A Historical and Long Awaited Moment: The Government of Canada Declares August 2nd as an Official Day of Commemoration of The Romani Genocide.

70th anniversary of Roma genocide. Photo by Artur Conka

August 12th 2020 marked a historic and long awaited moment. After nearly a decade of hard work and dedication by Romani survivors, organizations and individuals, the Government of Canada finally officially recognized the Genocide of Roma and Sinti peoples that occurred during the Holocaust by unanimously adopting a Motion to make August 2nd an official day of commemoration and remembrance

This historic milestone, long hoped for and anticipated by Roma in Canada, coincidentally came on an emotional day for many, taking place on what would have been the 86th birthday of Canadian Roma activist, author, journalist, historian and respected civil rights movement leader, Dr. Ronald Lee. Dr. Lee, who had been leading these efforts since 1998 and whose wish it was to live to see this day happen, passed away earlier this year.

Until now, these vital pages of Roma and Sinti history have remained largely unknown and unrecognised; indeed, they are still being written. August 2nd commemorates the day in 1944 when the remaining 4 300 Roma and Sinti prisoners of the “Gypsy camp” in Auschwitz-Birkenau were brutally murdered by Nazis and their collaborators. While there are other important dates commemorating the plight of Romani peoples during the Holocaust, this day was chosen by organizations, individuals and survivors as the official day of commemoration of the Romani Genocide. According to recent estimates at least 500 000 Roma and Sinti were murdered during WWII. 

Despite the irrefutable historical evidence and the emerging harrowing stories by survivors, Romani peoples have long had to fight for an equal place and voice in history. The struggle continues to this day. It was as late as 1982 that Germany finally recognized the Romani Genocide, but only  after a hunger strike was carried out by Romani Rose, who lost 13 members of his family, murdered in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck. It was only as recently as 2015 that the European Parliament adopted a resolution officially recognizing August 2nd as an official day of commemoration. 

Rafael Lemkin, who coined the term Genocide, made reference to the Genocide as one of the “Jews and Gypsies”, yet, very little made its way into the domain of public knowledge about the Genocide of Roma and Sinti during the Second World War. As Dr. Ian Hancock explains, “after the war, very few Roma were in a position to testify about what had happened. In fact, Roma stayed hidden in concentration camps as late as 1947, fearing arrest, as the pre-war anti-Romani laws were still in place. Additionally, during the Nuremberg trials, no Roma was invited to testify.”

Recognition of this day also marks a turning point for survivors like Frank Nemeth who rebuilt his life in Canada. “I vividly remember when the Nazis rounded up the remaining Romani people in my village and forced us into large horse-drawn carts headed to the trains destined to the death camps. Our history is finally recognized, after all these years.” For Lajos Molnar, a survivor who made Montreal his home more than 50 years ago and who never told his story publicly until this year, this recognition means so much. “When I think about what happened, it is still too painful to talk about. My cousin who was a few years older than me was sent to Auschwitz with her entire family and what she suffered there as a woman was beyond words. These stories must be told, our story must be known.” 

For Rita Prigmore, survivor of the medical experiments carried out on Roma and Sinti twins, and now living in Germany, “this recognition was long overdue. Recognition is about bringing dignity and respect to our people. 76 years have passed since the Holocaust, and Roma and Sinti today continue to face racism, hatred and violence. I am happy to finally see our history being recognized and remembered in Canada.”

Rita Prigmore was born a twin, into a Sinti family on March 3, 1943, in Würzburg, Germany. In 1942, before her forced sterilization, her mother became pregnant with Rita and her sister, Rolanda. The abortion was cancelled when the Nazis realized she was carrying twins. To save the entire family from deportation to Auschwitz, her mother agreed to hand over her twins to the Nazis for medical studies immediately after birth.  Photo by Artur Conka

The same rhetoric and mechanisms which led to the mass murder of Roma and Sinti in the past are still present today. The normalization of cruel acts of racism and hatred against Romani populations persists, and Roma are still a target. Indeed, in 2018 Italian Minister of Interior Mateo Salvini called for a census of Roma. Across Europe, Romani populations still live in segregated areas and children are placed in segregated schools. Until 2012, Romani women were forcefully sterilized. In 2018, a violent anti-Roma attack was carried out by Neo-Nazi groups, despite clear warnings from civil society organizations. This year, amid the pandemic, 15 incidents of police violence against Roma have been documented in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, the Netherlands and North Macedonia, including against young children. Amnesty International reported militarized quarantines of Roma settlements across Bulgaria and Slovakia, with no evidence that they represented a threat to public health or security.

