Testimonies of the 'Citizen's Other': Analysing the Migration of Roma in Europe through the Prism of Multiple Legalities

Testimonies of the 'Citizen's Other': Analysing the Migration of Roma in Europe through the Prism of Multiple Legalities

Harika Dauth’s doctoral research couples anthropology, law and political sciences within a multi-sited project. It explores the impact of migration law on the everyday lives of migrants and refugees, predominantly Roma and Ashkali who have migrated from western Balkan states to Germany. Her focus is on measures of securitization as part of Europe’s ‘legal ideology’ (Cotorell 2006). In this vein she questions the emergence of the notion of Roma as the largest ‘transnational’ European minority, in need of protection, a perception that is at odds with national immigration policies that construct a ‘Roma problem’ as a security issue or a socio-economic problem rather than as a rights issue.

Uncovering discourses and practices of migration control, disciplinary measures and legal norms by European ‘governmentalities of unease’ (Bigo 2005) and their effects on the everyday lives of immigrants, she focuses on transitory moments between immigrants’ residential status and ʻstatusless-ness’, and centres the work on cases of asylum, deportation and repatriation. She thereby emphasizes the historical continuity of the state’s practice of ‘irregularizing’ immigrants and of the Roma’s status in particular.

In Germany only a few thousand Roma survived the Holocaust. For them the post-war era did not bring much justice. Many family members were dead, and properties were destroyed or confiscated.  The National Socialists’ focus on ‘asocial’ traits and the ‘racial character’ of Roma remained intact in the Committees for Victims of Fascism that dealt with restitution claims. The genocide of Sinti and Roma was not an issue at the Nuremberg trials, and it was not until 1982 that Germany’s former chancellor Helmut Schmidt recognized that Sinti and Roma were ‘grievously wronged’ during the Nazi period. Even today, the persecution of ‘Gypsies’ by the Nazis is barely mentioned in the German public school curriculum. But the history of the repression of Roma precedes the Nazi era. It goes back several hundred years, following the Roma from the Indian subcontinent. The methods of suppression have varied over time and have also survived the Nazi era. They included victim-blaming, enslavement, enforced assimilation, expulsion, internment and mass killings throughout Europe. In recent times Roma have often been collectively stigmatized by the public and by political decision-makers, and are frequent victims of police abuse, raids, forced expulsions and profiling at borders, to name but a few of the forms of discrimination they regularly face. Consequently, many Roma continue to view state authorities as a threat, especially when required to be registered or fingerprinted. For the same reasons Roma are often reluctant to report injustices they have suffered or even to seek legal advice.

The ‘new Europe’ has been heralded as a unified, ‘borderless’ Europe, open to the free movement of goods, finances and people. However, new physical and virtual borders have become omnipresent. In contrast to older border systems the primary focus of Europe’s contemporary border control concerns less politico-military struggles over territory but, rather, the movement of certain people. As a result, migration today is primarily perceived as a security problem.

Now, while EU member states intensify border controls, they simultaneously have to deal with the maintenance of open borders to enable trade and tourism. Additionally, they are confronted with legal cultures that uphold a human rights regime in the name of refugee protection.

Within this nexus of security-migration politics, open market imperatives and an emerging human rights regime, Dauth is interested in the role that borders play in the production, distribution and institutionalization of mobilities and immobilities, particularly regarding the production of ‘false asylum seekers’. She asks how transformations of border concepts and migration management affect people’s lives, on the one hand, and how they shape broader notions of the nation-state, sovereignty, ‘minority protection’ and citizenship on the other. One question of particular interest in Dauth’s research is how the externalization of EU borders feeds into the control of mobility of Roma immigrants.

In order to get a broader understanding of the European Union as a legal and political body governing human mobility, Dauth is conducting semi-structured interviews with immigrants, lawyers, policy advisers, human rights activists, travel agents and border patrol officers.

More fieldwork photos

Go to Editor View