Growing number of Hungarian Roma seek asylum abroad
Hungarian Roma are seeking asylum in the West. According to the Roma Press Centre—a Romani news agency with a seat in Budapest—in December 2000, an average of ten Roma per day were arriving in Canada and seeking political asylum. In August 2000, an average of 135 Hungarian Roma sought asylum in Canada. In November, that figure had risen to 290 per month.
In July 2000, a panel member of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board said that those seeking asylum from Hungary had well-founded claims. He further added that "there is a serious possibility the claimants would face persecution... if they were to return to Hungary."
On 3 January 2001, another group of 60 Romani asylum seekers from Hungary was reported to be looking into possibilities of seeking asylum in the Netherlands.
Hungarian Roma subjected to police brutality
According to the Roma Press Centre, there are numerous cases of police brutality against Roma in Hungary. Moreover, Roma victims are often unable to obtain adequate support in such cases. For example, the Human Rights Watch 2000 World Report revealed that 15 police officers were under investigation for brutal conduct in the East Hungarian town of Hajduhadhaz alone.
The cases have either remained unresolved or ended in acquittals. Local non-governmental and advocacy organizations reported that even in the cases where police officers were convicted, penalties usually consisted of fines, probation or suspended sentences, and police officers generally remained employed by the force.
A lack of adequate remedies to these social ills is encouraging many young Roma to leave Hungary and seek asylum abroad. Canadian authorities reported that two-thirds of all asylum seekers coming from Hungary are under the age of 30.
Mass Roma migration
On 18 and 19 December 2000, the International Center for Migration Policy Development held a conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, on the creation of policies to tackle the massive emigration of Roma from Central and Eastern Europe to the West over the past three years.
The participants, who represented governments of countries of the European Union and Central and Eastern European, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs, discussed the possible lessons that could be learned from the migration.
The representative from the International Romani Union (IOM) and Roma National Congress (RNN), two Roma NGOs campaigning for the recognition of a Romani nation, expressed concerns about the application of strict immigration policies.
In their statements, IOM and RNN pointed out that the immigration policies applied by the EU in the case of the Romani asylum seekers fail to recognise racial prejudice, racial violence and discrimination against Roma in their countries of origin as persecution as defined by the 1951 Geneva Convention.
The EU governments pointed out that the flow of Roma asylum seekers from Central and Eastern Europe is a difficult challenge for the EU accession countries. For example, in the case of Slovakia many EU member states have imposed visa restrictions on Slovak citizens just to stop the inflow of Romani asylum seekers.
While according to the statements of Denmark, Belgium, Finland and the United Kingdom the experience of the repressive "visa regime" measures is stopping the rise of Romani asylum seekers, they would like to see an improvement in the countries of origin.
The representatives of the Central and East European governments pointed out that the view of the EU states might be limited in scope. While the Slovak government representatives called the immigration of Romani Slovak citizens "asylum tourism," the Czech government delegate, Roman Kristof from the Inter-ministerial Committee for Romani Community Affairs (an advisory body to the Czech government), pointed out that the flows of Romani asylum seekers between Eastern and Western Europe are equivalent to those between Central European countries themselves.
Roman Kristof told CER that since September 2000 the Czech Republic has received over 500 asylum applications from Slovak Roma. A UNHCR representative who attended the conference pointed out that the recent treatment of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe reminded him of the position of Huguenots in France.
Romanes exclued from Slovak census
The population census that is to take place in the spring months of 2001 will not use bilingual questionnaires in Slovak and Romanes. In the governmental resolution of 20 December 2000 the government decided bilingual population census questionnaires will be issued only in Hungarian, Ukrainian and Ruthenian.
Romanes, spoken by the wide majority of the 480,000 Roma living in Slovakia, is not included in this proposed plan. While Romani leaders have protested against the government's recent discrimination in an open letter, the government is likely to argue that the public use of Romanes is problematic.
When questioned about the use of Romanes in schools and government offices, the government argues that the standardization of Romanes has not yet taken place. The dialects of Romanes spoken in the Eastern part of the country differ from those spoken in the central and western part of Slovakia. This, argue the authorities, is a clear violation of several articles of the Slovak Constitution.
However, the decision not to use the bilingual Slovak-Romanes questionnaires violates law No 428/1990, which necessitates the usage of the minority language in municipal districts where that minority comprises at least 20 per cent of the local population. There are 57 villages in Slovakia in which Roma make up at least 20 percent of the population.
Romani schoolchildren get assistance in Slovakia
Romani children with learning difficulties are receiving assistance from a Romani mediator. The municipality of Banska Bystrica in north-eastern Slovakia has employed a Romani woman, previously unemployed for four years, to act as a teacher's assistant for a group of local Romani children.
The assistant helps the children prepare for school and facilitates communication between Romani families and school authorities. The project has been highly successful and fills a gap in the Slovak educational system.
The Romani assistant has commented that the results of Romani children in the Banska Bystrica area have improved as has the Romani community's confidence in the education system, which has traditionally been low.
According to the regional daily Nový Den (New Day), some of the children would normally be sent to special remedial schools for the mentally disabled, although the efforts of Erika Jonasova, who designed the project, have shown that the Romani children are not mentally disabled.
Jan Cangar from the State Pedagogical Institute has pointed out that the Slovak educational system is designed to serve the average child. Thus, anyone who is more or less gifted fails to succeed in the rigid schooling system. (For more information on the topic of Roma in Slovakia's schools see the accompanying article in this week's CER)
And in other news...
- A survey carried out in the Czech Republic has shown a limited tolerance of Roma in Czech society. Only 24 per cent of respondents said that they would tolerate Roma. The highest tolerance (77 per cent) was shown toward Czech youth and the disabled.
- Earlier this week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, quoting a Belgian Jewish organisation, that some Slovak Romani asylum seekers being expelled from Belgium had irremovable numbers on their arms. The information was later confirmed by a Roma rights activist in Slovakia.
Eva Sobotka, 12 January 2001
- CER's special issue on Roma in Central and Eastern Europe
- Eva Sobotka's article on Roma in Slovakia's schools
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