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    Statelessness, Discrimination and Marginalisation of Roma in the Western Balkans and Ukraine

    OCTOBER 2017

    The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) is a Roma-led international public interest law organ- isation working to combat anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma. The approach of the ERRC involves strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and policy develop- ment and training of Romani activists. The ERRC has consultative status with the Council of Europe, as well as with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

    The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) is a civil society alliance with over 100 members in 40 countries committed to addressing statelessness in Europe. ENS believes that all human beings have a right to a nationality and that those who lack nationality altogether are entitled to full protection. ENS aims to achieve its mission through awareness-raising, law & policy and capacity- building activities.

    The Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) is an independent non-profit organisation committed to an integrated, human rights based response to the injustice of statelessness and exclusion through a combination of research, education, partnerships and advocacy.


    The #RomaBelong project is a joint initiative by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) and the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) in collaboration with partner organisations in Albania (Tirana Legal Aid Society), Bosnia- Herzegovina (Vaša prava BiH Association), Macedonia (Macedonian Young Lawyers Associa- tion), Montenegro (Mladi Romi), Serbia (Praxis) and Ukraine (Desyate Kvitnya). The project aims to better understand and address Romani statelessness (and risk of statelessness) in European Union candidate and neighbourhood countries in the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herze- govina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), and Ukraine.

  • Copyright: © ERRC, ISI, ENS, October 2017 Please see for more information about using, sharing, and citing this and other ERRC materials ISBN 978-963-89916-7-6 Design: Anikó Székffy Layout: Dzavit Berisha Printed by: Molnár és Faragó Bt., Budapest, Hungary Cover photo: © ERRC This report is published in English

    Address: 1077 Budapest, Wesselényi u. 16, Hungary Office Tel: +36 1 413 2200 Office Fax: +36 1 413 2201 E-mail:


    The European Roma Rights Centre is dependent upon the generosity of individual donors for its continued existence. Please join in enabling its future with a contribution. Gifts of all sizes are welcome and can be made via PAYPAL on the ERRC website (, click on the Donate button at the top right of the home page) or bank transfer to the ERRC account:

    Bank name: BUDAPEST BANK Bank address: BÁTHORI UTCA 1, 1054 HUNGARY Bank account holder: EUROPEAN ROMA RIGHTS CENTRE EUR bank account number: 30P00-402686 (EUR IBAN: HU21-10103173-40268600-00000998) SWIFT (or BIC) code: BUDAHUHB

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    Table of Contents

    Executive Summary 5

    1 Introduction 7 1.1 About Roma 8 1.2 About the project and methodology 9

    2 Underlying Themes 11 2.1 Statelessness and discrimination – a mutually reinforcing cycle 11 2.2 Barriers to accessing justice 13 2.3 Bureaucratic challenges 14

    3 Scope and Causes of Statelessness of Roma 17 3.1 Scope of Roma statelessness in the Western Balkans and Ukraine 17 3.2 Causes of Roma statelessness in the Western Balkans and Ukraine 20

    4 International and regional obligations and frameworks 25 4.1 Relevant international and regional standards 25 4.2 Addressing Roma rights through European regional frameworks 26

    5 Documentation and Civil Status 31 5.1 Birth Registration 33 5.2 Permanent Residence 38 5.3 Progress towards addressing documentation challenges 40

    6 Marginalisation, Poverty and Exclusion 43 6.1 Marginalisation as a cause and consequence of statelessness 43 6.2 Responsibility and blame 48 6.3 Progress towards addressing documentation challenges 50

    7 Conclusions 53

    8 Recommendations 55

    9 Acknowledgements 59

    10 Bibliography 61

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    T H E Y T R E A T M E D I F F E R E N T L Y : I N T H E H O S P I T A L S ,

    T H E Y D O N ’ T T R E A T M Y C H I L D R E N . I A L W A Y S H A V E

    T O B E G T H E D O C T O R S . F O R O T H E R P E O P L E , I T I S

    M U C H E A S I E R … I F M Y C H I L D R E N H A D B I R T H C E R -

    T I F I C A T E S T H E Y W O U L D T R E A T U S M U C H B E T T E R . . .

    [ I C O U L D ] G O T O H O S P I T A L A N D H E L P M Y C H I L D R E N

    G E T N A T I O N A L I T Y … I [ C O U L D ] S E N D M Y C H I L D R E N

    T O S C H O O L S O T H E Y C A N H A V E A B E T T E R L I F E .

    Romani woman, Macedonia

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    Executive Summary

    This report synthesises the findings of the #RomaBelong project, which set out to explore the nexus between statelessness, discrimination and marginalisation of Romani people in Eu- ropean Union candidate and neighbourhood countries in the Western Balkans and Ukraine. It draws on data from interviews with Roma individuals and associations, state actors, NGOs, journalists and international agencies to identify and analyse the main factors contributing to the risk of statelessness and its impact on the daily lives of Romani people in the region. As a partnership between both international and national organisations, those focused on state- lessness on the one hand, and Roma rights on the other, the project draws on different fields of expertise to make recommendations to national and regional stakeholders for concrete action to address the issues it uncovers.

    Three underlying themes emerge to varying degrees from all the research countries: systemic discrimination and exclusion of Roma, barriers to accessing justice, and bureaucratic chal- lenges presented by complex administrative systems and procedures. These themes point both to the prevalence of discrimination against Roma in the region, and to administrative challenges that constrain access to rights in more general terms, but which have a dispropor- tionate impact on the most marginalised.

    The scope and causes of Romani statelessness are also explored, exposing a fourth common challenge: a lack of reliable data on both statelessness and Roma populations. The invisibility this perpetuates has made it more difficult to plan an adequate response and easier to deny the serious- ness of the issue. The report elicits how despite strong international treaty accession records, and reasonably strong domestic legal frameworks, norms and standards are not universally and equally applied to protect Roma from discrimination and statelessness in the research countries.

    In identifying some of the key causes of Romani statelessness in the Western Balkans and Ukraine, the impact of displacement, conflict and state secession on the risk of statelessness is examined. For example, the report touches on how the legacy of conflict and family histories of displacement continue to impact disproportionately on Roma in the Western Balkans; and how the lack of documentation among former USSR citizens or challenges for those internally displaced by the current situation, perpetuate the risk of statelessness among Roma in Ukraine.

    The second half of the report presents two key issues that emerged strongly from the re- search: barriers to accessing documentation, such as birth registration, identification and permanent residence (Section 5) and marginalisation, poverty and exclusion (Section 6). A consensus emerges that access to documentation is a significant challenge for Roma, but state interviewees tend towards stereotypical views, blaming Roma communities’ lack of educa- tion, awareness or willingness, rather than problems with the system. Roma interviewees, on the other hand, clearly articulate frustrations with how a lack of documentation impacts

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    on their daily lives, citing bureaucracy, cost and discrimination, as barriers to resolving their documentation issues. The report also illustrates how this inability to access documentation has an intergenerational impact, perpetuating the risk of statelessness.

    Underpinning many of the challenges facing Roma across the region is their marginalised position in society. Although the degree and impact of their exclusion may vary in different contexts, and different actors attribute different causes, the report explores how interviewees perceived and experienced exclusion as a factor exacerbating the risk of statelessness. The findings cover areas such as poverty and unemployment, literacy, gender equality, access to healthcare and housing, and treatment by the police. Notwithstanding these challenges, progress towards reducing the risk of statelessness among Roma populations is also identified in examples of how legislative reform, simplification of procedures, community outreach and engagement, and cooperation between NGOs, inter- national agencies and governments, have contributed to addressing the issue in spe


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