1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Ukraine's Romani people face discrimination in Germany

April 17, 2024

Fleeing from war, the experience of Romani people in Germany differs from that of other Ukrainians. They often encounter racism instead of help.

A child refugee from Ukraine holds a Ukrainian flag as she walks through a temporary welcome center tent outside the main train station in Berlin
Are there two classes of Ukrainian refugees in Germany? A report documents antiziganism against Ukrainian RomaImage: Adam Berry/Getty Images

More than 1.1 million people have fled to Germany as a result of the war in Ukraine — including an estimated several thousand Romani refugees, members of Europe's largest minority. While members of mainstream Ukrainian society received a warm and unbureaucratic welcome as refugees, most Romani people have experienced a very different Germany: highly bureaucratic, unhelpful, suspicious, derogatory, and racist.

This is the conclusion reached by the Reporting and Information Center on Antiziganism (MIA) in its monitoring report "Antiziganism against Ukrainian Romani refugees in Germany." Antiziganism is a form of racism that is directed against Romani people or against people who are perceived as such.

Romani families fleeing the war in Ukraine are entitled to the same assistance in Germany as other Ukrainians. "But this welcoming culture is simply not there for Romani people," MIA managing director Guillermo Ruiz told DW: "We have seen from day one how Ukrainian Romani people have been discriminated against in all forms." MIA has received around 220 such reports.

View of a classroom in which five children are sitting at their desks and smiling at the camera
Ukrainian Roma are often marginalized. In Thuringia, RomnoKher prepares children for school in GermanyImage: RomnoKher Thüringen

According to the report, Romani people are systematically discriminated against: in refugee shelters, by the police, who raise doubts about their nationality, by railway employees, who force them out of waiting areas, train stations, or trains, by school authorities, who have denied Romani children access to school, by social workers or volunteers who are committed to helping other Ukrainians.

"It really shocked us," says Ruiz. Some Romani families were treated so badly that they traveled back to the war zone. Reports of racial discrimination continue to come in from all over Germany.

'Ukrainian Romani people are descendants of Holocaust survivors'

Representatives of municipalities in Bavaria said: "We can continue to take in Ukrainian refugees, but not Roma." One district administrator said that they would "take in refugees, but not dogs and Roma." These statements are particularly alarming, Ruiz emphasizes because they were made by German authorities. "Germany has a historical obligation to this minority."

In Europe, up to half a million Romani people were murdered in the genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany. "The Ukrainian Romani refugees are the descendants of Holocaust survivors," says Ruiz. According to estimates, almost half of the Romani people in Ukraine were murdered during the German occupation.

Map showing the distribution of Romani people across most of Europe
Romani people have lived in most of Europe for a long time

On April 8, International Romani Day, Mehmet Daimagüler, the Federal Commissioner for Combating Antiziganism, warned that it is not enough to simply lay wreaths for those who were murdered: "The dead are held in high esteem, while their descendants are despised."

Renata Conkova works every day for the descendants of the persecuted. The 44-year-old helps Ukrainian Romani refugees navigate government agencies and doctors, enrolling in school, and finding housing. As a member of the Romani community in Slovakia, she has experienced discrimination firsthand. For the past three years, she has worked in Thuringia for RomnoKher, an advocacy group for people with a Romani background.

RomnoKher offers workshops in which Romani refugees learn how everyday life is organized in Germany. Renata Conkova runs a monitoring program to identify possible diseases, necessary vaccinations, and education levels. She organizes literacy classes for children and parents. There is a great interest in education.

Marginalization in Ukraine and Germany

Many Romani people in Ukraine were also pushed to the margins of society, forced to live in extreme poverty on the outskirts of cities, sometimes without electricity or sanitation. Many have reported being denied access to school, Conkova said, which has left generations illiterate. The MIA report highlights marginalization and even violence in the 2010s.

Racism is commonplace for Romani refugees in Germany as well, Conkova observed. Guillermo Ruiz agrees: Even today, long-standing antiziganist prejudices against the minority are widespread. They are accused of criminality, child abduction, or the trafficking of children and women. "Unfortunately, antiziganism is still the norm in Germany."

Prejudices are being spread through media reports, but also through gatherings of so-called concerned citizens from the right or far right, some of which have been organized by the AfD, said MIA managing director Ruiz. At these gatherings, the alleged "Roma problem" was discussed. Ruiz asked a mayor why his citizens were worried: "What are the Romani people doing, where's the problem?" The mayor said: "They are just there."

Antiziganism among the Ukrainian mainstream

Renata Conkova has repeatedly heard Ukrainian interpreters make racist remarks about refugees. And in the city of Cologne, Ukrainian refugees protested against being housed together with Ukrainian Romani people, with similar reports coming from many German states. In one case, Roma families were so intimidated that they no longer dared to leave their rooms.

My family was murdered - Sinti and the Holocaust

The MIA Reporting Center is calling for further education and awareness of antiziganism among authorities and aid workers, as well as an end to discrimination against Ukrainian Romani people in all areas of life.

On International Romani Day, German Family Minister Lisa Paus strongly condemned hate speech against the minority: "Every incident is one case too many." She called on people to report any incidents: "Stand up for Romani people!"

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.

Andrea Grunau
Andrea Grunau Reporter and author