Marginalized Communities: Romani Victims of Trafficking

Marginalized Communities: Romani Victims of Trafficking

Romani—also known as Roma, Roms, or Romane—are one of the largest minority groups in Europe and are highly vulnerable to human trafficking. Ethnic Romani men, women, and particularly children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor—including forced begging, forced criminality, involuntary domestic servitude, and servile marriages—throughout Europe, including in Western Europe, Central Europe, and the Balkans. This exploitation occurs both internally, especially in countries with large native Romani populations, and transnationally. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council issued a decision in December 2013 that called on participating States to take measures to address Romani victims of human trafficking.

Like other marginalized groups across the world, Romani are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to poverty, multi-generational social exclusion, and discrimination—including lack of access to a variety of social services, education, and employment. For instance, because of poor access to credit and employment opportunities, Romani often resort to using informal moneylenders that charge exorbitant interest rates, contributing to high levels of debt, which heighten trafficking vulnerability. Furthermore, recorded cases also exist of exploiters fraudulently claiming social benefits from Romani trafficking victims, depriving victims of this assistance.

In general, European governments do not adequately address the issue of identifying and protecting Romani trafficking victims. Victim protection services and prevention campaigns are often not accessible to the Romani community, as they are at times denied services based on their ethnicity or are located in isolated areas where services are not available. Law enforcement and other officials are typically not trained in or sensitized to trafficking issues in the Romani community. At times, combating trafficking has been used as a pretext to promote discriminatory policies against Romani, such as forced evictions and arbitrary arrests and detention.

Many Romani victims are hesitant to seek assistance from the police because they distrust authorities due to historic discrimination and a fear of unjust prosecution. In some instances, police have penalized Romani victims for committing illegal acts as a result of being trafficked, such as being forced to engage in petty theft. Furthermore, in those countries in which governments rely on victims to self-identify, this mistrust can result in disproportionately small numbers of Romani victims identified, which can contribute to continued exploitation of victims. The lack of formal victim identification may also lead to an absence of protection services, which in turn can result in increased vulnerability to re-trafficking.

Some policy recommendations to address the needs of Romani victims of human trafficking include:

  • Governments should include full and effective participation of Romani communities and organizations in anti-trafficking bodies, including anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim identification groups.
  • Trafficking prevention campaigns and efforts should be targeted to Romani communities, particularly those that are segregated and socially excluded.
  • Governments should improve access to prevention and protection services, such as public awareness campaigns for communities and law enforcement, and adequate shelters, legal and social services, and vocational assistance.
  • Law enforcement should not impose criminal liability on trafficking victims, including Romani, for crimes they were forced to commit.
  • Anti-trafficking policies should explicitly recognize the Romani as a vulnerable group.

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