Romeo & Juliet – A Refugee Story

ClaudiaR Roma-related News

By Paul St. Clair


Jozef was a Rom, not Romeo.  Maria was not Roma; she was a white girl, just like Juliet.   They met in Slovakia, where romantic relationships between Roma and non-Roma were dangerous due to the pervasive racism on the part of the white majority.  She was in her last year of high school, still a teenager and he was not yet 20 year old.

When they met he told Maria that he is a gypsy.  But, despite the probability that her family will disapprove, she wanted to see him again.  They started to meet, but kept their relationship a secret, as they knew that their families, especially hers, would strenuously disapprove.  Their clandestine meetings went on for about a year, when one day they met her brother with a group of his friends.

These friends knew that Jozef was a Rom as they went to school with him.  The white boys started to yell at Maria that she is with a dirty gypsy, and proceeded to attack Jozef by hitting and kicking him.  Eventually, as Maria shouted at them to stop, Jozef managed to get away from them.  If you recall, Romeo also runs into Juliet’s brother, Mercutio, and they had a fight.  But unlike in Romeo and Juliet, Maria’s brother did not come to any harm.  Instead, he told his parents that Maria is going out with a Roma boy.  As Maria expected, her parents went ballistic, far beyond disapproval.  Her father beat her up and told her that she is not to see Jozef again.  And they took her phone away.

But Maria was determined to continue the relationship and called Jozef with her friend’s phone, to arrange another rendezvous.  They continued their clandestine relationship and kept their meetings secret.   Unluckily, this time they ran into Marias parents.  Her father was furious.  He shouted at Jozef, saying that he would break his neck if Jozef continued to meet Maria.  Before leaving, the angry father hit Jozef in the face and pushed him so hard that he fell to the ground.  The parents then took Maria with them, while berating and shoving her towards their home.

Jozef was so upset by the father’s threats, that he went to a police station to report the assault and threats.  But the Slovak police were not interested in investigating an alleged assault on a Roma youth by a white man, and refused to get involved in a “family matter.” The police said that since Jozef was not seriously injured there was nothing to investigate.

Jozef went to speak to his Romani parents, who advised him to consider breaking up with Maria.  They did not see how such a racially mixed relationship, between a white girl and a Roma boy, could flourish in Slovakia.  In general, the Slovaks are openly racist, especially towards Roma, and his parents could not imagine that Maria’s family would ever agree to their daughter’s relationship with a Roma.    His parents told him that if the two of them really wanted to continue their relationship they might have to leave Slovakia.

One week later the young couple met again.  Jozef was anxiously preparing the right words to tell Maria that they should stop seeing each other.   But she pre-empted his prepared speech by saying that she loved him and wanted to continue their relationship, despite what her parents would think or want.   Jozef was flabbergasted.  His speech about breaking up, suddenly forgotten.  He kissed Maria as he had no words that would match the feelings he felt for this very brave girl.

Prior to meeting Maria, Jozef had been in Canada, and naturally his first thought was to take Maria back to Canada where he saw many mixed couples whose relationships were readily accepted by most people.

Maria told her parents that she would continue this fraught relationship with Jozef, to which her parents replied that they did not want any gypsy in their family, and threw her out of their house.

Jozef contacted his aunt in Canada with whom he had lived and she promised to help them and encouraged him to come.   But they could not come right away as Maria wanted to complete her high school final exams.   For the next few weeks they lived with his grandmother and Maria completed her high school with surprisingly good results.

Before leaving Slovakia, they had a civil marriage at the local City Hall.  Jozef sold his car and some other things to get enough money for two tickets to Canada.  From then on Maria lived with Jozef’s family until they left for Canada, where they applied for asylum.

Unlike in Romeo and Juliet, no one died in this story.  It will be up to some judge at the Immigration and Refugee Board (not some old priest with a special potion) to decide their fate.  So far no one felt that they needed to take any poisonous substance but if they do not succeed at their refugee hearing, returning to Slovakia may be poisonous enough.