Tuesday, April 23, 2013



Q & A

Amoun Sleem runs a community center to help Gypsy youths fight poverty and discrimination, which she once faced herself.

April 19, 2013|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times



JERUSALEM — Growing up poor and motherless in the slums of Jerusalem's Old City, Amoun Sleem dropped out of school at age 7 after her teacher repeatedly singled her out as a Gypsy, inspecting her hair for lice in front of the class and calling her "Nawar," a derogatory Arabic term that means "dirty."

On the streets, she learned English by selling postcards to tourists, but soon realized that a life of begging was not for her. At 9, she reentered school and stayed until she got a degree in business administration from Ibrahimi College in Jerusalem.

Now Sleem runs the Domari Society of Gypsies in Jerusalem, a community learning and advocacy center created to preserve the culture of the Dom people, believed to be a branch of the Roma ethnic group — though she prefers the term Gypsies. She hopes to instill pride in today's youths, who are facing the same poverty and discrimination she did.

As many of Jerusalem's approximately 1,000 Gypsies seek to assimilate into Palestinian society because they've been made to feel ashamed of their roots, Sleem's center offers classes in the dying language of Domari, cookbooks of Gypsy recipes, lessons in traditional crafts and after-school tutoring to address the community's dropout rate, which she said is still 30%.

Sleem, who is publishing her autobiography later this year, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about how to end her community's cycle of poverty without losing its identity in the Holy Land, where Gypsies have lived for centuries.

It seems one of the biggest challenges to Gypsy culture in Jerusalem is the shame and self-loathing some Gypsies feel. What happened to Gypsy pride?

A lot of us gave up on our culture because we didn't want people to point or laugh at us. We face discrimination from both Israelis and Palestinians. So in order to fit in, some are ashamed to even speak our language in the streets. Traditionally, Gypsy women love colorful clothing, but now they dress like other Palestinians so they don't stand out. As we mix in with Palestinians, we are losing our identity.

Much of the problem is with ourselves. People look at us as if we are lower. They think we are lazy or beggars. They don't want their children to marry us. It makes us feel that we are not acceptable. And because we don't see any other reality, we start to believe it too.

How do you combat those negatives attitudes, especially when they are instilled at such a young age?

It's very hard to correct. Children learn to be ashamed because of the discrimination they face in schools and in the streets. We provide emotional support and after-school tutoring. We teach them to be proud to be Gypsy. [Recently] some of the girls came into the center to show us their exams and they all got high scores. They were so proud.

The best way is to try to grow inside them a strong belief in themselves. We see some progress. Sometimes I tease them when they are bad and call them "Nawar," and they say back, "No! We are the Dom people."

Gypsies and Jews were both persecuted in the Holocaust. Has that created a bond between the groups?

Most Israelis see us as Palestinians, but sometimes they might respect you a little more than Arabs, probably because this history brings us together. The Jewish people had many of the same problems. No one wanted them in their countries.

But that doesn't turn into help for us. There's not much attention paid to us from the Jewish side. We'd like the government to recognize us as an official minority. We hope that would allow us to get money and support for our culture.

Some of the harshest treatment seems to come from Palestinians.

I connect it to the occupation. They feel they are discriminated against by the Jews, so they look for someone else to discriminate against.

But to be honest, our community is not easy. We don't prove [our worth by making] good livings. You don't see a lot of Gypsy businessmen. There is still a problem with beggars. It's become a bad habit for us. This is the only community center we have.

As an outspoken community leader and a woman, are you seen as a role model?

No, there is still a mentality about women. People think I'm trying to wear the pants or trying to be a man. Being single makes it even worse. Many in our society don't support or believe in women. Yet a lot of the burden is on women, who are expected to beg, raise the children and take care of the house while men sleep and drink coffee. But now you're starting to see more divorce in the community. Women are saying this is not OK anymore.

Which parts of Gypsy culture are most at risk?

The language could disappear here in 20 years. Only older people speak it, though it's more common in Gypsy communities in Gaza Strip and Jordan.

I'm also trying to bring back items like pillows, jewelry-making, big earrings and colorful dresses. We are losing some of our traditions during funerals and weddings, when there is lots of cooking for the entire community over several days and [women decorate their hands with] henna.

