A 700-strong march wound its way through the medieval streets of Freiburg, in the south-west German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, on April 20 to protest against the imminent resumption of deportation flights from the state.
The theme of the protest was “Those who want to stay should stay”.
Those targeted for deportation are Roma refugees who fled Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, and their German-born children.
German law does not grant citizenship by birth and the children of refugees on temporary visas are born with only temporary residency rights. The demonstration was led by 150 Roma, with their children who were born and grew up locally marching at the front.
There are about 170 Roma in Freiburg under imminent threat of deportation and more than 500 with insecure residency status. Last year, 763 refugees were deported from Baden-Wurttemberg.
The state's governing coalition is led by the Greens, who previously had an anti-deportation policy. Their betrayal was the focus of much anger at the protest.
The demonstration was organised by the Freiburg Forum for Activism Against Exclusion and was addressed by representatives of the local Roma community, the Togolese exile organisation Batir le Togo and local refugee rights group, Action for the Right to Stay.
Speakers also condemned the range of tactics used by municipal, state and federal authorities to attack the housing, educational and welfare rights of refugees to encourage “voluntary” departures.
Romani people, sometimes referred to as “gypsies” and including the Roma of eastern Europe and the Sinti of the German-speaking countries, are Europe’s most persecuted minority. During the Nazi holocaust the proportion of the Romani population killed was higher than that of the Jewish population.
However, Freiburg Forum for Activism Against Exclusion spokesperson Klaus Werner told the April 19 Badische Zeitung that while anti-Semitism has become socially unacceptable in post-Nazi Germany, this is not the case with anti-Romani prejudice.
Following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in 1989, the existing anti-Roma racism in Eastern Europe became more extreme, sending tens of thousands of Roma refugees fleeing to western Europe.
In 2010, there was a mass round-up and deportation of Roma in France and Italy, accompanied by an outpouring of racist statements by politicians and in the media.
In Germany, the lifting of travel restrictions on citizens of European Union member states Romania and Bulgaria has meant a rise in Roma arrivals from these countries.
However, as EU citizens they also cannot be recognised as refugees regardless of how much persecution they face in their home countries and are not eligible to any welfare benefits.
Many of these new arrivals have become homeless and their children have been unable to attend schools. German politicians have responded by using language reminiscent of their Nazi predecessors to attack the Roma ― branding them as lazy, unhygienic and habitual criminals.
This has created the climate for the deportation of Roma refugees from Serbia, Macedonia and Kosova, which are not EU members.
There is also growing support for the refugees, as was reflected in the April 20 Freiburg protest. Teachers, students and parents from schools attended by Roma children were well represented at the rally.
The Badische Zeitung reported many instances of solidarity with Roma refugees from their workplaces, schools and neighbourhoods.
For example, a teacher at the Vigelius-Grundschule collected letters from all the classmates of 11-year-old Asibe Sacipi, demanding that she be allowed to stay.