MG-S-ROM (2006)16

COMMITTEE OF EXPERTS ON ROMA AND TRAVELLERS
(MG-S-ROM)

22nd Meeting
Strasbourg, Palais de l’Europe, Room 6

7th– 8th November 2006

FINAL MEETING REPORT

adopted by the MG-S-ROM at its 23rd meeting in Strasbourg on 21-22 May 2007

OPENING OF THE 22nd MG-S-ROM MEETING

The Chair, Mr. Ian Naysmith (United Kingdom) opened the 22nd meeting of the MG-S-ROM and welcomed the Committee members, in particular the newly nominated member for Bulgaria, as well as representatives of international organisations (European Commission, EUMC, OSCE-ODIHR, UNDP, UNHCR, World Bank, and for the first time IOM), as well as consultants.

The former Chair of the MG-S-ROM, Mr. Andrzej Mirga, made an announcement about his new position as Senior Adviser on Roma and Sinti Issues at the OSCE-ODIHR.

    I. ADOPTION OF THE AGENDA AND LIST OF DECISIONS OF PREVIOUS MEETING

    Adoption of the agenda and of the report of previous meeting

The agenda [MG-S-ROM (2006)10] was adopted by the Committee, as well as the report of the last meeting [MG-S-ROM (2006)9] with the written amendments proposed by Mr. Dezideriu Gergely (Romania).

Revised mandate of the Committee

The Committee took note of the revised mandate of the Committee [MG-S-ROM(2006)6] adopted by the Committee of Ministers at their 971st meeting on 12 July 2006 and valid until the end of December 2008. The Secretariat briefly presented the changes, which concerned essentially the nomination procedure (direct nomination by the governments without necessary approval from the Steering Committee on European Migration – CDMG).

The Secretariat
encouraged representatives of countries present on an ad hoc basis (Serbia, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) to send an official written request for their participation in future meetings. A letter will be circulated to other member states having adopted a national strategy for Roma or which were in the process of doing so (such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Moldova).

II. SITUATION OF ROMA, ASHKALI AND EGYPTIANS IN KOSOVO

The Chair, Mr. Ian Naysmith (U.K.), reminded the Committee of the conclusions of his visit to Kosovo at the end of February where he was accompanied by Mr. Henry Scicluna, Council of Europe Coordinator for activities concerning Roma and Travellers [MG-S-ROM (2006) 3] and Mrs. Eleni Tsetsekou from the Secretariat. He reminded the Committee that the Council of Europe fully supported the position of the UNHCR about the need to avoid the return of Roma to Kosovo under the present circumstances. There was a need to first ensure that infrastructure was in place before massive returns could be organised. It was equally important to ensure that standards regarding the rights of minorities and against discrimination were applied in Kosovo. The key role of the Ombudsman was recalled in that respect.

The Chair also reported on his participation in the Conference on Developing a Strategy for the Integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo held in Pristina on 9 September 2006, where he had an opportunity to refer to the work of the MG-S-ROM and the necessary key elements for a good strategy.

Mr. Stephan Müller, OSCE Consultant in Kosovo, informed the Committee about the next steps concerning the development of a strategy for the integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo. A first meeting held in Pristina with Open Society Institute (OSI) identified priority areas for a future strategy. It was decided that it should be a comprehensive strategy but focus on certain sectors (education, reconstruction, etc.). That meeting was followed by the Conference on 9 September 2006 that was previously mentioned by the Chair aimed at officially launching the development of a strategy for the integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (RAE) in Kosovo. More than 100 participants were present, including RAE representatives and representatives of international organisations, including the Council of Europe.

The next step was to organise a series of five round tables in each of the five regions of Kosovo to familiarise the local authorities and the RAE communities with the idea of having a strategy. Mr. Müller on behalf of the OSCE mission in Kosovo also called upon Council of Europe to nominate experts for the seven to eight working groups that were soon to be established. Each working groups would include the participation of relevant line ministries, as well as RAE representatives.

It was envisaged to start the first working group meetings in November or early December 2006. Mr. Müller indicated that he was contracted by the OSCE mission in Kosovo and that OmiK was in the process of contracting a second person to work on the development of the strategy.