Gypsy women are even cutting their hair and coloring it to make it lighter. They think long, black hair is a sign that you are a Gypsy. I even thought about it once, but my father told me, "If you change your hair, you are not my daughter."

When some people think of Gypsies, they think of singing, dancing, fortunetelling. Is that part of the culture or a stereotype?

Many people say that's part of the culture, but I think it was mostly just a way to make money, particularly in Europe. People thought Gypsies could read minds and Gypsies saw it as an opportunity to make a job out of it.

Your center uses the word "Gypsy," but isn't "Romani" the politically correct term?

I will always use "Gypsy." I love the name. It's romantic and has more meaning than "Romani." Some in our community wanted to change the name because they weren't happy with it. But that's their problem. One day I hope people will find it acceptable and say it with pride.


Friday, April 19, 2013



Budapest, Milan, 19 April 2013:



PHOTO Ulisse lives under the Bacula bridge in Milan (Chiara Tiraboschi)

In Italy, Romani communities were faced with another eviction today. The eviction came after a week of protests targeting an informal Romani settlement in Milan which is home to about 350 Roma, mostly from Romania. The protests, led by far right groups and accompanied by racist slogans, turned violent when the protestors threw stones into the settlement.

On 12 April 2013, the far right organisations, Gioventù della Fiamma and Circolo Domenico Leccisi e Gioventù di Ferro held an authorised demonstration in front of the camp.“Roma, go away from the neighborhood” was their call during the demonstration, which approximately 80 people attended. Two more unauthorised demonstrations of a similar nature took place on 15 and 16 April 2013, during which stones were thrown into the camp and fascist slogans and fascist salutes were made.

Following these protests, which called for the urgent eviction of the informal Romani settlement, the Milanese municipal authorities went to the camp yesterday and informed the residents that the camp would be closed. Some Romani residents left the camp after this warning. The authorities began evicting the remaining Roma today early in the morning.

According to municipal authorities, the plan to evict the Roma from the camp had been developed and announced previously. However, they accelerated the process due to security concerns and their inability to protect the Roma settlement from increasing hostility in the area.

The municipality initially announced that they would provide accommodation at a shelter for about 150 people, prioritising women, families with children and persons with disabilities. It is not known how many Romani individuals have been left homeless. The municipality plans to open a new shelter to accommodate them, expected to be opened by the end of April.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and Gruppo di Sostegno Forlanini (GSF) are concerned about the safety and security of all Romani individuals who left the camp. Milanese authorities cite security concerns as the major reason to have closed down the camp; however the question remains as to how they will ensure the safety of Roma who are now homeless, and thus yet more vulnerable.

The ERRC and GSF are particularly concerned that this racially-fuelled mob violence is reminiscent of the 2008 pogrom in Ponticelli, Naples and the more recent razing of a Romani settlement in La Continassa, Turin in late 2011. The ERRC and GSF believe that the authorities of Milan are making some headway in the integration of Roma after many years of negative and emergency-based approaches. The NGOs hope that the authorities will in future do all that they can not to surrender to the demands of aggressive right wing groups, and will protect the fundamental rights of all Roma including their right to life, right to housing and right to privacy.

The ERRC and GSF call upon the municipal authorities to provide adequate alternative accommodation to those in emergency shelter following the eviction and to those now on the street, and request that they take all necessary measures to prevent the reoccurrence of such aggression.

For more information, contact:

Sinan Gökçen
Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre

Thursday, April 18, 2013



Posted by David Meyer




David Meyer is a Foreign Affairs Officer working on Roma issues in the Office of European Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

The Romani people, one of the largest minority groups in Europe, have made significant contributions to European and American culture and societies. From musicians and dancers in Spain, to human rights lawyers in Budapest, to dedicated educators in Macedonia, the Roma people continue to shape Europe's future. Yet, the Roma are one of the most marginalized groups in Europe, facing challenges to overcome systematic discrimination. On April 8, 2013, U.S. and European human rights activists and scholars came together at Harvard University for a conference entitled "Realizing Roma Rights: Addressing Violence, Discrimination, and Segregation in Europe to celebrate International Roma Day" to discuss how the Roma can reclaim their rights and harness the human potential of a diverse population of more than 10 million people.

Living in Eastern Europe in 2009, I witnessed firsthand the effects of the socio-economic exclusion of the Roma population. These experiences led me to return to the State Department in 2012 to focus on U.S. government efforts to promote Roma inclusion and rights in Europe.

