Antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination continues to impact the daily lives of Roma. In recent months, Roma seeking to flee the violence caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine have not been granted equal access to safety and protection. To challenge this, we must raise awareness of this situation and of anti-Roma racism. The Genocide of the Roma has taught us of the consequences of inaction. We must continue to remember, to reflect upon ongoing anti-Roma racism and its impact, but also to act to prevent such atrocities from occurring again.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the famous poet Raisa Nabaranchuk found herself facing the difficult decision of whether to flee her home in Kyiv. As bombardments intensified, however, it became clear she would have little choice. Together with her two sisters, their daughters, a granddaughter, and a great-grandchild, Nabaranchuk boarded a train to Poland, and eventually found refuge in Germany’s Black Forest.
Penniless upon arrival, they were assisted by the Aid Network for Survivors of Nazi Persecution in Ukraine and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, who had arranged their transport and provided them with immediate financial assistance. Raisa Nabaranchuk and her family are descendants of victims of the Roma and Sinti Genocide. Her grandmother was murdered at Babyn Yar, one of the largest mass shootings in Nazi-occupied Europe; her older brother survived the massacres.
Raisa Nabaranchuk is one of at least 100,000 Roma who have fled Ukraine to other countries, with many others having been internally displaced. As the war in Ukraine enters its fifth month, Ukrainian Roma seeking protection and safety are facing racism, discrimination, and segregation when trying to access transportation, humanitarian aid, and refugee status. Anti-Roma racism has hampered efforts to provide safety and stability to those fleeing. Too often, Roma civil society organizations have been alone or nearly alone in assisting Ukrainian Roma. Ensuring that Roma have access to humanitarian assistance is the responsibility of all of society, however, not only of Roma communities.
To help challenge this, we must dismantle acts and policies of marginalization and discrimination. The lack of awareness of the Genocide of the Roma and Sinti contributes to the lack of awareness of the consequences of anti-Roma racism. Honoring the victims and survivors of the Roma and Sinti genocide helps sensitize people to the importance and urgency of countering antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination.
Remember the Genocide of the Roma and Sinti
Though it was essential to the persecution and attempted annihilation of Sinti and Roma by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, anti-Roma racism neither began nor ended with the Nazi era. Indeed, it has existed for centuries. Despite this, public awareness of this history remains insufficient.
The neglect of this long history, and of the Roma and Sinti Genocide in particular, has contributed to antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination's continued widespread social and political acceptance. Respecting and honoring the victims and the survivors and their families represents an essential step towards change.
“Remembrance of the genocide of the Roma ties us to its enduring impact and is key to exposing and dismantling the antigypsyism of today,” IHRA Chair Ambassador Ann Bernes has said. “This is needed every day, and concerns all of society – not only Roma communities.”
Reports highlight anti-Roma racism towards refugees and displaced Roma
The IHRA's working definition underlines that the stereotypes and prejudices that were used to dehumanize Roma “have not been delegitimized or discredited vigorously enough so that they continue to persist and can be deployed largely unchallenged.” Even in times of peace, anti-Roma racism prevents Roma from accessing equal protection without discrimination.
“Persons belonging to already marginalized groups become even more vulnerable in times of war and crisis,” says IHRA Chair Ambassador Ann Bernes. “One current example is that we see antigypsyism rear its ugly head in the wake of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. This calls for particular attention. Displaced Roma must not be discriminated against.”
Monitoring efforts and reports from the Cirikli association in Ukraine, the ERGO Network, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the Rroma Foundation, and other local Roma NGOs paint a bleak picture of the situation many Roma looking to flee Ukraine face:
Roma face segregation in refugee centers, and have been provided with unequal and inadequate facilities and food
Roma are less likely to receive accommodation from local populations than non-Roma due to anti-Roma racism
Roma fleeing violence and war have been labeled as economic migrants and not “real refugees,” leading to them being refused humanitarian assistance
Roma have been prevented from boarding buses transporting those fleeing the violence
This situation is compounded by the stateless or undocumented status of many Roma in Ukraine. The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) estimates that 10–20% of Roma in Ukraine lack the civil documentation needed to acquire or confirm their Ukrainian citizenship. This puts Roma at greater risk for arbitrary and unequal treatment and makes it more difficult to effectively apply for temporary protection status.
Take action to counter antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination
This year’s Roma Genocide Remembrance Day on 2 August will be commemorated against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the racism Roma continue to face, even when fleeing violence. There are three things you can do to help change this:
Raise awareness and demand action – The IHRA’s working definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination is now available in a variety of languages. Share it with relevant institutions, ministries, and individuals to help sensitize them to the existence of this form of racism and encourage those institutions to implement measures to counter it.
Speak out and take action – Speak out when you witness anti-Roma racism. Report these instances to the authorities and ask for concrete actions to be taken. Inform civil society organizations, who can help victims of discrimination lodge complaints.
Honor and remember – Learn about the Roma and Sinti victims who were murdered because of who they were during the Genocide of the Roma and Sinti and share this information with others. Attend a commemoration event on 2 August in remembrance of the Roma and Sinti victims and survivors. Issue a statement or a message on that day to honor them.
To learn more about the situation of Roma fleeing Ukraine and how to help people like Raisa Nabaranchuk, visit this page.