A warm welcome has been given to most people fleeing Ukraine for a safe haven but Roma women and children are struggling to find a similar reception. Romany refugees have hit a wall in finding a home. Romany refugees face not only a lack of support but outright discrimination, both from relief providers and fellow Ukrainian refugees.
“They face discrimination,” says Mariam Masudi a coordinator at a refugee hostel, working for Salam Lab, an NGO. “Roma are not admitted to other reception points. No one wants to rent to them. I don’t know anyone who has managed to settle in Poland. Those who have been able to move out of the hostel have moved abroad.”
Institutional help has not been forthcoming. Most of the relief has been coordinated by self-organised individuals and NGOs, says Joanna Talewicz-Kwiatkowska an anthropologist at the University of Warsaw, who organised the Facebook group, Poland-Roma-Ukraine at the start of the war. “We wanted to gather information about people in need of help, communicate with central organs and find people ready to host Romany refugees,” she says. “We didn’t think that all responsibility for the situation would be shifted on to us.”
“Without governmental support, we will not manage. There is no way,” says Karol Wilczyński, director of Salam Lab.
“In the first days of the war, we saw Poles make beautiful gestures of solidarity towards refugees from Ukraine,” says Talewicz-Kwiatkowska, who is a member of Poland’s Roma. “I would have never imagined we would be here talking about discrimination or dehumanisation, but that is what we are seeing.”
According to Talewicz-Kwiatkowska, Roma have been refused access to transport and resources offered by the volunteers welcoming refugees at the border. “Roma were chased away from reception points, where it was said they were stealing clothes to later sell. We also received information that Romany families and groups were turned away from cars and buses offering transport,” she says. “Finding accommodation was another challenge, because when someone does not want to have Roma in their car, you can imagine they will not want to invite them under their own roof.”
Roma fleeing Ukraine often face discrimination from other refugees. “When they see Roma at the reception point, the other refugees loudly tell each other to hide their belongings. Roma in Ukraine are used to facing discrimination, and what they experience in Poland is the continuation of this,” Masudi says.
Nadia arrived in Lviv, she says train station staff would not allow her and her family into the boarding area reserved for women and children hoping to travel to Poland. “Ukrainian women were let in with their pets,” she says. “But they didn’t want to let me on. They didn’t believe I was a refugee from Donetsk.” Only after she showed her papers, proving she had come from the east, was she allowed to board the train. “But still, they wouldn’t give me any of the food they were giving out to refugees,” she says.