Preserving the memory of past atrocities and raising awareness about the dangers of systemic impunity for perpetrators constitute both a duty and a right. Normalized racism and discrimination have no legitimate voice in the quest for a more just society. In Canada, less than 2 weeks ago, Roma civil society won a class action lawsuit against the federal government for the unjust treatment of Romani asylum seekers who had been targeted as “bogus refugees”, allegedly undeserving of protection by the Canadian government under Bill-C 31. Policies such as these, which disregard the well-documented evidence of persecution and violence faced by Roma, are very reminiscent of the mistreatment of Jewish victims of the Holocaust who sought to escape to Canada but were rejected under the “None is too many” policy. Last year, the Prime Minister issued an apology for Canada’s actions. We hope that another 76 years will not pass before that apology arrives for Roma.

The momentous achievement of recognizing August 2nd is not only important symbolically; it is also critical for the collective healing process of Roma and Sinti around the world and for recognition of the existence of Romani peoples in Canada. In honour of the estimated 500 000 victims of the Romani Genocide, let us continue to collectively work together to ensure that the lessons of the past can inform the present and shape a future where the rights and dignity of Romani peoples at home and abroad are protected and respected.

ROMA ORGANISATIONS RESPOND TO EU INCLUSION PLANS

Brussels 6 December 2018:Today, a coalition of Romani and anti-racism civil society organisations from across Europe called for the Council of the European Union, and governments of European countries, to make a clear commitment to the new proposals for post-2020 Roma Inclusion plans made by the European Commission in its communication to the European Parliament and Council today.

Director of ERGO Network Ms Gabriela Hrabanova welcomed the new Communication: “The Commission and Parliament have clearly positioned themselves for a continued investment in Roma Inclusion after 2020. Now is the time for national governments to do the same, to strengthen their fight against antigypsyism and to update and improve their strategies in line with community needs by working alongside Romani civil society.”

The new Commission Communication highlighted key elements to improve the EU Roma Framework including: the need for inclusion of Roma in mainstream policies, fighting antigypsyism, improving Roma participation, addressing the diversity amongst Roma, and better data collection, target indicators and reporting in integration strategies.

Until now, Roma Inclusion plans in EU member states and accession countries have failed to include measures to fight antigypsyism and have largely failed to significantly improve the situation for Roma across Europe” said Ðorđe Jovanović, President of the European Roma Rights Centre. “The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies after 2020 must serve to counter the effects of the specific structural racism which affects Romani populations throughout Europe.”

The organisations explicitly call for measures in European countries to recognize present and historical antigypsyism as a form of racism; counter and sanction manifestations of antigypsyism in public discourses, public services and institutions; empower civil society, and ensure that the necessary legal and institutional mechanisms are in place and implemented to prosecute hate crimes and hate speech. It is time for European governments to give priority to “reinforcing and distinguishing the focus on antigypsyism as a root cause of Roma exclusion” as concluded by the EU High Level Group on Combatting Racism, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Intolerance in their guidance paper on antigypsyism.

European institutions have to make sure that the next EU budget cycle (Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027), which is currently under negotiation, is connected to policy priorities of the EU Roma Framework including the fight against antigypsyism. In addition, partnership agreements with Member States and operational programs must explicitly name Roma as an investment priority. The next cycle of funding must ensure that funds are also available for specific measures to fight antigypsyism, and to allow the efficient operation of civil society organisations to hold governments accountable and to ensure fundamental rights of Romani citizens across Europe.

 

The coalition of organisations includes:

Alliance against Antigypsyism

European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network

European Roma Rights Centre
Roma Education Fund
European Network against Racism
Central Council of German Sinti & Roma

For more information, or to arrange an interview contact:

Jonathan Lee
Communications Coordinator
European Roma Rights Centre
jonathan.lee@errc.org
+36 30 500 2118

Jamen Gabriela Hrabanova
Executive Director
ERGO Network
g.hrabanova@ergonetwork.org
+32(0)2 893 10 49

Jonathan Mack
Policy Officer
Central Council of German Sinti and Roma
jonathan.mack@sintiundroma.de
+49 (0) 6221 981101

Georgina Siklossy
Senior Communication and Press Officer
European Network Against Racism (ENAR):
georgina@enar-eu.org
Office: +32 (0)2 229 35 70
Mobile: +32 (0)473 490 53

 

The coalition of organisations includes:

Alliance against Antigypsyism
Central Council of German Sinti & Roma
European Network against Racism
European Public Health Alliance
European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network
European Roma Rights Centre
FAGiC Federación de Asociaciones Gitanas de Cataluña
Jaw Dikh Foundation
La Voix de Roms
Nakeramos
Nevo Parudimos
Roma Active Albania
Romanipe
Roma Education Fund
RROMA Regional Roma Educational Youth Association (Macedonia)

Notes for editors:

The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies was adopted by the European Commission in 2011. It requires member states make provision to address inequalities in their countries which Roma fac
e in education, employment, healthcare, and housing.