It wasn't until 1971 that April 8 was declared International Roma Day by the 4th Romani World Congress. Since then, there has been a steady revitalization of organizations dedicated to promoting Roma inclusion and an awakening of even some of the most isolated Romani populations to their rights in a free and economically prosperous Europe.

One of the most well-known Romani activists to emerge out of this awakening, Andrzej Mirga, now the Senior Advisor on Roma and Sinti Issues at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, took the stage. He has become one of the most ardent defenders of Roma rights in Europe and represents, along with his peers, a small but growing cohort of savvy Romani professionals dedicated to the betterment of their people's social and economic situation.

Mr. Mirga noted that since the 1980s, there have been many potential "historic moments" for societal change to better the situation of Roma, but activists have often been disillusioned by the significant gaps that still exist and the slow progress of European initiatives.

To overcome these gaps, the State Department stands with tireless advocates such as Mr. Mirga. As Secretary Kerry said, "The United States reaffirms its determination to meet this challenge, together with European governments, civil society, and through international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to achieve equality, opportunity, and inclusion for all Roma."

Read more about the State Department's activities on our International Roma Day page on HumanRights.gov.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Statement by Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence on the occasion of International Roma Day

FROM EU 2013


On International Roma Day, 8 April 2013, the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, Chair of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, emphasised the importance of implementing the National Roma Integration Strategies, which were published in 2012.

Minister Shatter said: “The development of these Strategies was a major step towards a more inclusive and socially cohesive European Union based on respect for diverse cultural traditions and identities. Implementing the strategies will ensure that the plight of Roma is properly considered in the four priority areas of education, employment, healthcare and housing.”

The Minister pointed out that the experience of Member States in implementing their strategies will enable them to engage in mutual learning, and to elaborate and apply good practices in this field over time. The awaited proposal from the Commission for a Council Recommendation on good practices and approaches to faster socio-economic integration of Roma, which is due to be published during the Irish Presidency, will further advance this work.

Minister Shatter - "Implementing the strategies will ensure that the plight of Roma is properly considered in the four priority areas of education, employment, healthcare and housing.”

The Minister said: “Since our Union is founded on freedom, democracy, justice, the rule of law and respect for human rights, we as Europeans must be greatly concerned by the shocking increase in racism and anti-Semitism in some parts of Europe. I would like to commend Amnesty International for drawing attention to this very important issue.”

Protecting fundamental rights and promoting the Rule of Law in Europe is a priority for Minister Shatter during the Irish Presidency of the European Union. At the Informal meeting of Justice Ministers in January, Ministers considered ways in which political leaders can help tackle growing problems of hate crime and intolerance including racism and anti-Semitism across Europe.

The Minister said:

“We must remain constantly vigilant and take a united approach at European Union and Member State level to address this worrying issue.”

Monday, April 15, 2013


International Roma Day marked the renewal of European and international institutions' call for the integration of Roma communities in the region.



PHOTO The region's Roma population lives in poverty. [AFP]

On April 8th, the EU and its member states underlined that it will not accept the economic and social marginalisation of the continent's largest minority.

"Improving the situation for Roma people is one of the biggest challenges we face in Europe. Making a real difference to their daily lives requires long-term commitments, adequate resources, and concerted action at local, regional, national and European level," the Union said in a statement.

"The EU has laid down a strong framework for action and Member States have drawn up national strategies for Roma inclusion. This is a good first step. The key is now to make sure these policies are implemented on the ground."

One of the largest ethnic minority groups in Europe, numbering 10 million to 12 million, Roma are also arguably the most discriminated against. Most live in central and eastern Europe and the Balkans in abject poverty; levels of education and literacy are low, unemployment rates are exceptionally high. Many are officially stateless. Without identification documents they are unable to access social programmes and benefits.

Among those working to improve the minority position is Shpresa Agushi, a Roma female activist in Kosovo. For over a decade, the mother of three children has become a leading advocate for Roma.

"It's urgent to have effective education, gender equality and employment policies for a successful impact in the Roma's position," said Agushi.

Although there is no lack of legal support endorsement for minorities and women in the region's laws, there is a lack of appropriate execution of those laws, she said.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Roma are the largest ethnic minority in the country. Data from the BiH Ministry of Civil Affairs shows the number of Roma in the country around 40,000, but NGOs said the number is more than double that.

