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IOM: Gypsy Holocaust Survivors Need Assistance


Gypsy family live in open air in the Black Sea port of Varna, Bulgaria, in this 2002 photo
The U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration says tens-of-thousands of impoverished elderly Gypsy Holocaust survivors in Eastern and Central Europe are in desperate need of aid.

The International Organization for Migration estimates about 145,000 Gypsy Holocaust survivors living in eastern and central Europe are in need of aid. Since 2002, IOM and other agencies have provided basic assistance, such as food, firewood, coal, and hygiene articles to 64,000 Gypsies, also known as Roma.

IOM Roma Expert Delbert Field says funds for these programs are running out.

"We found many more survivors than our donors had expected," he said. "We found that these people had safety nets that were quickly disappearing because of the profound economic changes going on in eastern and central Europe. We found that many Roma lived in squalid settlements, without any services and settlements, which do not even appear on the map. Even in countries, which have recently joined the European Union, found Roma living in destitution, lacking access to education, health care and housing."

Mr. Field says these elderly people are living on pensions ranging from $10 to $120 a month.

During World War II, Roma were persecuted by the Nazis. Many were deported to concentration camps, where they perished. Others were enslaved by the Nazis and their allies. Mr. Field says there is no reliable estimate of the number of Roma killed.

"We have seen numbers from one-quarter-of-a-million to 1.5 million persons. Why? Because there was an unreliable count of Roma at the time," he said. "They were isolated, as they are now. They were socially excluded, as they are now. They were more nomadic than they are now, especially in eastern and central Europe. And, also, because of the nature of their killings. This was mass murder that, for the most part, took place away from public view. Most never made it to the camps."

Mr. Field says first-hand accounts from scores of survivors indicate that family members were rounded up, executed and dumped in mass graves.

Funds for the Gypsy Holocaust survivors have come from the Swiss Banks Settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and from the German Foundation. Mr. Field says $214 million are needed to assist 126,000 elderly Romas for five years at a cost of $300 per person per year.