The economic crisis in Europe is fuelling violent "pogroms" against Roma people across the continent, with some politicians encouraging intimidation, violence and discrimination of travellers, Amnesty International has warned.
Europe is failing to protect the Roman minority from racist violence, and officials and citizens alike harrass and discriminated against them, the report said, launched to mark International Roma Day today.
The report also said that, for its part, the European Union has been reluctant to challenge member states on the systemic discrimination.
Europe is home to 10-12 million Roma, and were victims of mass-killings during the Second World War.
A recent survey found that 90% of Europe’s Roma are living in poverty. The people interviewed for the 40-page report said sub-standard education and segregation were the norm.
Statements from EU officials have at times suggested that Roma are partly responsible for their own exclusion, the report said, quoting a speech from January this year given by Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights.
She said: “Many of the Roma live in big poverty...they get out of the countries of origins because they do not have future there... We need dedication [to solve these problems] not only from Member States, but also from Roma communities to be willing to integrate and to be willing to have a normal way of living.”
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director, described a “marked rise" in the discrimination, and said the response from authorities has been "woefully inadequate".
“All too often European leaders have pandered to the prejudices fuelling anti-Roma violence by branding Roma as anti-social and unwelcome," he said. "While generally condemning the most blatant examples of anti-Roma violence, the authorities have been reluctant to acknowledge its extent and slow to combat it. of Roma that is all too evident.
“On many occasions law enforcement agencies are failing to prevent racist attacks and ensure that hate motives are properly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. The fact that racist attitudes remain entrenched in many police forces is more often denied than addressed.”
It is in Greece, France and the Czech Republic that most entrenched anti-Roma feeling is held. In Greece during 2012 and 2013 a series of pogrom-like attacks against a Roma community took place in Etoliko, a village in western Greece.
In January last year, six houses and four cars were firebombed or damaged by the attackers that day. Several Roma told Amnesty that they felt betrayed by the police. One said: “I could see just two policemen from inside the house… They were just staring and asking people to stop. They did nothing more than this.”
n 2012, Ilias Kasidiaris, a member of Greek parliament belonging to the far-right Golden Dawn party, made a speech in Aspropyrgos, home to many Roma, in which he referred to Roma as “human garbage” and called on residents to get rid of them from the area.
Having fled discrimination in their home countries, many of the 20,000 Roma in France live in informal settlements where they rarely have access to basic services, such as water and sanitation. They are often forcibly evicted from their shelters, harassed by the police or other citizens, and sometimes attacked.
“R” was beaten up by the police, the report said, quoting him saying: “I wanted to run away but I couldn’t see anything, I just saw a gate in front of me, I tried to reach out to it but as soon as I approached it, I just had the feeling that my leg broke and then I don’t remember anything else."
He underwent surgery for a fractured thigh bone and spent six months in a rehabilitation centre.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 2013, Czech far-right groups staged a series of anti-Roma protests in dozens of towns and cities across the country, protests which amounted to systematic harassment of Roma communities.
Štefan, a Roma man, told Amnesty: “Some people do not realise that [during the demonstrations, the Roma] have to stay at one place, that children… are afraid.
"This lasts the whole day and leaves trauma... Nobody deserves to experience something like this. People experienced this during the war and I think that in the year 2013, in the 21st century, we don’t have to experience it again.”
“I haven’t done anything myself for them to beat me. I wasn’t able to understand why the beat me.”
Parakevi Kokoni, a Romani woman living in Etoliko, Greece
Early one afternoon in October 2012, Parakevi Kokoni went into the centre of Etoliko to do some shopping. She was with her then 23-year-old nephew, Kostas, who has a mental disability, and her 11-year- old son. Kokoni said that as they were passing the main square, a man sitting at a local café pointed at them saying: “this is the sister-in-law of Bekos [the Roma leader of Etoliko]”.
Then six or seven men ran out of the café towards them and attacked them. Kokoni said they were kicked, punched and beaten with wooden logs grabbed off a nearby truck. She told Amnesty International:
“Two of the men went for me and the rest were punching and kicking Kostas. I was calling for help but nobody came to help us... At some point I managed to get away. I grabbed my son and left, but they still had my nephew.”
Kokoni went to the local police station to ask for help. She told the officer on duty that she had been beaten
and that her nephew was probably still in danger. She told Amnesty International the officer said there was nothing he could do, and that he was afraid to go to the scene alone.
He called for reinforcements and, when two other officers arrived, they went to the scene, but by then everyone had gone. Police took Kokoni home. Her husband had found Kostas lying unconscious in the street earlier. Both Kokoni and Kostas needed hospital treatment for their injuries. According to Kokoni and her husband, when police brought her to the house they said: “Didn’t I tell you to leave the village? It’s not safe for you here”.
“The police did not protect us. We left Etoliko and moved to Patra," Kokoni said. "We left our own home and are now renting. My children don’t want to return to the house. They are afraid. This is my home, but I also don’t want to come back. I’m scared... why would I come, so that they can kill my child?"