The adoption of a strategy for the integration of RAE in Kosovo was referred to as an obviously long process that should take into account the status talks and administrative procedures pertinent to Kosovo. The adoption of the strategy would only make sense if it was adopted by the new authorities (once the status of Kosovo was clearly defined). It should take into consideration the issue of return since two thirds of the initial Kosovar Roma populations currently live outside Kosovo. The OSCE was trying through its missions to involve refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). However, UNMIK might launch a separate strategy for the integration of refugees.

The OSCE received a mandate from the Kosovar authorities to facilitate the process of developing a strategy together with other international organisations (CoE, UNHCR, UNDP), as well as the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), that were invited to contribute to the drafting process. It was recalled that the Kosovo authorities have very limited financial resources at the moment for the strategy and that financial support would be needed from international donors, once the final document is approved. Efforts will be deployed to ensure that money is also allocated from the Kosovo authorities’ budget.

Mr. Müller reiterated the importance of the draft recommendation on policies for Roma and/or Travellers, and Council of Europe documents in general, for Kosovo authorities.

As a conclusion, Mr. Müller stated that, although the situation had improved in Kosovo compared to ten years ago, the Roma population was still neglected by the international community and Kosovo authorities. It was one of the reasons why such a strategy was so important.

Mr. Andrzej Mirga (PER) presented the recent activities of the project on Ethnic Relations in Kosovo, namely the Round table “Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians: Reconciling the Past and Forging Prospects for Future Reintegration” held in Pristina on 29 September 2006.

Political leaders attended the round table. Mr. Mirga recalled that Kosovar Roma are blamed by Albanians for having co-operated with Serbs and Mr. Ibrahim Rugova for example said at the round table that he had seen Roma perpetrating the destruction of Albanians’ properties. This justified according to him the position of Albanians towards Roma. Mr. Mirga however considered important the process of developing a strategy and hoped that it will be strengthened in time by budgetary allocations.

Mr. Mirga asked Mr. Müller what the position of Egyptians had been so far vis-à-vis the strategy since they do not want to be identified as Roma or Ashkali.

As concerns the issue of returnees, Mr. Mirga referred to a meeting of PER in Montenegro where those issues were addressed with UNHCR and Roma leaders. Talks about the return of Roma to Kosovo have been initiated by authorities but Mr. Mirga’s view is that standards should be respected, i.e. no massive return, people should be properly informed, well in advance and return should only take place with their consent. Even in cases of bilateral agreements signed with host countries like Germany, the process of return should follow some principles.

In response to this statement, Mr. Michael von Klüchtzner (Germany) recalled the reply of his authorities to the questionnaire concerning the review of OSCE participating States Implementation of the Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area:

The following provisions apply to returns of Roma and other minorities from Kosovo to their place of origin:

For Germany, the voluntary return of refugees from Kosovo takes priority over forced returns. This is also why financial assistance is provided for such returns. However, it is impossible to refrain from any forced return measures completely. Without such measures it would not be possible to create a multi-ethnic Kosovo, which is the desired objective of the international community.

To be able to ensure that there is no threat to life or limb for those returning to their place of origin and that the returns are in line with Germany’s obligations resulting from international law, each return measure is coordinated with UNMIK, which carries out an individual screening procedure to find out whether there are security risks in individual cases speaking against the return.

On the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding of 2003 concluded between Germany and UNMIK, there have generally been no returns of Roma to Kosovo so far. One exception is a small number of persons who have committed serious crimes in Germany and against whom UNMIK has no reservations concerning their return.”

Mr. Samuel Boutruche (UNHCR) presented the latest developments on the situation of refugees and IDPs in Kosovo, and informed the Committee about the new position paper of UNHCR from June 2006. He confirmed that the return process of Roma to Kosovo was very slow and that UNHCR was facing challenges when dealing with the return of RAE (40% of the returnees are RAE).

Mr. Boutruche recalled that 30,000-50,000 RAE IDPs were living in Kosovo.

There were about 207,000 IDPs from Kosovo living in Serbia and some 106,000 refugees, about 16,200 IDPs in Montenegro, 2,000 in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (predominantly RAE) and 25,000 in other countries.

In its new position paper from June 2006, the UNHCR called for continuous protection of RAE population and maintained its recommendation not to forcibly return Roma as a group to Kosovo. They should benefit from refugee status. As far as Ashkali and Egyptians are concerned, the UNHCR’s position has changed since these two groups are tolerated (they speak Albanian) but return should be studied on an individual basis.

