The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) warns tens of thousands of Roma or Gypsy Holocaust survivors living in 17 Central and Eastern European countries are facing a desperate future and possible death.  The International Organization for Migration says a compensation fund that had been assisting them now has run dry.

Nearly 74,000 elderly and impoverished Roma Holocaust victims have been receiving compensation for their suffering from the proceeds of two funds, the Swiss Banks Settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern district of New York and the German Foundation. 

But International Organization for Migration spokeswoman Jemini Pandya says the $36 million that has been used to support the tens of thousands of Roma are now exhausted.  She says her agency is concerned about what will happen to these people in the future.

"They are living in extreme poverty, but it could get much worse and it probably will," she noted.  "The safety network that was provided by their former communist regimes in which they were living have now gone and so there is no web basically to support them.  Many of them are also having, for your information, to support three generations on these measly pensions in one household as younger members of the Roma family have had to leave in search for work in other countries.  And, who then do not have money to send back."  

Pandya says these tens of thousands of Roma Holocaust survivors are elderly and frail.  She says many live in appalling squalor, in shacks that are outside towns, that have no proper heating, running water and toilets.  She says these people live on state pensions ranging between $8 and $120 a month.

Over the past four years, she says IOM has provided the Roma with food, clothing, firewood, coal and other forms of assistance.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that this assistance has helped to keep them alive," she added.  "Many times we have had people come to us and say that without, for example, the coal and wood during the winter, we would have literally frozen to death.  This winter was particularly bad.  We felt it here.  We know of many Roma people, elderly Roma who are outside of our assistance program who did freeze to death."  

The International Organization for Migration says the Roma are the largest and most discriminated against ethnic minority in Europe.  For centuries, it notes they have been denied access to education, housing, health care, and employment. 

Pandya says many European countries are making efforts to address the discrimination against the Roma.  But she says these elderly Roma Holocaust survivors do not have time to wait.