Two and a half years ago, Silvia Gaziova and her family came to Canada seeking refugee status from Slovakia.
Because of their Roma ethnicity, they experienced severe discrimination in their home country. Despite reporting police beatings, attempted sterilization, and the threat of neo-nazi attacks, their refugee claim has been denied and they are currently waiting to hear if their last plea, their Pre-Removal Risk Assessment application, will be accepted.
“Everything is very hard,” said Silvia Gaziova, a mother of three children, translated from Roma. The threat of violence haunts her, as she knows the hardships her family will endure if they are sent back. “I am afraid because Slovakia is not a safe place for my family,” she explains. “There, we live in fear every day.”
The list of family discriminatory grievances is long, and can be categorized in to housing, healthcare, employment, education, public transportation and personal safety. However, Gaziova and her family have had difficulty convincing the Canadian government of their need for asylum due to language, financial, and legal barriers.
“Many other Roma families have been sent back to Slovakia from Hamilton in the last few months,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “It seems the courts believe the Slovak government over the people who are being persecuted.”
“I am afraid because Slovakia is not a safe place for my family, there, we live in fear every day.”
When referring to Roma refugee claimants from Czech, the Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney himself described them as “false refugee claimants” and said there is “no policy of state-sponsored persecution against the Roma.”
For Gaziova, this statement is shocking. Regardless of policy, persecution is a day-to-day experience for many Roma people in Czech and Slovakia. While she was giving birth to her first child, her doctor slapped her across the face and verbally abused her, calling her ‘dirty gypsy woman’. When needing urgent medical assistance at awalk-in clinic, she waited while Slovak people were called name after name, but Roma were told to wait. While pregnant with her third child, she was pushed out the doors of a city bus because ‘she is Roma.’ She has watched police beat her family, seen her children discriminated against in school, and been denied housing, jobs, and medical attention, all
because of her ethnicity.
“When I was eighteen years old, I went to a government office to ask for a job in the city. They said I could have only one option, picking up garbage. In the street where I picked up garbage, Slovak people would threaten me and say they wanted to beat me up. I became very scared. For my own safety I knew I could not work there anymore. I went back to ask for another job that I felt safe in, but they said there was no other job for me.”
Gazovia moved to Lunik 9, a large slum where Roma live on the outskirts of Kosice, after she and her mother were forced out of their home. “My mother had always paid
the rent, but there was a new landlord who did not want any Roma people living in the building. All the Roma people in the building had to leave, but the non-Roma people were allowed to stay. He told us to ‘go to Lunik 9’.”
Lunik 9 is a housing development in Kosice where there are many high rise apartment buildings filled with Roma people. “This is one of the only places in Kosice where Roma people are allowed to live,” she explains. “There is no electricity and running water is only available for one hour a day.”
Skinheads have come to Lunik 9 in busloads to threaten, intimidate, and beat Roma people. “They come with the intention to harm us, and the police do not protect us from
the violence. When the skinheads come to Lunik 9 our family hides from them.”
“I am afraid to go back to my country, Slovakia. I am afraid for my family, my partner and my children.”
– Women’s Press | Photo by Michelle Drew