Roma in terms of military conflict: assistance is needed more than ever

The military conflict in the East has deepened the problems faced by Roma community in peacetime. Roma IDPs face all typical problems like all other people fleeing from the war. However, Roma experience the double discrimination.

The military conflict in the East has deepened the problems faced by Roma community in peacetime.  Roma IDPs face all typical problems like all other people fleeing from the war. However, Roma experience the double discrimination.

The reasons are the following – lack of documents, illiteracy, poor access to education and health care, lack of awareness about their rights, stigmatization – prejudices against Roma in the society, and – what is the most unacceptable – by the authorities as well. 

«We observe the rise of ethnic discrimination, – specifies the coordinator of Kharkiv-based organization “Chachimo” Natalia Burlutska. – A significant percentage of Roma migrants live below the poverty line, being in a new city they do not have any means of subsistence, often – any documents and even primary education». 

«This entails a number of other problems, for example, the impossibility to obtain some social benefits, employment, inheritance, confirmation of family ties, – agrees the head of the Dnipropetrovsk region Foundation “Horeniye” Denis Grechko.– As the consequence we observe almost complete isolation of Roma».

The civil society organizations and activists who provide legal and social assistance to Roma IDPs help them to protect their rights and often – even lives. Among them – the Zhytomyr NGO “National Cultural Association of Roma “Romano Kham”, Kharkiv non-governmental Spiritual and Educational organization “Chahimo” and All-Ukrainian Charity Foundation “Horeniye” (Pavlograd, Dnipropetrovsk region) and the Centres of legal information and consultations[i] which work with them. They responded to the first challenges back in April and May 2014 when the first wave of IDPs rushed to Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkiv regions.   

Regional features of the situation of Roma IDPs

Since April 2014 Zhytomyr region has hosted approximately 500 Roma from the ATO area. The volunteers of NGO “Romano Kham” led by Liudmyla Kobernyk, a member of the Council of Roma of Ukraine and who coordinates all possible assistance to Roma throughout Ukraine with her colleagues, took people from Kramatorsk, Alchevsk, Ienakiievo, Donetsk, Luhansk and Dnipropetrovsk in difficult conditions. During the hostilities in the East of Ukraine more than 1 000 Roma received the legal assistance.   

The organization “Chahimo” has provided assistance to 1 261 Roma during the first wave of resettlement in June 2014 which exactly affected Kharkiv region: with the support of their partners they provided humanitarian, social, legal assistance, and where possible – shelter as well. During six months 197 people appealed to the Center. Lawyers manage 15 cases and assist Roma on various categories of applications, including registration of passports, recovery of the documents lost in the ATO area, protection from discrimination and others. 

Barriers to adaptation are racial intolerance and xenophobia

The head of CF “Horeniye” Denis Grechko says that the organization drew attention to IDPs exactly after providing settlement to the problems of the group of Roma who moved to Dnipropetrovsk region once they were deprived of the shelter in the resort where IDPs had been hosted. The head of “Romano Kham” Liudmyla Kobernyk suggests a similar example when three Roma families displaced from Luhansk and Donetsk were “kindly asked” by the Zhytomyr local authorities to leave the hotel rooms temporarily provided to them because other visitors didn’t want to settle close to Roma. Although after the intervention of human rights activists Roma were left alone, anyway two weeks later they were forced to leave – now these poor families rent their housing. There is another example of vulnerability of Roma in Zhytomyr region because of their poverty and social insecurity: the family of 11 Roma with disabled husband and wife (both are older than 50) was forced to spend two nights outdoors near the city executive committee on December in a cold weather – the Mayor’s Office failed to provide temporary shelter to people and didn’t tell them what to do, how to prepare documents, etc. Only after the intervention of “Romano Kham’s” human rights activists the family got a refuge in a church and later received proper social benefits. The human rights activist also indicates the cases where officials simply refused to communicate with Roma, sent them to other offices, advised them to go to the immigration office and even to the police – to get registered. In the city of Vovchansk, Kharkiv region another example of blatant discrimination took place when some policemen beat Roma IDPs, requested money and threatened to return them to the ATO area.[ii]   

New mechanisms for legal assistance developed during the projects.

The main types of assistance which Roma IDPs need are the following: assistance in resettlement, execution of the documents of identity, of the status of IDP, of social benefits, mediation in dealing with local authorities and law enforcers, provision of legal advice, humanitarian and psychological assistance.    

Local NGOs proposed some new effective approaches that helped to create effective mechanisms of legal assistance to Roma.

Particularly, mobile centers of consultation were established in Kharkiv – specialized units to advice a group from 5 to 100 people at a time during the visits to compact residence of Roma – already 16 visits have been made and they have covered 563 people. 

The legal advice center for Roma IDPs and other members of Roma communities was established in Dnipropetrovsk region. It has already provided legal assistance to 211 Roma.

A new legal mechanism has been introduced in the region – engaging mediators to the work with Roma communities among representatives of Roma organizations from different regions in particular from Sloviansk, where bashing of Roma settlements happened in April 2014. The main objectives of this cooperation are to provide the isolated Roma communities the information in understandable language on how to appeal to different institutions, on their rights, on the possibility of free legal aid, to meet Roma in order to identify their urgent problems, to coordinate consultancy appeals of those Roma who are willing to leave the area of hostilities in Dnipropetrovsk region. In order to enhance the cooperation the Founation “Horeniye” plans to involve the educated young Roma who live in Dnipropetrovsk and hold the scholarships of Roma Education Fund

Active position of civil society leaders contributed to the establishment of contacts for finding and provision of humanitarian assistance for Roma from volunteer movements and international organizations: during summer of 2014 Roma children IDPs from Kharkiv were able to recreate in the children’s camp “Khamaro” organized by “Chachimo” organization.

One of the priorities of the organization is to overcome prejudices against Roma, reduction of stigma, elimination of inequality between Roma and the local population. In January 2015 in Zhytomyr the first issue of the newspaper “Romano Djiepe” (Roma life) was published. The publication provides an opportunity to show people the culture and traditions of Roma as well as the contribution of Roma organizations in solving common problems in communities.

The importance of continuation of such projects lies in the fact that today basic legal problems of Roma remain unsolved and they become even more acute for Roma IDPs. And while the military conflict continues the assistance to vulnerable groups will require additional efforts of the entire society.

The views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of International Renaissance Foundation.

 Author: Olena Orlova, Informational Resource Center of the initiative “Legal Space”

[i] The projects have been implemented with the support of Roma Program Initiative of International Renaissance Foundation.

[ii] The examples of legal, humanitarian, psychological and moral assistance to Roma IDPs within the framework of the project of International Renaissance Foundation may be found on the “Legal Space” web-portal under the heading “Empowerment of Roma communities”.

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