Open Letter to the Norwegian Government

13 December 1996

Honorable Prime Minister,

In the coming hours, the Norwegian authorities intend to deport 170 Polish Roma back to Poland. The Roma have been heard by the asylum authorities and, to a person, these applications have been rejected.

According to all information available to the ERRC, the Roma constitute a threatened minority in Polish society; in the past five years, there have been instances of community violence against Roma, police violence against Roma and police killings of Roma. There is presently a skinhead movement in Poland which targets Roma, and anti-Romani graffiti proclaiming genocidal intentions against Roma is visible in many cities in Poland. Roma report widespread discrimination in Poland and numerous Roma have gone on record to state that they live in fear in Poland. In this sense, despite its relatively small Romani population, Poland is typical, rather than exceptional for Central and Eastern European countries.

None of these considerations appear to have affected the Norwegian authorities' decision on the fate of this group of Polish Roma. In what would seem to have been the most forthright comment on the planned deportations, Minister of Justice Anne Holt stated in the Norwegian parliament that Roma were only one of many persecuted groups and therefore could not be granted "residence for humanitarian reasons" in Norway. All 170 Polish Roma failed to convince the Norwegian asylum authorities that they had legitimate reasons for fearing persecution in Poland.

It is the position of the ERRC that the Geneva Conventions Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), according to which the Polish Roma concerned were considered for asylum, no longer reflect the real situation of persecuted groups and de facto refugees in the world.

There are presently numerous groups of people fleeing normalized and tolerated persecution all over the world. Roma are one such group, and their flight should be regarded as Europe's most pressing concern. It is simply no longer possible for Western European governments to ignore the massive movement, from East to West, of significant numbers of Eastern European Roma, nor the nearly continuous stream of documentation and appeals of human rights NGOs, journalists and concerned citizens familiar with Central and Eastern Europe. Western immigration and asylum authorities cannot legitimately claim that these are merely economic migrants attempting to exploit favorable economic conditions in Western Europe.

Roma must be viewed as a group which is forced to migrate-- forced by a persistent reality which can be characterized as racial discrimination in the sense of Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). There are presently no effective international legal provisions protecting the fundamental rights of groups which live under the permanent threat of racial discrimination. Present legal systems are a complete failure if they cannot recognize that it is not the burden of any one Rom or another to prove that he or she is persecuted in Eastern Europe, since all Roma are persecuted in Eastern Europe.

The European Roma Rights Center therefore calls on the Norwegian government to act in the spirit of simple decency, recognize the collective persecution to which Roma are subjected in Eastern Europe, and grant protection to this group.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

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