The UNHCR considered that the internal flight alternative in Serbia was not appropriate since it did not allow for safe return. Kosovar Roma returned to Serbia become de facto IDPs in Serbia.

The RAE remain the most vulnerable segment of the population in Kosovo. The housing problem is particularly serious, since Roma live on illegal settlements since they have no property documents and face evictions. They have no access to social rights. A survey on needs assessment is necessary.

In “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” the UNHCR is de facto the only provider of care assistance for RAE although the responsibility should be under the Macedonian government. Mr. Boutruche reported that 395 requests for asylum had been rejected so far, including 382 concerning RAE. These persons face eviction.

In Kosovo, the responsibility lies under UNMIK, even though the UNHCR is supervising the process. It is at this stage rather difficult to ensure a sustainable return due to security, lack of personal documents, registration of residence, housing rights...The UNHCR launched a wide civil registration and civil status registration (birth, marriage, etc.) campaign.

The Mitrovica mahala return project is the largest urban return project. It is rather complicated in terms of legalisation of the settlement. The reconstruction process is under way.

As regards the lead contaminated camp in Mitrovica, three lead contaminated camps where IDPs were living had been dismantled in July 2006. There were still about 41 families living in these camps.

Mr. Henry Scicluna, Council of Europe Co-ordinator for Activities concerning Roma and Travellers, informed the Committee of the report on the Current Situation in Kosovo by Lord Russell-Johnston which was presented at the Parliamentary Assembly on 3 October [PACE doc. 11018].

The aim of Lord Russell-Johnston’s report was not to examine the specific situation of Roma but intended to look at the political situation. However, there were two points which were of particular interest for RAE: mentioning minorities, he referred to RAE as being the most vulnerable minority which needed the most attention. Throughout his report, Lord Russell-Johnston picked up a number of points of the MG-S-ROM Chair’s report about his visit to Kosovo. He indicated for example that the role and present mandate of the ombudsman should be widened.

In terms of security, though the situations has improved, Kosovo was considered not yet a safe place for Roma to go around.

Mr. Scicluna encouraged participants to have a look at the report of his and Mr. Naysmith’s visit to Kosovo. He pointed out that the return of thousands of RAE from host countries without the necessary infrastructure in Kosovo to address the basic needs of these people would be risky. It was important to develop a strategy that would take into consideration also the needs of those who want to come back to Kosovo (e.g. infrastructure should be planned for those who would like to return).

Mr. Ondrej Gina, member of the Executive Committee of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) indicated that the ERTF was very much concerned about the situation in Kosovo and in host countries. RAE in Kosovo face terrible living conditions and insecurity; they lost everything. Today’s Kosovo is no longer the country it used to be. Before the conflict they were all Roma, now people speak about RAE (Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians). There was a need for a political decision to solve the situation.

The Skopje Group was created by people who want to change the situation in Kosovo and who are willing to address the issues. Local and international actors should keep in mind that they cannot solve issues without involving Roma in the preparation and decision-making. ERTF delegates went to Kosovo. They visited Kosovo during the biggest crisis situation.

Mr. Baskim Ibishi, ERTF delegate for Kosovo, expressed the wish to see a closer co-operation between the ERTF, the MG-S-ROM and UNMIK. He said that Roma were willing to be involved in the process to reach standards but they lacked political commitment by authorities. It was difficult to engage officials in the negotiation and they had usually no response to their letters.

The ERTF should be considered as a natural partner when drafting the strategy. It would be useful to sign a memorandum of understanding as part of the strategy development. On rare occasions, RAE managed to have appointments and contributed for instance in the drafting of a 57-page document discussed in Thessaloniki that addresses the needs of all communities. A community consultative council composed of minority MPs and RAE civil society organisations, should be established.

Mr. Andrzej Mirga saw no serious commitment from PISG as they left the meeting after their welcoming speech. Roma are still perceived as the Serbs’ collaborators. Still Roma people are harassed in Kosovo. There is no rule of law in Kosovo. There is no evidence of Roma in Hague Tribunal.

Since 2002 UNMIK has launched a process of return. There is however a lack of interest and information about the situation of RAE who were sent back to Kosovo. The RAE are not only discriminated against by the majority but also by international organisations. Why developing a project for return, when there are already so many Roma IDPs in Kosovo? There is no money to finance Roma policy.

