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Racism in Germany: Sinti and Roma are at risk

September 18, 2023

A novel report aims to classify the extent of antiziganism in Germany, including within state institutions. Yet there are some bright spots.

Woman with Sinti und Roma flag demonstrating by the Brandenburg Gate in April 2015
Romani activists flock to the Brandenburg Gate on April 8, to mark International Romani DayImage: Adam Berry/Getty Images

The Antiziganism Reporting and Information Center (MIA) wants a clearer picture of anti-Romani discrimination in Germany. The government-funded watchdog released its 2022 findings on Monday, in a report the organization is calling its first "systematic" collection of information on the issue.

"The MIA is shedding light on what remains a big blindspot of antiziganist crimes and incidents," Romani Rose, the chairperson of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, wrote in the report's introduction.

The report collected data on 621 antiziganist incidents. That includes 119 cases involving state institutions. Determining whether that is a lot or a little will require annual reporting to trace a trend in anti-Romani sentiment in Germany.

Sinti and Roma are a recognized national minority. Sinti have lived in Germany for about 600 years, with a population today between 70,000-150,000. The approximately 30,000 Roma have lived in German-speaking areas since the end of the 19th century.

Traces of the past

Under Nazi rule, Sinti and Roma were subject to systematic persecution and genocide. German policy at the time was to exterminate them, and hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma were murdered. That legacy remains deeply ingrained today.

Discrimination and crime statistics crossover

Cases of discrimination or violence remain anonymous. Many reports come directly from those affected. Some, however, appear in official documentation, such as politically motivated crimes tracked by Germany's Federal Criminal Police.

The MIA report demonstrates a link between increasing nationalism and right-wing extremism, Rose wrote, and threats to minority groups, such as Sinti and Roma, Jews and others. She criticized the ongoing "misunderstanding" of how antiziganism plays out in real life.

"It's not only on the streets, but sadly also a regular occurrence with state authorities," the report concludes, finding institutions responsible for about 20% of all cases of antiziganism. An example is a job center making a Roma family jump through unnecessary hoops to receive benefits, then suspending them when the family cannot produce the extra paperwork.

"The mother says the worker at the job center knows they are Roma and treats them worse because of it," the report states.

Anxiety over Berlin memorial to murdered Sinti, Roma

Sourcing institutional discrimination

Intent is difficult to assess, which the MIA report acknowledges, as is distinguishing between the discriminatory actions of an individual and institutionalized practices. However, some cases are undeniable.

An incident in 2021 involved police frisking, without cause, an 11-year-old Sinto boy in southern Germany, then arresting and hauling him to the station after they found a small knife on him. His age played no role in his treatment, and he was denied contact with his family.

The child was released after a brief interrogation. The family reported the incident and won the case in 2022. The officers involved were fined €3,600 ($3,800) for violating the boy's rights.

This article was originally written in German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.
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