Back in (Open) Season (on the Roma) – Catching Up

It’s been quite a while since anyone posted here, on Opre Roma. My apologies.

While I’ve been gone, lots has happened relating to the mission of this blog: illuminating the struggles of marginalized peoples against oppression and poverty, particularly the Roma and related groups. Lots has happened, little of it good news. In just the past few days, we’ve seen a number of disgusting examples of anti-Roma racism in Europe.

First, there was an anti-Roma march over the weekend in the Irish city of Waterford that was so hateful, police were forced to evacuate several Romani families. The protestors, who apparently were angry over an increase in crime in their neighbourhood, blamed the small number of local Roma. Protestors started their action peacefully (if with intense vitriol), but soon turned to violence. A group of protestors kicked in a house’s door and began physically threatening the people inside, including children. While one man was charged with a misdemeanor over what looks like an attempted pogrom, and the attack was condemned across the political spectrum, there was another march on Monday.

It’s not like Ireland exactly had a good record with the Roma already: last year, two white-looking Roma children were kidnapped from their families by police during a wave of anti-Roma hysteria, after the families were accused of abducting Irish children to indoctrinate as Gypsies. This is roughly the Roma equivalent of the ‘blood libel’, and has been used as justification to harass, attack, expel and murder Roma for centuries. The children were eventually returned, traumatized, without much of an apology from embarrassed Irish police.

Across the Irish Sea isn’t much better, where a recent report shows that 9 in 10 Roma and Traveller children have suffered racial abuse. This includes slurs, bullying and physical attacks at school and other public places.

2525755510_3f92347519_zMeanwhile, a suburb of the Italian city of Turin (not a bumpkin town, the Olympics were hosted there) is considering starting a segregated bus line for the town’s Roma, after residents complained about begging and confrontations with Roma on the ‘regular’ bus. The town’s resident’s, according to some informal polling, are 85% in favour of such a move.

Because the correct way to deal with poor people begging for money and getting into conflicts with the clearly racist local population is to kick them off their only way to get around, rather than, you know, have social programs and attempt to integrate them. Silly me, thinking integration strategies proven to work will work. Also, when people are reasonably comparing you to Apartheid South Africa, it might be a good idea to rethink your policy.

All of this is in addition to clashes between Roma and Bosnian Serbs that led to over twenty arrests in the Konik refugee camp on the outskirts of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. The camp has been in place for over 15 years, with most of its residents being Roma displaced from Kosovo by both the Yugoslav army and the Kosovar Albanian rebels of the KLA during the 1999 war. They have since been prevented from returning to Kosovo, where the government regularly persecutes its Roma citizens. This has left the displaced Roma living in squalor in Montenegro, which is desperate to get rid of them. Multiple civil society organizations, such as the Open Society Foundation, have condemned the camp’s conditions.

But don’t fear! While European states continue to treat their Roma with paternalistic condescension at best, and like subhuman garbage at worst, Canada is a shining light of acceptance and compassion.

Wait, no, wrong country. Canada is busily cracking down even harder than before on all refugee claimants, particularly Roma. A private member’s bill, C-585, has started working its way through Parliament. It would allow provinces more flexibility in defining residency requirements before giving social assistance. It would also cut off social assistance to many refugee claimants, including those whose bid for asylum was rejected but appeals are pending, those who are on a Humanitarian and Compassionate (H&C) release, those who are undergoing a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment, and even those who have yet to have their claim heard. This is ostensibly to prevent ‘abuse of our generosity’. At the same time though, the Canadian government will not allow refugee claimants whose bids are pending (and this can take a while, the system moves at a glacial pace unless they are evicting people, in which case somehow everyone happens with near-German efficiency) to seek work.

So, if this bill passes, we’ve given refugees either the option of public assistance, or getting a job to support themselves. That means they’ll either have to resort to petty crime to feed and house themselves, or thrown themselves on the mercies of our overburdened charitable welfare system and have whole families living in homeless shelters. Talk about a being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“But only if it passes” you might say. The government wouldn’t throw its support behind something so needlessly cruel and restrictive. They’ll just let it die a quiet death in committee.

Ahem. They put it in the annual omnibus budget bill, a well-known way of passing things under the radar that are absolutely terrible policy but feed the Conservative Party’s obsession with punishing poor, vulnerable people for being poor and vulnerable. The Harper government’s policies towards refugee claimants, often justified with racist appeals against ‘bogus refugees’ based on stereotypes of the Roma community, has always been cruel and petty, from draconian changes to asylum laws to drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program for refugees.

For a more personal take, there is always the case of the Pusuma family.The Pusumas are Jewish-Roma from Hungary, and Jozsef Pusuma worked as a researcher for the European Parliament. They were threatened with death and Jozsef was attacked in broad daylight by masked men in 2009, forcing them to flee the increasingly authoritarian regime there. They have been living in a Toronto church under customary ‘sanctuary’ laws for the last 34 months, after their refugee bid was rejected. Their previous lawyer is under investigation for professional misconduct in their case, and 17 others, for failing to perform basic tasks.  They are only asking for a temporary stay and a review of their case. Almost 45,000 people have signed a petition calling for the government to let them stay, to no avail.

Between this and the recently proposed new laws allowing the government to arrest and hold people over terrorism-related concerns (and who says this can’t be applied to ‘terrorism’ like environmental protests?) and strip people of dual citizenship for certain crimes, this country’s government is trying to make Canada into a much darker, colder, crueler place.

Stay tuned for more, and hopefully the news gets better. I don’t have high hopes, but you never know.