The Schengen Agreement and the Roma

I read most of this article in a rather sceptical frame of mind.  Although I accept that the Roma face discrimination, inadequate housing and (sometimes) intimidation in many countries, and although I can sympathise with their wish for a better standard of living, I am not sure this makes them candidates for asylum, when people who face imprisonment, torture or death sometimes struggle to make their case heard.

Ever since European visa requirements were dropped for travelers from Serbia and Macedonia, an increasing number of Roma asylum seekers from the two countries have been making their way to Germany. They have all been rejected — and Roma rights groups are furious.

Perhaps there are some Roma individuals, or communities, who do deserve to have their case taken more seriously – but the article didn’t make a compelling case.

I think the writer missed the real story here, which is tucked away in the middle of the long article.

European Commission officials have said that the influx of asylum seekers from the Balkans could jeopardize the ongoing process of visa liberalization for countries in the region. Last October, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström wrote a letter to the interior ministers of Serbia and Macedonia asking them to take measures to prevent the flow of the asylum seekers to EU member states. Around the same time, an expert mission organized by Belgian authorities and including European Commission members visited Skopje and Belgrade to express their concerns in person.

Clearly the Balkan governments are not going to want to jeopardise this visa liberalisation process.  But what exactly are they expected to do to stop the flow of asylum seekers?  Clamp down on discrimination and improve conditions for the Roma?  Or could there be an easier and cheaper solution?

Border patrol police in Serbia and Macedonia have since taken steps to strengthen controls, checking to see if travelers have return tickets, requesting evidence that travelers have enough money to stay in the Schengen area for their intended stay, and telling potential asylum applicants that their applications will be rejected.

It is significant that Bulgaria and Romania are coming under pressure at the moment, as politicians in Western Europe express doubts about their planned accession to Schengen, doubts which particularly focus on worries about their Roma populations being able to move freely.

Will they too impose tough criteria on people wishing to leave their own country, on the basis of their ethnicity?  Some might argue that it’s the culture not the ethnicity which is being targeted, but many reports demonstrate that law abiding, employed Roma are certainly not immune from discrimination based on their race.