Antigypsyism is the specific racism towards Roma, Sinti, Travellers and others who are stigmatized as ‘gypsies’ in the public imagination. The term is often used in a narrow sense to indicate anti-Roma attitudes or the expression of negative stereotypes in the public sphere or hate speech. However, antigypsyism gives rise to a much wider spectrum of discriminatory expressions and practices, including many implicit or hidden manifestations. More information is available in the reference paper on antigypsyism.

 

Romanipe in collaboration with The ERGO Network Call the Canadian Government to Lift Visa Require”ments on Romania and Bulgaria

On Friday May 19, 2016 European Parliament President, Martin Schulz announced that the Canadian government’s continued insistence on imposing visa requirements for travelers from Romania and Bulgaria has put a strain on the ratification of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Current disagreements regarding the ratification of CETA are reminiscent of the pressures which stalled the agree- ment under the previous government and eventually led to several legislative and policy measures aiming to restrict the acceptance of Roma claimants.

One such policy was Bill C-31. Among other provisions, the Bill allows the Minister responsible to unilaterally des- ignate countries as “safe countries of origin.” Refugee claimants from these countries are subjected to a discrimina- tory judicial process for their claims. Countries where Roma come from were specifically cited as “safe.”

In spite of the high level of documentation of these cases by credible organizations such as Amnesty International and the European Commission, previous and current Canadian immigration policies continue to treat Roma as a European ethnic group which is not persecuted.

Despite increasing acceptance numbers, cases of racial profiling continue against Roma by Canadian authorities. In 2015, twelve Hungarian Roma with valid travel documents were prevented from boarding flights to Canada on the alleged ground of not possessing proper documentation to enter the country due to their Roma ethnicity. In 2014, John Manley, head of the influential Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said “more needs to be done at Euro- pean airports to block bogus refugee claimants from actually boarding flights for Canada. We can’t lift the visa until we find other ways to avoid this influx of refugee claimants.”

By insisting on imposing visa requirements on countries such as Bulgaria, as well as maintaining the implementation of Bill C-31, the Trudeau government is continuing the legacy of the previous government by closing its borders to Roma suffering from discrimination and oppression.

Today, we are hopeful that our current government will uphold its promise to bring Canada back to its humanitarian roots by recognizing Roma as an essential component of Canadian multiculturalism and end racial profiling and dis- crimination of Roma asylum seekers.

Romanipe takes this opportunity to reiterate our request to the Canadian government to recognize the current dis- crimination faced by Roma populations in Europe and end the discriminatory legislative and policy measures re- stricting the acceptance of Roma claimants introduced by the previous government. Romanipe therefore calls on the Canadian government to lift the visa requirements imposed on Bulgaria and Romania, and requests national gov- ernments in the EU to take concrete measures to eradicate anti-Roma persecution.

ERGO Network brings together 28 members from across Europe and supports organisations with a common per- spective on Roma grassroots empowerment and equal citizenship, and to challenge stereotypes and combat stigmati- zation

Le gouvernement canadien annonce la reconnaissance officielle du génocide des Roms.

Montréal, Québec – le 3 août 2018 : Au lendemain de la Journée internationale de commémoration du génocide des Roms, Romanipe se réjouit de l’annonce de la reconnaissance officielle du gouvernement canadien.

La reconnaissance des atrocités commises durant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale est le fruit du travail acharné mené depuis des années par des organismes et personnes de la société civile rom. Nous saluons cette reconnaissance officielle qui aurait été impossible sans l’appui du Musée de l’Holocauste Montréal, du Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA) et L’Alliance pour le Souvenir et la Sensibilisation du Génocide (AGAR).

L’annonce faite durant la cérémonie de commémoration tenue au Musée de l’Holocauste Montréal est particulièrement significative pour les survivants Roms et Sinté oubliés pendant trop longtemps.

« Cette reconnaissance est le premier pas assurant que le sort des communautés roms entre de plein droit dans l’histoire de la Seconde Guerre mondiale et soit officialisé dans les événements  commémoratifs honorant ses victimes. Ce geste contribuera également au processus de guérison collective de cette tragédie qui a frappé les populations roms et sinté aux mains des Nazis et de leurs collaborateurs. »

Dafina Savic, Fondatrice de Romanipe

 

Dans le contexte actuel, où la haine et la violence subie par les populations roms continuent d’être normalisées, préserver la mémoire des atrocités passées et prendre conscience des dangers de l’impunité qui sévit encore pour les crimes anti-Roms devient non seulement un droit, mais aussi un devoir.

 

En l’honneur des 500 000 victimes Roms et des Sinté, Romanipe attend avec impatience l’opportunité de pouvoir travailler avec le gouvernement canadien pour faire avancer les droits de la personne des communautés roms au Canada et ailleurs dans le monde.

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