According to the ERTF delegate, the forced return process is in contradiction with the UNHCR mission in Kosovo which strongly recommended not returning Roma. However, forced return has happened since early 2000s. There are bilateral agreements like the one between German authorities and UNMIK. People who have post trauma disorders are sent back to Kosovo. Many returnees become IDPs and a burden for the local community. It is unacceptable to move people from one place to another without being able to offer them decent living conditions. They left initially for nine weeks and their exile went on for seven years. There is no genuine reconciliation taking place in Kosovo and there is no support from authorities to have it happened.

Mr. Ljuan Koka, ERTF delegate for Serbia, recalled that RAE (Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians) was a post conflict artificial denomination and that all were Roma. Almost 90% of Kosovar Roma no longer live in Kosovo. The MG-S-ROM and the ERTF should work together and listen to Roma who possess the information and the statistics. He invited MG-S-Rom participants to read ERTF documents distributed at the meeting bearing in mind that these documents will be further completed.

While opening the floor for discussion, the Chair, Mr. Ian Naysmith (U.K.) asked what the MG-S-ROM could concretely do to assist the OSCE and the ERTF.

Mr. Stephan Müller responded that developing the strategy needs expertise and lobbying. In that respect, the role of the MG-S-ROM, as well as of the Council of Europe in general, the ERTF, the UNHCR, the OSCE, etc. was crucial. He agreed with previous speakers that he did not know how serious the commitment of Kosovo authorities was. The OSCE had only received a support letter from the Prime Minister so far giving them mandate to assist in the development of a strategy.

He also agreed that security had improved but that the situation could explode everyday. If somebody had an interest in seeing an explosion of violence this could happen in a very serious manner. Mr. Müller disagreed with Mr. Mirga’s statement as concerns evictions. He said that in Gjilan there were no conflicts between opposite forces despite evictions and murders.

In response to the question as to whether the strategy would be developed also for Egyptians, Mr. Müller answered that the Egyptian political party in Kosovo was led by people with personal interests who were trying to influence the Egyptian community. The Egyptian political leadership in Kosovo decided that the Egyptians should not be part of the strategy. However, the Egyptians feel that there is a need for a strategy. Egyptian individuals are apart of institutions and take initiatives.

Mr. Baskim Ibishi referred once more to the ERTF position paper and asked the MG-S-ROM to support ERTF recommendations. It is no longer possible for Roma in Kosovo to support the return of more Roma families. Basic human rights need to be respected; no-one has the right to send back families to insecure living conditions and without a shelter of their own. Roma in host countries should have the right to ask for asylum and the governments should be lobbied in that direction. Another possible action from the MG-S-ROM should be to observe the situation in Kosovo and the action of the government. The MG-S-ROM has the credibility to do this. It was however important to have the support from other institutions, such as UNDP, the World Bank, etc.

Mr. Florian Forster, representative of IOM, insisted on the need to avoid discrimination when it comes to mobility (getting a visa, a work permit, etc.) in the return process. He reminded the Committee that IOM is involved in voluntary return programmes and organises go-and-see visits in order for people to obtain information from the field. He said that the international community should reflect on how it could assist individually people with social needs (for example through a business plan) so that he/she does not become a burden to the community.

Mr. Mirga clarified his previous intervention by saying that he was only referring to a discussion. He considered that that the MG-S-ROM should keep Roma issues high on the agenda. He was however not too optimistic about the adoption of a strategy even after the change of status as the new political leadership might want to start the process from scratch, and even less optimistic about its implementation. The MG-S-ROM should play its role to convince relevant forces to refrain from returning Roma to Kosovo. The draft recommendation on policies for Roma should be finalised as soon as possible in order to be used in Kosovo.

The Chair summarized the future role of the MG-S-ROM in this field as follows:
- finalise the draft policy recommendation on Roma and/or Travellers in Europe and propose it to Kosovo as guidelines for the adoption of a strategy for the integration of RAE;
- lobby with governments of host countries to grant asylum to Roma and with Kosovo authorities for the participation of Roma in the decision-making process;
- urge the member states not to return Roma on mass without having made the necessary arrangements in terms of living conditions and until the security situation remains volatile.

III. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND UPCOMING ACTIVITIES IN THE FIELD OF ROMA AND TRAVELLERS

    Council of Europe activities related to Roma and Travellers Issues

The Secretariat briefly informed the Committee about both recent and upcoming events/activities, namely the training of ministerial officials in charge of implementing the national strategy for Roma in Albania and the annual training of lawyers on legal assistance to Roma taking place in Strasbourg with the assistance of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the European Court of Human Rights. Training targeting French-speaking lawyers will also be organised in 2007.

The Secretariat also announced the publication in French and English of a glossary about Roma-related terminology and requested further contributions for the MG-S-ROM Tenth Anniversary document [MG-S-ROM (2006) 7].

    Individual presentations about recent issues/events

Please consult MG-S-ROM (2006) 14 for the details of country presentations.

IV. DRAFT RECOMMENDATION ON POLICIES TOWARDS ROMA AND TRAVELLERS IN EUROPE

    – Document revised on 6 November 2006; see doc. Key terms of monitoring and evaluation]

The Secretariat presented the new draft version of the Recommendation on policies for Roma and/or Travellers [MG-S-ROM (2006)12 prov 4] to the Committee following on from the working Group that had met on 6 November 2006.

The Committee went through the text, made comments and proposed some changes in the order of paragraphs. The recommendation could however not be fully reviewed and the Secretariat was tasked to propose a new draft on the basis of the comments received. A new deadline for submitting written comments was fixed to 19 March 2007.

    Social event during the evening

Participants in the MG-S-ROM, as well as ERTF delegates, were invited to attend the Fortnight of Roma Films taking place at the Odyssée Cinema in Strasbourg between 1-14 November (sponsored by the Finnish Government, and coorganised by DGIII and DGIV together with the Odyssée Cinema).

A number of members of the MG-S-ROM participated in the Projection of the film Latcho Drom directed by Mr. Tony Gatlif at the Odyssée cinema on 7 November. The film was followed by a debate and a prize-giving ceremony organised in the context of both the Dosta! Campaign for combating prejudices against Roma and a DG4 School Competition.

V. EUROPEAN SOLIDARITY FUND

Mr. Mirga (Poland) reminded the Committee of the latest developments and presented a draft opinion of the Committee in response to the Parliamentary Assembly’s request for the MG-S-ROM to study the possible creation of a European Solidarity Fund [MG-S-ROM (2006)15 prov]. The opinion was based on MG-S-ROM’s opinion so far that such a fund, should it be created, should target local and regional authorities, serve as encouragement for taking positive action at local and regional levels and serve as an incentive for developing projects aimed specifically at Roma, upon condition that they are elaborated with Roma. It should not duplicate other existing funds but be complementary or palliate existing funds in certain areas (e. g. housing is not properly covered by EU funds).

Some participants warned that the naming of the Fund should not create confusion with existing funds at the EU level and therefore suggested to use the wording “European Roma Solidarity Fund”. It was also referred to more recent funds at OSI level.

The Secretariat circulated a draft collection of existing funds for Roma at national and international levels [MG-S-ROM (2006) 5 prov] requesting participants to complete this document if necessary.

Mrs. Isabel Alonso Luzuriaga (Spain) wondered why it was so urgent to adopt this opinion.

The Chair responded that this had been on the agenda of several of MG-S-ROM meetings and the Committee of Ministers was expecting an answer.

By lack of time, Mr. Ürmös (Hungary) postponed his viewpoint on EU funds to the next meeting.

The draft opinion was adopted by the Committee, which decided to send it to the Committee of Ministers, as well as to the Congress for Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, for information.

VI. FOLLOW-UP OF CM RECOMMENDATION (2005)4 ON IMPROVING HOUSING CONDITIONS FOR ROMA AND TRAVELLERS IN EUROPE, WITH SPECIAL FOCUS ON LEGALISATION OF SETTLEMENTS AND EVICTIONS

The Secretariat introduced the subject of housing and the recent exchange of letters with local authorities. The Secretariat also informed the Committee that the stagiaires, Ms. Tanja Wolf (Germany) and Ms. Tanja De Vries (the Netherlands), had worked on a compilation paper of housing policies for Roma and Travellers covering areas such as social housing projects, measures against forced evictions, legalisation of settlements, measures for Travellers, urban planning, property rights, etc.). This compilation should be finalised and later distributed to participants.