Hedina Sijerčić, the national co-ordinator for Roma people in BiH, said the fact is that many Roma do not want to define themselves as Roma, but as members of the majority nation.

"That is the reason why is not possible to say how many Roma we have," Sijerčić told SETimes.

Despite their marginalisation, however, many Roma in the region are dedicated to succeed.

Dragana Seferovic, 23, made her way through life to become a ballet dancer, teacher and student. Dragana lives in Sarajevo where she is student at the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education and teaching ballet classes in National Theatre in Zenica.

"I am proud of what I am and happy to be able to show other Roma kids how everything is possible. They should newer give up on their dreams," Seferovic told SETimes.

She was abandoned by her parents as a child, and ended up at the Home for Abandoned Children in Bjelave. She eventually was moved to the SOS Children's Village, an NGO in Sarajevo that houses and takes care of abandoned children, children's whose parents are not able to take care of them for medical, financial, or other reasons.

"In Bosnia I understood what means to be Roma," Seferovic said, adding that it is difficult for Roma to battle the prejudice and stigma in Bosnian society.

"I was lucky to have support from different organisations and programmes for Roma people, specially from Education Builds BiH, whose scholarship I have had for six years. They helped me to finish two high schools, and now I am on third year of faculty."

In Turkey, where the Roma population is about 5 million, the level of education is poor. Roughly 7 percent of Roma children graduate from high school or university, while the diversification of the employment opportunities are very limited as well.

But, Elmas Kara Arus is one Roma citizen who has broken this circle by providing her peers with the possibility of another world.

Despite the traditional lifestyle of her community, she went to high school, and graduated from the media department of Thrace University, and then from Istanbul University.

Arus is a renowned documentary filmmaker and the head of Istanbul-based Zero Discrimination Association, which advocates for Roma rights in Turkish society.

"I spent my childhood in a semi-nomadic family in northern city of Amasya. When I was 7, we came to Istanbul. I was one of the unique girls among my peers to go primary school, through the efforts of my father," Arus told SETimes.

In Romania, the Roma population is 3.2 percent, the second-largest ethnic minority in the country after Hungarians.

Florin Dumitrache, a 19-year-old Roma student at medical college, comes from the village about 50 kilometres southeast of Bucharest.

"I have never neglected school because I knew I had a road to follow. I wanted to be different from the rest of the community, but at the same time be a positive example for them," he told SETimes.

Florin has been part of a project called Roma Professionals in Medicine, which is funded by the NGO ActiveWatch.

Prejudice about his ethnic roots is still out there, he said. "But most of the people I meet accept me for what I am," Florin said.

Correspondents Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul, Katica Djurovic in Belgrade, Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest, Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje and Safet Kabasaj in Pristina contributed to this report.

Saturday, April 6, 2013




Robert Rustem: My wishes on International Roma Day

International Roma Day beckons and when pressed to comment on the meaning of the occasion, it is tempting to reply “please refer to the statements of previous years.”

Then, as now, the situation which Roma communities confront across Europe is one that simply beggars belief in 21st century Europe. According to Amnesty International, “eight out of 10 Roma households in the EU are at risk of poverty.” That’s millions of fellow European citizens.

The seriousness of the current circumstances is not lost on Roma activists and other human rights defenders.

Where deaf ears are to be found is among the feckless officials and policy-makers who turn a blind-eye to Roma misery, dishonoured by their resort to equivocation, ambiguity and ‘blaming the victim whilst excusing the aggressor.’

Europe seems to have forgotten the central lesson of the past century – Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

AmnestyInternational reveals that “in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria, between January 2008 and July 2012, there have been more than 120 serious violent attacks against Romani people and their property, including shootings, stabbings and Molotov cocktails.”

And these are just the reported incidents. The European Roma and Travellers Forum has learned of many more incidents of intimidation and violence which confirm that anti-Roma prejudice flourishes across Europe.

Yet, it is a disservice to International Roma Day, to reduce the occasion to a laundry list of crimes, reproaches and pleas for international recognition and respect.

International Roma Day should be a celebration of the humanity of Roma people and their courage and fortitude in the face of a quite terrifying array of social and economic obstacles. Despite all that Roma communities endure, there is no hint of rebellion. The iron survival instinct and the indomitable spirit of the Roma people continue to serve them well – just as they have done over centuries, in times even darker than we know today.

