Growing refugee crisis sparks discrimination against Europe’s largest minority group
June 24, 2017
Amid the growing refugee crisis, the Presbyterian Mission Agency is working with its partners to draw attention to discrimination against the Roma and to advocate for their human rights.
The Roma are the largest minority group in Europe and are commonly known in the English-speaking world as “Gypsies,” a pejorative term. Like “Native American,” “Roma” is an umbrella term for many subgroups. Ashkali, Kalderash, Manouche and Lovari are all considered Romani but each have their own distinct cultural and linguistic traditions.
Many of Europe’s 10–12 million Roma face discrimination that prevents them from acquiring basic needs. Hundreds of thousands of Roma lack secure housing, dependable food, potable water, electricity, heat, education, health care and employment. Hatred, fear and lack of understanding sometimes lead to violence against them.
The work of four Presbyterian mission co-workers involves sharing the gospel with Roma and addressing the discrimination, poverty and social separation they experience. The mission co-workers include Burkhard Paetzold, regional liaison for Central and Eastern Europe; Al Smith, working in Russia; and Nadia Ayoub, working with the Reformed Church in Carpath-Ukraine.
Paetzold, who lives in Berlin but travels throughout Central and Eastern Europe, has been front and center during the growing refugee crisis. “Among the refugees arriving in Western Europe there are a number of Roma from the Balkans and other regions in Europe,” he said. “Western European countries do not grant them asylum but deport them to their home countries while nobody talks about discrimination or racism Roma face after return. However, fighting the root causes of discrimination, racism and social marginalization that lead to poverty is on the agenda of many national churches in those countries. Our mission workers Nadia Ayoub in Carpath-Ukraine and Al Smith in Russia are supporting national churches or Christian networks and have been doing so for a time long before the current so-called ‘refugee crisis’ started.”
In Ukraine, the Ministry of Education has stopped providing free lunches for children in grades 1–4, which significantly impacts the Romani children. “Of course, children cannot learn on an empty stomach,” Ayoub wrote in a letter. “We thank God that here in the Peterfolvo area we are able to take children from three villages to school and then bring them to the Mission House in the afternoon for lunch, and then help them with their homework.”
The Reformed Church in Carpath-Ukraine established three day care centers in Ukrainian sub-regions to offer therapies for children and youth. One of the day care centers is in Mezövary, where three therapists foster 12 children and six teenagers who have disabilities. The youth visit the center one to five days a week.
PC(USA) World Mission is collaborating with Swiss Church Aid to support the renovation of a fourth therapy section and the operation of the Mezövary rehabilitation center for the initial phase of 1½ years.
Paetzold recommends a free book (www.reformatus.hu/data/documents/2016/10/04/You_Welcomed_Us_into_Your_Kingdom.pdf) published by the Reformed Church of Hungary (RCH) that highlights the work of Roma youth, mission workers, pastors and artists within the RCH. The publishing of this work was supported by the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland.
World Mission asks for continued prayers for the Romani. To learn more about the work of the mission co-workers or to support them financially, visit https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/mission-connections
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Presbyterians advocate for rights of Roma
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord, compel us to care for those in need. May we offer hope in the face of chaos, confidence in the face of uncertainty, and joy in service to you. May all who endure loss be filled with your presence and confidence in your love. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.