Both the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Thomas Hammarberg, who recently published his viewpoint entitled “Forced eviction of Roma families must stop” (available on internet at http://www.coe.int/t/commissioner/Viewpoints/060904_en.asp) and the Coordinator for activities concerning Roma and Travellers, Mr. Henry Scicluna, addressed their concerns about the growing number of forced evictions in member states that often take place without any alternative shelter, often with insufficient prior notice, and sometimes during winter. Some of the reports they received indicated that decisions are often taken by local authorities without always state authorities’ consent. The procedures seem to be rather unfair when it comes to evict Roma families and romaphobia/anti-Gypsyism of the general population seems to play a role in such decisions.

The Coordinator insisted on two basic principles : (i) people should not be evicted in winter (as is the case according to French law) ; (ii) alternative shelter should be proposed. It might be indeed illegal to occupy a flat or a land but it is equally illegal and surely immoral to have people left out on the streets, often with children or the elderly.

The Ombudsman recalled that housing is a major and basic right which is often a pre-condition for registering, getting a job, or having access to services. He reminded that some countries like Greece, Italy and Bulgaria had been found at fault by the European Committee for Social Rights regarding housing rights of their Roma population. Also the European Court of Human Rights ruled that some of the Roma were victims of degrading treatment.

The Commissioner for Human Rights regretted that Recommendation (2005)4 was not fully implemented. He said that he intended to give a high priority to this issue and added that there was generally a lack of sufficient measures to reduce Romaphobia. There was a need for further information about the history, culture of Roma, about them being victims of horrors.

Mr. Andor Ürmös (Hungary) explained that it was not always easy to intervene at the local level as municipalities might adopt specific regulations and take strong actions against illegally occupied apartments.

Mr. Andrzej Mirga (OSCE-ODIHR) congratulated the Commissioner for Human Rights for taking up this issue. He reminded the Committee that the MG-S-ROM visited cities like in France or Slovakia and alerted authorities about housing problems and evictions.

He further indicated that in Central and South-east Europe there was no concept of social housing. In the former Yugoslavia (except for Slovenia) there was a huge migration from rural to urban areas. It was not possible to build houses for everybody. Therefore many settlements were built at the periphery of the cities. Many settlements have been traditionally occupied by Roma but not exclusively. These settlements were never legalised. The land belongs to someone else. The local authorities did not prepare any urban plan. During the industrialisation period the illegally occupied parts of land at the outskirts of the city became progressively part of the urban territory of major cities. These settlements should now be accepted by city authorities as fully part of the city and therefore legalised.

Mr. Hammarberg agreed with the analysis. He said that his office cannot relay all the problems and that there was a need to establish partnership between Roma and local authorities. He was aware that the housing and socio-economic situation of Roma has somehow worsen since the fall of communism. They were insufficiently prepared to the market economy. In Europe, the tendency is to use Roam as scapegoats. There is on the one hand an “illegal” situation from a bureaucratic point of view, and on the other hand the customary practice of these population who have been living on the same territory for decades.

Evictions are sometimes necessary. However, people should be warned in advance. The persons concerned should be able to appeal to a decision body, and they should be offered alternatives. Social houses are often not open for Roma. This should change.

Mr. Henrik Kristensen from the Secretariat of the European Social Charter informed the MG-S-ROM that the Committee for Social Rights was requesting countries to provide comprehensive measures to secure the housing rights of certain groups, such as nomads. The Committee was following the situation of Roma in their reporting and also through the collective complaints mechanism. There has been so far three complaints lodged by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) dealing with housing rights, lack of permanent dwelling and forced evictions (complaint no. 15 against Greece, no. 27 against Italy and no. 31 against Bulgaria). The case against Italy was closed by resolution of 2 May 2006. The Greek government announced the adoption of measures but the European Committee of Social Rights considered that the proposed satisfactory remedy was not sufficient. The case against Bulgaria was still pending. A resolution by the Committee of Ministers was expected in March 2007.

As from 1 January 2007, the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), which was included in the list of NGOs, is entitled to submit complaints against State Parties.

Ms. Louiza Kyriakaki (Greece) indicated that governments were quite confused about satisfactory remedies as requested by the procedures of the collective complaints mechanism. The Greek government amended its own procedures, and provided more housing loans. Housing is not the only issue: education and employment problems have to be solved too.

