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Europe's Roma still facing discrimination and ethnic profiling, say NGOs and policymakers

Europe's largest minority, numbering more than ten million people, continue to be discriminated against and marginalised in many Member States of the European Union. Human rights NGOs and EU policymakers who gathered at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) warned that in many cases police continue to use ethnic profiling against Roma people. A public hearing on "Addressing anti-gypsyism in ethnic profiling practices" was part of the third EU Roma Week, held by the EU institutions in Brussels from April 8 to 12.  

Integration still remains the main problem

Ákos Topolánszky, EESC member and president of the Permanent Study Group on the Inclusion of the Roma, who opened the event, noted that anti-gypsyism in ethnic profiling was still widely used in Europe.

“Roma people are perceived differently because of their race and authentic culture, whether you are talking about decision-making processes, the use of language or access to public services,” he said, adding that ethnic profiling was something that had to be combated.

MEP Tomáš Zdechovský described the situation concerning Roma people as dismal, particularly in the new EU countries in central and eastern Europe with sizeable Roma minorities. He stressed that the most significant problem of these communities undoubtedly remained their inadequate integration into society, which in the majority of cases resulted in poverty. “It is no wonder”, said Mr Zdechovský, “that their poor living conditions lead to a high crime rate and other adverse consequences.”

Migration and terrorism threats behind increase in ethnic profiling

Claire Fernandez, from the European Network Against Racism, drew attention to increased ethnic profiling connected with counter-terrorism measures and strengthened border controls due to migration. She pointed out that Roma and travellers were among many groups affected by this relatively new trend.

 “At EU level there are no safeguards – apart from general equality legislation – to prevent ethnic profiling or other discrimination in the process of law enforcement or border controls,” she said.

Ms Fernandez emphasised that the widely used ethnic profiling affected the trust Roma and travellers had in law enforcement, noting: “It partly explains the low level of reporting of hate crime – when police are seen as part of the problem.” She also commented that the justice system often failed to provide redress for Roma people who reported hate crime or discrimination.

Péter Szegi, who represented the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, noted that Roma people usually face two forms of ethnic profiling: discriminatory fining by the police for minor offences, such as the lack of bicycle accessories or walking in the road, and ID checks. He noted: “This discriminatory singling out for police action becomes a tool to intimidate and segregate Roma communities.”

Background

Ethnic profiling is defined as a widespread form of discrimination that violates human rights norms. It refers to the use of generalisations based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin – rather than individual behaviour or objective evidence – as the basis for suspicion.

A European Union minorities and discrimination survey published in 2016 showed that 19% of European Roma respondents had been stopped by the police in the previous twelve months. Of those, 42% believed this was because of their immigrant or ethnic background (84% in Portugal, 63% in Greece and 57% in the Czech Republic).