On my morning browse of the news, I found another article on Roma asylum seekers – though, since it’s Fox News, we’re Gypsies and not Roma. They blame us for “eating up funds” that could better help other refugees. In other words, Roma don’t deserve asylum, because they are the masters of their own fate, unlike other refugees. If it is so “unacceptable” to have “twice as many asylum seekers from Serbia than Afghanistan”, why don’t you look into the reasons why? You call my people thieves and fraudsters, but do nothing to investigate why they are leaving their home countries in such large numbers. Fox says that we’re “sometimes” subject to “harassment” from right-wing groups, which clearly is an understatement of the actual conditions present in many EU countries. Roma are forced into ghettos, behind walls, with little or no access to educations, healthcare, or employment opportunities. Institutionalized racism has no face. Not only are Roma forced into these situations (just look at the forced evictions in Romanian town of Baia Mare, where Roma were forced OUT of the ghetto they’d been forced IN to, and sent to an old factory full of toxic materials and other health hazards), they have to put up with blatant racist actions by members of the community – not just “right-wing” groups, but ‘average people’. Not only that, but Roma are harassed by police and other security and governmental groups, for example in Hungary members of the Jobbik party promote racial hatred through online and other materials (touting ‘gipsy crime’) and their “Magyar Garda” regularly harass Romani communities in threatening and violent marches and pogroms.

Officials want to declare the EU “safe” for Roma to prevent asylum seekers. This is missing the point entirely. Europe is NOT safe for the Roma. You can’t improve their lives by simply signing a paper document. Fox News misses the point entirely. Roma don’t want to leave because they can’t sell their scavenged goods on the pavement; Roma don’t want to leave because they don’t get social aid.

Roma want to leave because of blatant and consistent racial and ethnic discrimination and the outright dangerous and disgusting conditions they are forced to live in.

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Full report from Fox News, below:

Azra Ajeti’s fellow Gypsies have been buffeted by accusations of filing bogus asylum claims in the rich EU, but she says there’s nothing phony about her family’s life of misery. “We are starving,” said the woman from this impoverished southern Serbian town. “Life here is a disgrace.”

Ajeti’s son was among some 60,000 people from Serbia and other Balkan countries who have sought asylum in Western Europe since the EU allowed visa-free travel from their nations three years ago. Many EU and local officials describe the exodus as little more than a fraud in which mostly Gypsy migrants cross over knowing their asylum requests have no chance, their main goal to obtain the food, lodging and, in some cases, living expenses worth hundreds of euros (dollars) per month they are entitled to while awaiting an answer.

As a result of the continued surge, the EU states with the most Balkan asylum requests — Germany, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg — are moving toward re-imposing visas for Serbia and Macedonia, the two countries that send the most asylum applicants.

Many seekers, however, cite racial discrimination in their home countries as the reason for their flight, saying it constitutes legitimate grounds for asylum.

“Everybody wants to leave,” Ajeti said while selling old clothes that she picked out of garbage cans on the dusty streets of Bujanovac. “If I had money for a bus ticket, I would pack up and go right this instant.”

She said she deserves asylum because she has not received promised social aid — some euro 100 a month for her 18-member family — for the last five months. She also says police chase her from the dirt pavement where she sells her merchandize, “only because we are Gypsies.” Her son’s asylum bid in Sweden was rejected earlier this year and now he’s back home.

Here, like in much of the Balkans, Roma live in makeshift settlements made of cardboard homes, sometimes facing harassment from right-wing extremist groups. They mostly live from begging or humanitarian aid, and on the little money they earn collecting scrap metal and other material from garbage dumps.

“Call them fake or real asylum seekers,” said Galip Beqiri, a local ethnic Albanian party leader, “these people are leaving not because they are happy but because they are desperate.”

EU states reject 99 percent of Balkan demands for asylum, ruling that the applicants do not fulfill the criteria of being politically, ethnically or religiously persecuted. But while their requests are under review, asylum seekers are allowed to stay in the countries where they are seeking a haven — eating up funds that could help those in perhaps more dire straits, such as asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

“It is unacceptable that we have two times as many asylum applicants from Serbia than from Afghanistan,” Ole Schroeder, secretary of state in the German interior ministry, recently told reporters.