As concerns the housing loan programme, 5029 beneficiaries out of 5754 have taken their money from the bank for social houses. Committees with Roma and social workers have been established at local level for the evaluation of the applications. 50 housing loans were given in Patras for Roma families. A grant of 320,000 euros is aimed at purchasing land where a permanent settlement for itinerant Roma could be set up with sanitary provisions. To this end, the regional authorities in charge have set up a Special Committee for the evaluation of the proposals offered. Mrs. Kyriakaki invited the participants to read her written presentation for additional details [see document MG-S-ROM (2006) 14].

Mrs. Milena Klajner (Croatia) referred to the Workshop on Monitoring the National Programme for Roma held in Zagreb on 11-12 September. According to the national strategy for Roma and the action plan on housing, Roma illegal settlements should be legalised. From the 14 counties concerned, 12 have adopted urban plans. Medjimurje, which is the country with the largest Roma population, was the first one to decide to legalise all Roma settlements (one settlement could not be legalised because of the risk of flood). Nine of them are already legalised. The measures are financed from state budget (30%) and EC donation. New infrastructure is going to be made as from 2007.

For the flooded land, a solution was found from state budget: the state bought nice and furnished houses for five families. Five other families are still waiting for a similar solution but the prices went up when it was known that the state was buying houses for Roma families.

The city of Zagreb has not yet done its urban plan. There are Roma settlements in industrial areas. The city of Rijeka wants to build sport equipment in an area inhabited by Roma.

Mr. Henrik Kristensen from the Secretariat of the European Social Charter responded to the Greek delegate that there were still camps with insufficient infrastructure. Certain evictions took place without sufficient protection of the rights of the persons concerned. However, the Committee might have another view on Greece since the Committee’s follow-up assessment in 2006 was conducted on the basis of 2004 data and did not take into account more recent developments.

Mrs. Kyriakaki (Greece) added that the monitoring mechanism should leave the necessary time for states to implement long-term measures before assessing their effect.

Mr. Mirga (OSCE-ODIHR) asked whether there had been collective complaints on forced evictions lodged concerning other groups? Mr. Kristensen responded that so far complaints of forced evictions only concerned Roma.

To illustrate the tragedy of such situations, and to provoke a debate, the film “Caravane 55” was shown to participants. The Committee also noticed with satisfaction that a number of countries (Croatia, Serbia, etc.) had developed programmes to legalise informal Romani settlements in order to provide them with the adequate infrastructure (electricity, sewage, public transport, etc.).

Mrs. Anna Pitoun and Ms. Salcuta Filan introduced the projection of the 52 minute long documentary film “Caravane 55”.

Mr. Claudio Marta (Italy) said it was a very useful documentary for Western countries that should be spread.

Mrs. Zola Kondur, representing the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), was surprised by the fact that the police could destroy the property (caravans) of these Roma families. She was also surprised by the fact that the Roma women from the film could not wear trousers, as this was not an obligation in Ukraine or Russia. Mrs. Kondur confirmed that evictions were taking place in Ukraine during the winter period.

Mr. Vladimir Macura (Serbia) said that such a documentary was important and should be screened in his country.

Mr. Samo Drobež (Slovenia) considered that it was a good reality documentary.

Mr. Henry Hedman (Finland) said the message of the documentary was very important for the Roma people. It talks about freedom of movement. The video and the message should be brought to Finland.

Mr. Dezideriu Gergely (Romania) said that Romani Criss had visited the Achères camp in 2003. Achères looks like about 20 other camps where 2,000 Romanian Roma are living. Romani Criss published a report on how Western countries are dealing with this issue. In some cases, municipalities say that these evictions are illegal. It gives a picture of the host country and the state origin. Both Roma and state officials should respect and stick to the law.

Mr. Costel Bercus, as Roma activist from Romania, said that in the last ten years Roma were confronted with evictions, which is one of the worst ways of discrimination affecting children and women, especially when they are evicted in winter time.

Some Roma leave Romania to request asylum in Western countries with some justified reasons and some with no so good reasons. For Western governments, Roma are simply not entitled to request asylum under the Geneva Convention since Roma are not persecuted against. This position is somehow degrading human rights standards as it does not take into consideration the reality of individual cases who suffer discrimination. Mr. Bercus proposed that the Committee should reflect on this issue and study what the procedures and the reaction of authorities and the courts are as concerns Roma asylum seekers.

