“I feel bad because I am from here but they are not giving me citizenship. I feel I don’t belong here. God forbid if I die, they will not bury me because I do not have documents. It’s very hard for me. I have no job, but the most difficult part is that I don’t have any medical insurance and I have to pay for everything myself. Once, the doctor even paid for me because I was in a really bad state. If I have a nationality I will work and I will have more money to pay for it. I am frustrated all the time. This is my biggest burden. I am born here, and I don’t have a nationality.”
This is how Nadija, a Romani woman living in Macedonia, describes what it’s like to live without a nationality. Nadija is one of over 40 Romani men and women who were interviewed for a research project, #RomaBelong, looking at the issue of Roma statelessness and how it can be addressed. The project is a partnership between the European Roma Rights Centre, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and the European Network on Statelessness, in cooperation with national partners in Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Ukraine.
Nadija is 50yrs old. She was born and has lived her whole life in Macedonia. Her parents migrated from a neighbouring country before she was born. She has never had any documents. She was told that she had to be registered to get Macedonian nationality. The simplest way to do this was by securing a foreigner’s ID through her husband, a Macedonian citizen. But he didn’t want to help her, and she could not afford to pay the fees. After their marriage broke down, Nadija went to an NGO to ask for help. The NGO is now helping her to secure an ID and eventually have her Macedonian nationality recognised.
Similar stories to Nadija’s were repeated across all the research countries. These stories of differential treatment, exclusion, lack of access to services, and frustrations with complex systems. are published in a new report “Roma Belong – Statelessness, Discrimination and Marginalisation of Roma in the Western Balkans and Ukraine”. The report sets out to explore the nexus between statelessness, discrimination and marginalisation of Romani people in the Western Balkans and Ukraine. It draws on interviews with Romani individuals and associations, state actors, NGOs, journalists and international agencies to identify and analyse the main factors contributing to statelessness and its impact on people’s lives. It makes recommendations to national and regional stakeholders for concrete action to address the issues it uncovers.
Launched today at a regional conference in Skopje, bringing together over 70 key stakeholders, the report serves as a wake-up call to governments and institutions in the region and further afield to focus attention on statelessness among Roma communities, something that has remained hidden in large part due to a lack of reliable data on both statelessness and Roma populations.
Minorities are especially vulnerable to statelessness. Paradoxically, many Roma, whose nationality on the face of the law is not in question, still struggle for years in many cases to prove their links to their home country. Many thousands in the region lack birth certificates or any other documents to assert their nationality, presenting barriers to accessing key services such as education, healthcare, employment and housing.
A major obstacle to obtaining documents are the complex administrative systems and procedures which are difficult to navigate and leave many in despair. Additionally, institutional racism and pervading and multiple discrimination identified in some research countries puts up barriers which hinder access to basic rights as citizens.
The research also points to some of the positive work in the region carried out by civil society organisations, governments and UNHCR to simplify civil registration procedures, fill the gaps in legislation and raise awareness about the importance of addressing the issue.
Such efforts show that it is possible to tackle statelessness with a proactive approach in line with the recommendations set out in this report, which lays out a road map for countries to end statelessness in the region. But, much more work still needs to be done. As well as good practice, a comprehensive approach needs to be adopted beyond partial solutions, which have at times focused on top-down awareness-raising rather than on making institutions and procedures more accessible, efficient and fair.
What emerges overall is an urgent need to fully address the multiple discrimination and marginalisation at the heart of Roma documentation issues. These will not be fully eradicated without also addressing the structural problems that cause, entrench and perpetuate statelessness. ENS will continue to focus on Roma statelessness in 2018 and beyond, working in partnership with ERRC, ISI and national partners and members to achieve change. Key to this will be to develop a shared understanding of the issues, which cannot be done without listening to Romani voices and ensuring that Roma communities are at the heart of shaping and implementing change.