Equally, International Roma Day is an opportunity to rally non-Roma people to the cause of fairness, freedom and equality.

Just as the institutions of slavery, ‘Jim Crow’ America and South African Apartheid were withered by fearless direct action, international condemnation and progressive alliances, so the day is coming when Roma people’s second class status will also be a detail of history.

Non-Roma people should be encouraged to accelerate that process and resist the slide towards mayhem signalled by rising ‘Roma-phobia. And they should be welcomed as allies in the just and defining struggle against the forces of hate.

The message of International Roma Day to Roma and non-Roma alike is simple and clear – be on the right side of history!

The author Robert Rustem is Executive Secretary of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, which has a partnership agreement with the Council of Europe.



For several years, HIlary Clinton, as Secretary of State, issued strong statements of support for the Romani people worldwide on International Roma Day.

I wonder if John Kerry will do the same.

A reminder to allies that Monday is International Roma Day.

There are many events throughout Europe and the United States and Canada.

I encourage people to attend the Flamenco show on Vashon Island WA USA.

If any one needs information about an event in their area they can check this site or the lolodiklo:romani against racism facebook page.

If it's neither of those places, email me at
Put IRD in the subject line.

If you can't attend an event or rally, please light a candle and talk to someone who is not familiar with the oppression of the Roma.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013






As you know the next day, April 8th, is celebrated around the world the International Roma Day.

That day Roma Gypsies approach the riverbanks to throw flower petals which floating on the water crossing borders, symbolize the feeling of freedom of our people who consider the whole earth as the universal homeland of mankind.

Floating lights will then be deposited on the calm waters in memory of our ancestors, especially the over half a million Roma who died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

At this especially tough time that we live in, when our people are being subjected to cruel persecution in countries with old democratic tradition, as Greece or Hungary, when those fleeing famine and misery of their home countries, believe having found in the Old and prosperous Europe a more human life hope and they are expelled as in France and Italy, we must raise our voices to demand of governments and society a gesture of solidarity that make us not to lose all hope.

On April 8 we must go out with a smile and with an outstretched hand to whoever wants to hold it. And who wants to listen to us we should explain them how we really are. Let our people not to look as the perverted and false image that is being offered of us in some media. That despite what they saw and heard in the mouths of other Roma, their manifestations are exclusively entitled to them and they are not at all representative of what the majority of Spanish Gypsies think and feel.

On the 8th we must feel the pride of belonging to a great people. We are more than fourteen million people all over the world. Fourteen million people with a common history, a common language and with a largely shared culture and with the manifest desire to remain being what we are: XXI century’s Gypsies.

At the same time we must make an effort so that no one is shocked. We are Spanish Gypsies, as the Gypsies of the neighboring countries are French or Portuguese, and the vast majority of us are European citizens.

On the 8th, our president Juan de Dios Ramírez-Heredia will participate in Sibiu ( Romania ) in the VIII International Congress of the Romani Union and the day after he will be in Brussels to raise his voice in the European Parliament building to testify, once again, our infinite desire of coexistence with the rest of society.

From the Romani Union we call upon all citizens to join us this day of such international importance.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013



EveryOne Group


The Paolo Di Canio Case: no promoters of neo-fascist ideals in sport

A letter to Sunderland Football Club

Milan, April 1, 2013

Dear Sunderland Football Club,

The education of young people and society carries the most noble human and social value, both in sports and in daily life.

As human rights activists of EveryOne Group, we devote our lives to the promotion of the values of Holocaust remembrance and a respect of human rights. These civic values condemn the Nazi and Fascist ideologies which plunged Europe and the world into darkness. A darkness that has not yet been dissipated, as can be seen in the present persecution of the Roma people and refugees, and the serious episodes of racism, homophobia, and racial violence.

Unfortunately Paolo Di Canio is a bad example of a role model within sport, since he promotes neo-fascist ideologies. In an age when hatred and cruelty towards those who are different has returned to poison Europe, we are asking you to consider carefully if Paolo Di Canio is a good choice for your manager, to represent the better aspects of civilization.

There is a strong risk he will attract neo-Nazi, neo-Fascist, racist, and homophobic sympathisers. We ask you to change your mind about his appointment and instead to contribute to the progress of civil society.