The Chair welcomed the projection of the documentary and thanked the MG-S-ROM for their positive reaction. The Committee decided to keep on the agenda of its next meetings the issue of housing, in particular evictions, and the issue of Roma asylum seekers.

VII. DOSTA! AWARENESS-RAISING CAMPAIGN

Mrs. Ivana d’Alessandro of the Secretariat updated the Committee on the Dosta! Awareness-raising campaign, which is a part of the Joint EC/CoE Project on “Equal Rights and Treatment for Roma”. She referred in particular to the launch of the campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and in the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. The Dosta! Campaign with its motto "Go beyond prejudice, discover the Roma” should be launched early next year in both Serbia and Montenegro. Campaign material is available in English free of charge and was translated into various local languages. The campaign messages however can be used in other countries than those of the joint EC/CoE programme (BBC and RAI1 for example expressed their interest to use the campaign TV spot). Mrs d’Alessandro also referred to the results of the video competition that had been publicly announced the night before in Cinema Odyssée by the president of the jury, Mr. Tony Gatlif, and she presented the winning radio clip from Serbia. For more information, please consult the campaign website at www.dosta.org.

VII. ROMA AND TRAVELLERS INTERNSHIP PROGRAMME

The Secretariat informed the Committee about developments in the internship programme of the Council of Europe, namely the participation for the first time of a Dutch Roma trainee, Ms. Tanja de Vries, and thank Mr. Peter Jorna (the Netherlands) for his constant support on this issue. The Secretariat invited members of the Committee to finance trainees within the Roma and Travellers Division. The Vice Chair, Mr. Jan Hero (Slovak Republic), indicated that a previous Roma trainee, Ms. Erika Adamova, was recently appointed counsellor for Roma issues to the Vice Prime Minister of Slovakia.

VIII. ROMA EDUCATION

Mrs. Aurora Ailincai, Project Manager in DGIV for the project “Education of Roma children in Europe, presented recent developments, namely the training of school teachers, the publication of a guide for Roma school mediators and assistants, the creation of a pedagogical kit for pres-school, and the work of a committee on how to teach Roma Holocaust (Samudaripen).

Mrs. Ailincai proposed to the Committee to update Recommendation No R (2000)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the education of Roma children in Europe in order to analyse the success and possible failure of measures undertaken in member states in the field of education of Roma.

Mr. Joe Sheils, Head of Language Policy Division, presented recent activities of the DGIV Language Policy Division, especially as regards the harmonisation of curricula in the Romani language. Some of the existing curricula are vague, not explicit and not targeted enough. They should respect European standards. He said that Roma could be divided into three categories: those who speak Romani, those who do not speak it well, and those who do not speak Romani at all. The Council of Europe is preparing guidelines for teachers and portfolios to help Romani children to learn better Romani. In early spring there should be some material available. Mr. Sheils insisted on the excellent co-operation they had with the European Roma and Travellers Forum, in particular Mrs. Miranda Vuolasranta, Vice President of ERTF.

The Committee heard from Mr. Costel Bercus, Chairman of the Roma Education Fund (REF), a presentation on the Roma Education Fund (REF) that was established under the Decade for Roma Inclusion. REF countries have the priority when it comes to fund projects. Granting scholarships for students are not part of the REF priorities so far but the issue might be reconsidered at a later stage. Moldova and Ukraine might join the REF provided that they adopt action plans in the field of education and commit themselves to the Roma Decade process.

Mr. Jan Hero (Slovakia) insisted about the importance of adult learning since many Roma adults were illiterate.

The Chair, Mr. Naysmith (UK) asked DGIV to write a letter to the MG-S-ROM asking the Committee to revise Recommendation No R (2000)4 on the education of Roma children in Europe taking into account recent developments and initiatives taken in member states.

IX. ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE NEXT MEETING

Members of the Committee were invited to propose a host country and a date for the next meeting to be held in spring 2007.

The Committee proposed to have the next meeting rather in May 2007, possibly in Ukraine, as proposed by Mr. Petro Grygorichenko (Ukraine).

Members of the Committee were invited to propose in due course the names of five experts to be invited to the next meeting.

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