The Government’s ambitions and measures for protecting Roma rights are insufficient

The government recently organised an international meeting to discuss antiziganism in Europe. Integration minister Erik Ullenhag writes in DN on 10/4 that “European governments are showing an unwillingness to help the Roma”. The statement calls for introspection. The situation of the Roma in Sweden should be addressed as part of the government’s strategy for Roma inclusion. However, the strategy has shortcomings from a rights perspective and lacks concrete measures to combat discrimination against the Roma in Sweden. In addition, the Swedish right of asylum does not meet the international laws we are required to follow – the Roma who flee to Sweden in the face of antiziganism must be guaranteed protection and not, as is the case now, returned to countries where they are subjected to widespread systemic discrimination.

Kosovo is one of the countries from which the Roma are fleeing. However, the Swedish Migration Board regularly denies these people asylum. Civil Rights Defenders and other international human rights organisations have repeatedly described the sub-standard living conditions of the Roma in Kosovo and how they are regularly subjected to violence and other serious human rights violations. What is really serious is that the Roma’s situation is not due to general poverty in Kosovo, but is the result of systematic discrimination. Kosovo’s authorities are accountable for this situation, partly because of their complicity in the discrimination and partly because of their failure to protect the Roma from the violations. In view of the situation, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have urged European governments not to forcibly repatriate the Roma to Kosovo.

Even so, statistics show that forced returns from Sweden to Kosovo have increased and that only a small percentage of those who come to Sweden are considered to have grounds for asylum under Swedish law. Sweden has also signed a readmission agreement with Kosovo to facilitate the return of asylum seekers. According to statements from the Swedish Migration Board, discrimination is not considered to constitute grounds for asylum and neither therefore is the situation of the Roma in Kosovo. However, in assessing whether a person has the right of asylum in Sweden, the Swedish authorities are bound by the UN Refugee Convention.

Through its case law, the European Court of Human Rights has held that discrimination based on ethnicity may constitute a violation of Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. In addition, according to the guidelines of the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, grounds for asylum are not confined to threats to life or freedom, but also include other serious violations of human rights, such as discrimination based on people’s ethnicity.

The fact that the Swedish authorities consider that discrimination cannot constitute grounds for asylum is a serious situation and contrary to international law. Sweden’s forcible repatriation of the Roma to Kosovo may also violate Sweden’s international obligations. Sweden regularly attracts criticism from the UN Committee against Torture for deporting asylum seekers to countries where they are at risk of torture, and this underlines the fact that there are problems with Swedish asylum law and its application. The UNHCR has also highlighted a number of deficiencies in the Swedish Migration Board’s asylum procedures, including the criteria for defining persecution being set too high.

The Council of Europe’s former Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has stated that the measures taken in Europe aimed at reducing the number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans are leading to further stigmatisation and discrimination of the Roma. Sweden’s previous unlawful deportation of Roma EU citizens caught begging or busking motivates the question whether Sweden’s assessment of Roma asylum seekers from Kosovo is based on the actual fact that they are Roma.

The government’s efforts to raise the issue of how antiziganism in Europe can be combated and the Roma’s situation improved are positive. However, they must be accompanied by clear measures that ensure Sweden meets its international obligations. A general problem with the government’s strategy for the Roma’s inclusion in society is its goal, which is cautious to say the least: the Roma shall have the same rights as others in 20 years’ time. Sweden has, of course, a duty to ensure that the Roma have access to their human rights here and now. This means the government must raise the ambition of its work on Roma rights and at the same time ensure that forced returns to Kosovo cease until the situation has improved.

Robert Hårdh
Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders

John Stauffer
Legal Director, Civil Rights Defenders

Categories: Statements.
Tags: Anti-discrimination, Human rights, Mänskliga rättigheter, Protection against discrimination, Roma, and Roma rights.
Regions: Sweden.