereas the Czech Republic’s President was Vaclav Havel. For an asylum claim to succeed it is necessary to have exhausted domestic remedies. The enlargement of the EU by ten countries had to wait until Slovakia had a general election in which the SNS were not in government.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Apr '16 - 9:33am
  • Helen Dudden 11th Apr '16 - 10:52am

    I do not post anonymously, all citizens of the EU deserve respect.

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