Book Review: Roma Migrants in the European Union: Un/Free Mobility


Emma Patchett


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Emma Patchett. Emma is a postdoctoral researcher with research interests in law and spatial justice, and law and film. She was previously a Marie Curie Research Fellow in the CoHaB (diasporic Constructions of Home and Belonging) ITN at WWU Muenster, and has published work on the Roma and migration law. 

Review of Roma Migrants in the European Union: Un/Free Mobility, by Can Yıldız and Nicholas De Genova (Routledge 2021).

Roma Migrants in the European UnionThis book is prescient given a number of recent events. In the UK, the passage of the Policing, Crime and Sentencing Bill 2022 has introduced draconian measures targeting the Gypsy and Traveller community in particular, effectively criminalising the right to stop anywhere whilst at the same time creating an environment in which it is no longer possible to live nomadically. In the EU, anti-Roma racism is pervasive within institutions, forced eviction and discrimination common realities for many in the diverse communities spread across the continent. Even after enduring the atrocities of the Ukrainian conflict, many of the estimated 400,000 Roma minority group are discriminated against when they attempt to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, many of whom have ‘inherited statelessness’  due to a lack of documentation.

Can Yildiz and Nicholas de Genova seek to firmly situate this collection of essays within an interrogation of the politics of mobility, turning the spotlight away from a marginalised group to focus instead on the construction of ‘European’ space and identity. In this way, it has echoes of the work of Avtar Brah in which she sought to re-frame diaspora space as that in which all were unsettled – an approach which is most clearly articulated in the work of Edward Soja on spatial justice and the social production of space. Here, the authors highlight how an academic and political emphasis on the Roma as a trans-national cross-border nomadic group has the effect, even if well-meaning in intent, of creating a sense in which the Roma are often subordinated to a position in which they are always “vexingly, ‘out of place’”.

Thus, Yildiz and de Genova suggest re-framing the problem away from the Roma and instead interrogating whether “the Roma’s problems [are] precisely the problems intrinsic to the sociopolitical racial order of Europe itself?” In answering this question, they draw attention to the often neglected issue of racialisation in the context of the Roma, and particularly the way in which the Roma are produced “as a fetishized figure of European alterity”. This question needs to be asked in the climate of nativism and racist politics which looms over much of Europe, as despite the Roma’s established historical enmeshment in the making of modern Europe they are often excluded from definitions of what constitutes ‘European-ness’, situated dismissively or benignly as those who have perpetually just ‘arrived’. The categorisation of this minority as eternal migrants should give them an exalted status within the conceptualisation of what constitutes ‘European-ness’ in which citizenship is defined primarily by and through cross-border mobility, however in this case has instead served to lend weight to the “pernicious ascription of racializing and criminalising stigma to their mobility”. Thus, their very presence – particularly in deportation and reception centres – highlights the contradictory hypocrisy of the illusion of mobility within the European space, which remains characterised by hierarchies and insidious borderlines as with any border zone, through which only some can cross with ease, a space rendered visible when certain groups of ‘undesirable’ minorities (black and brown refugees and asylum seekers, and Roma) step into view.

The laudable aim to grapple with the racialisation of Roma as a socio-political category reflects the ultimate difficulty of a collection which often befalls any such scholarly endeavours seeking to rely on a counter-narrative of specificity and a recognition of ambivalent tokenism, in that it often struggles with the weight of trying not to fall into the same role that it ends up often inadvertently replaying the same tropes, or at the very least those tropes could be said to ‘haunt’ the collection. In decrying the regulatory frameworks of expulsion in a hegemonic “neoliberal agenda” any such work runs the risk of reifying the boundaries of such a framework rather than seeking to dismantle its assumptions about identity and belonging.

In the first chapter, Huub van Baar provides a problematization of neoliberal and biopolitical development policies which have often exacerbated segregation of the Roma by re-emphasising containment as the paradigmatic form of exclusionary governance. Marco Solimene refers to his ethnographic fieldwork with the Xomá community from Bosnia, observing that the Roma are collectively positioned in racist discourse as “matter-without-place”. Here, ‘undisciplined’ mobility becomes a tool to temporarily evade punitive restrictions and thus reflects an implicit challenge to the rhetoric of welcome mobility as a factor which is central to European citizenship. Similarly, Julija Sardelić enters into the Post-Yugoslav space to explore the issue of ‘precarity’ that arises in the liminal legal statutes of the Post-Yugoslav Romani minority in Germany, whereby they are racialised through their essentialisation as emblematic nomads and thus open to deportation. The question of essentialisation comes to the fore in the chapter by Ioana Vrăbiescu and Barak Kalir, where they employ a feminist lens to explore the ways in which Roma migrant women in Spain are framed through a narrow interpretation of vulnerability which enables the patriarchal state to control, marginalise, and exclude those that fall outside this categorisation, conceptualised as undeserving, ‘failed’ subjects of integration policies and practices.

For Angéla Kóczé, the anti-immigrant racialized populist narratives of outsiderness in France and Italy manufactured a ‘securitized Romani migration crisis’ to justify discrimination. Building on this theme, in reflecting upon her ethnographic fieldwork in the UK with “new migrant” families, Rachel Humphris considers the process of racialisation that emerges from encounters between migrants and state actors. She considers the convergence of narratives and experiences that emerge in these spaces, and the effect of this on new migrants’ engagement with legal restrictions and residency rights.

This collection is effective in highlighting the uncertainty and precarity built on shifting grounds of racialised perception which haunts the legal framework of rights and citizenship. The research here often provides a new perspective on how this precarity is both a burden and a tool to evade the governance of minoritisation, which is an interesting insight challenging some academic assumptions about the limitations of uncertain legal status. Even within this collection, certain terms remain problematic and in need of further deconstruction to examine, for example, how ‘vulnerability’ is encountered differently at the supra-national and local levels, the definition of ‘new migrant’, and the distinction and self-definition of Roma/Romani. More work is needed on racialisation and space which does not further segregate minority groups but rather critiques the production of ‘Europeanised’ spaces and the way in which all bodies emerge from and move within this space, taking account of when the local becomes ‘Europeanised’ and when it does not, and the impact this has on shaping a heterogenous minority into a singular group identified as perpetual ‘outsiders’.


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

E. Patchett. (2022) Book Review: Roma Migrants in the European Union: Un/Free Mobility. Available at: Accessed on: 27/01/2023

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