Europe’s largest ethnic minority continues to face intolerable discrimination and unequal access to vital services

headline Strasbourg 29 November 2016
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Europe’s largest ethnic minority continues to face intolerable discrimination and unequal access to vital services

According to the Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination (EU MIDIS II) Survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published today, some 80 % of the Roma people surveyed live below their country’s at-risk-of-poverty threshold.

"I did grow-up poor. Poverty wasn’t though the main issue. Discrimination because we were Roma and poor was the worst part of my childhood."

One in every three Roma people lives in housing without tap water. A similar proportion of Roma children go to bed hungry at least once a month. The survey, based on a sample of more than 33,000, also confirmed that many Roma do not report to the authorities the discrimination they suffer.

Far too many Roma are still caught in a terrible vicious circle were abject poverty, discrimination, poor education, poor health and reduced access to social services result in crippled futures. There are still far too many places around Europe where Roma children live hellish lives.

Across member States, discrimination and non-inclusive school systems systematically deprive children from Roma communities of their right to education. In most countries, some 50 % of Roma between the ages of six and 24 do not attend school. Those that do enroll are likely to drop out before the end of basic schooling because of racism in schools and the ill preparation of schools to meet their needs.

"...In fYR of Macedonia I was on the point of dropping out of school because I could no longer cope with my schoolmates' bullying. The teacher suggested that I should be enrolled in a class where are the rest of the peers are Roma. Luckily, my mother did not agree with the proposed “solution” but instead she worked with me on overcoming the bad feeling of being a gipsy, boost my self-esteem and complete my education."

School segregation remains a problem in several countries despite the legal prohibition of this practice and recent case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The results from the FRA survey show that the proportion of Roma children attending schools in which all schoolmates are Roma ranges from 27 % in Bulgaria to 3 % in Spain. The share of children attending such schools is below 10 % in the Czech Republic (5 %), Croatia, Hungary and Romania (8 % each). In Slovakia (62 %), Hungary (61 %) and Bulgaria (60 %), the majority of Roma children attend schools in which all or most of their schoolmates are Roma.

A small fraction of Roma children finish compulsory schooling in Romania. Girls are two times less likely to finish than boys. The idea that Roma children do not want to go to school is ignorant. In one of the worst ghettoes in Bucharest 7 years ago the drop out rate was almost 100%. Nowadays, each weekend, I see 50 to 80 children that come to do homework with volunteers. Drop-out rates are 6 times lower.

"Between 1990 and 1995, Roma in Romania were systematically attacked by non-Roma. More than 30 incidents were registered across the country with hundreds of Roma houses being targeted, many set on fire or destroyed, forcing families to hide and leave their homes in the attempt to save their own lives. Many Roma women were raped and men were killed. I was 15 when groups of angry ethnic Romanian were attacking Roma houses in the place I lived. One evening, my sister and I were taken to sleep in the apartment of our neighbors and told to be vigilant because mobs might come after us. Close to midnight, the nightmare started and loud and angry voices were screaming in front of the doors of Roma living in that building (one of them was ours), anti-Roma statements, while hitting the door of our apartment in an attempt to break in. The salvation came from many of our neighbors who went outside and faced the angry mob. After 25 years, anti-Roma sentiments are still very much present in our society."

In the 2011 Roma survey, about half of the respondents indicated that they felt discriminated against because of their ethnic origin. Only a minority were aware of laws forbidding discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin when applying for a job.

EU MIDIS II finds that Roma continue to face intolerable levels of discrimination in daily life – whether looking for work, at work, in education, healthcare, or when in contact with administrative bodies or entering a shop. Almost one in two Roma (41 %) felt discriminated against because of their ethnic origin at least once in one of these areas of daily life in the past five years. One in four Roma (26 %) indicates that the last incident of perceived discrimination happened in the 12 months preceding the survey. The highest prevalence of discrimination in the past 12 months is found when using public or private services (19 %) and when looking for work (16 %). However, on average, only 12 % of Roma report their experiences of discrimination to an authority. Moreover, almost a third (27 %) of the Roma surveyed do not know of any law prohibiting discrimination based on ethnic origin, and most Roma (82 %) do not know any organisations offering support to victims of discrimination.

We need to stop anti-Gypsyism, otherwise social inclusion of Roma will remain just a dysfunctional concept that cannot achieve the goal of closing the gap between majorities and Roma in our societies. Stopping racism against Roma needs to be reflected both in national laws and the approach of institutions. For everyone to enjoy their freedoms, we all need to fight discrimination against Roma, as none of us is fully free from discrimination and victimization, if one of us is left out of the protection of the law.

Article written by Robert Rustem - Outreach Officer to the SRSG Team, Isabela Mihalache - Project Manager of the JUSTROM Programme and Valeriu Nicolae - SRSG for Roma Issues