Serbia’s border police chief, Nenad Banovic, was also highly critical of the Balkan exodus: “Asylum has become a profession.” He added that those who are rejected in one EU country often go to another where they start the process all over again.

Part of the problem is a lengthy asylum review procedure in many EU countries. Germany has become the most popular country for Balkan asylum seekers because it provides unusually generous living expenses and spends the longest time processing applications — up to 14 months.

The Brussels-based European Stability Initiative, a think tank which has closely monitored the Balkan asylum seekers, said in a recent report that a key reason most asylum seekers now choose Germany is because this summer its Constitutional Court, under pressure from rights groups, increased monthly benefits from €120 ($155) for a four-member family to €420 ($550) — more than the average monthly salary in most of the Balkans. If the asylum seekers buy their own food and clothing — instead of relying on EU handouts — that sum increases to €1,100 ($1,400).

Since raising the monthly benefit in July, the number of asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia has jumped from about 1,000 a month to 4,000 in September.

The EU-based think tank said that Germany could immediately reduce its numbers of asylum applicants by enacting stricter rules seen in some neighboring countries.

In Austria, for example, only 380 Balkan nationals asked for asylum in the same time-frame even though it’s closer to the Balkans. Austria had already in 2010 put all western Balkan states on a list of “countries of safe origin” — meaning seekers from those countries are unlikely to be victims of ethnic, political or religious abuse — and decides on the asylum claims within a week, the group said. The same goes for Belgium, once the favorite destination for Balkan asylum seekers, which in June decided to shorten the decision process from at least six months to 15 days.

The sudden influx has triggered alarm in Germany, which is at the forefront of the process to reinstate the so-called Schengen visas.

“Germany advocates the abolishment of visa-free travel … if they (Serbia and Macedonia) are not capable of stopping this misuse,” Hans Peter Uhl, Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union parliamentary speaker for interior affairs recently told the Associated Press. “This year, we have a surge of 72 percent in comparison to same period last year. If the number is broken down, the surge is almost exclusively rooted in ten thousand Roma (Gypsies) from Macedonia and Serbia.”

“If you look at those 10,000 asylum requests placed in this year, you will see not a single one was approved,” he said. “For none of them the conclusion was made they were racially, politically or religiously persecuted. All had to leave Germany.”

Sweden gives asylum seekers pocket money of about euros 100 ($125) a month per person for those who get free food and about euros 260 ($ 330) a month for those who buy their meals. The asylum process usually lasts between three and six months. Belgium and Holland pay applicants for work they do while seeking asylum, and a lump payment when they agree to leave.

At a meeting last month, EU interior ministers urged western Balkan nations to halt the migration stem or face restoration of travel visas.

“If they want to belong to Europe, they must ultimately take care of these people,” German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said after the meeting. “They have to do things so that these people don’t feel discriminated against.”

Serbian authorities say there is little they can do to stop people from traveling abroad without violating their basic human rights.

“If we were to start pulling Roma passengers out of buses on the border, we would be crucified,” Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said recently.

There have been several arrests of alleged organizers of EU-bound trips, tougher border controls and a public campaign advising people their trip would be in vain. But this has little effect in Bujanovac or other poor regions in the Balkans. Busloads of people still leave regularly, with people hoping to reach the EU.

Balkan minority groups, such as Roma and ethnic Albanians, are among the worst hit by the economic crisis that has gripped the region impoverished by wars and international isolation. Rights groups also say Roma are treated as second-class citizens in most of the Balkans, with little hope of finding regular jobs.

“Roma experience persistent discrimination across the region,” Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.

Kenan Rasitovic, a member of the local Gypsy council in Bujanovac, said simple poverty should qualify them for asylum.

“Those people are just looking for ways to survive harsh living conditions and widespread poverty,” said Rasitovic. “Regular income is practically nonexistent here.”

 

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