Swedish police have confirmed that they have kept an illegal registry of more than 4,000 Roma people living in Sweden.
The newspaper Dagens Nyheter, which broke the news, says Swedish police hold 4,029 names of Roma people living across the country.
According to the newspaper, the database is a family tree with information about social security numbers and addresses and arrows which show the family bonds between those registered.
"It makes me feel uncomfortable and frightened. Does it have to be the way it was in Germany when the aim was to exterminate Romas and Jews?" Erland Kaldaras, spokesperson for the Roma Youth Association, was quoted as saying by the SVT television station.
Many of the people in the database have not committed crime and thousands of them are children.
"It becomes even more scary when you see that this is also about small children who can't even walk or talk," Kaldaras said, adding that the next step would be to determine how far up within the police, officers knew about the database.
According to the police, the database was set up in 2009 because of a special investigation on criminal activity and was used in southern Sweden during 2011. Since then, the police have added people with "links to criminals" who were suspected of carrying out illegal activities.
Ethnic registration is illegal in Sweden and the registry also violates the European convention on Human rights, which provides the right to respect for private and family life.
Breaching several laws
Lawyers, who Dagens Nyheter spoke to, added that the database was in breach of several Swedish laws.
"Is 'itinerant' a new way of saying Roma and if so a registration because of ethnical origin? It's illegal to register solemnly on that background," said Johan Hirschfeldt, an expert on the Swedish constitution.
Lars Försell, information director at the police in the southern region of Skåne in Sweden, said the database was "completely" against Swedish law. "Our thoughts right now is that it must be an individual who has added the details and it has been a big job so we are quite surprised right now," he said.
Dagens Nyheter claims it possesses a database created at the end of May 2012 that is still being used for police work today.
"Why are the police registering Romas? It's racist. It's discomforting that my children are part of this," said Sandra Håkansson, whose entire family is listed in the registry.
Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the Parliament, commented on the revelations:
"I am astonished that the police in a European country could so blatantly ignore and violate European principles. To store data on ethnicity and family ties brings back European memories of a time that we should have left behind us long ago. The people in this database have been subjected to a deliberate breach of privacy. This case in Sweden should prompt enquiries about whether similar databases exist in other EU member states too. I call on the Swedish government to launch a full investigation into this violation. I furthermore appeal to the Commission to assess if such a database based on ethnic origins could constitute direct discrimination, prohibited by Directive 2000/43 and by the EU Treaties," Swoboda said.
"We see many deficiencies in the national strategies for the integration of Roma people. The Commission must take this problem more seriously. All countries with Roma populations, as well as the countries with the biggest communities, Romania and Bulgaria, must do more to promote active integration. But the help of the European Union is essential," the S&D president added.
Sweden's Minister for EU Affairs, Birgitta Ohlsson, reacted on Twitter, calling the registry "nasty, unethical, unacceptable and illegal".
"Data must not be used this way because of a person's ethnical origin. It's important that the police immediately get to the bottom with this information that has been revealed," Ohlsson wrote.
"If we stand up for human rights in Europe we must also have clean sheets back home. Information about registration of Roma people is disgusting," the EU affairs minister continued.
The Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, EU figures show. The European Commission estimates the Roma population in the EU at 11 million, with their origins tracing back to mediaeval India.
Census statistics show that 535,000 Roma live in Romania, 370,000 in Bulgaria, 205,000 in Hungary, 89,000 in Slovakia and 108,000 in Serbia. Some 200,000 Roma are estimated to live in the Czech Republic and Greece, while 500,000 live in Turkey.
Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement.
- SVT: The police map Romas in big database [In Swedish]