Across Europe there is one minority that is routinely, devastatingly discriminated against. This minority is the Roma, whose community spans across Europe numbering 10 – 12 million. Little has been achieved in terms of integrating them into wider society and they are often living in deprived conditions with little chance of social mobility.
On the 8th of April, it was International Romani Day. The day was officially declared in 1990 in Poland, the site of the fourth World Romani Congress of the International Romani Union. To mark the day, seven United Nations human rights experts have called for action stating that “we should not accept yet another lost generation of Roma girls and boys whose only expectations are lives of poverty, discrimination and exclusion and whose futures are dictated by negative stereotypes which commonly go unchallenged.”
Their statement that discrimination against the Roma is unchallenged is accurate. In Europe we fight discrimination, we have the ECHR and the EU’s own Human Rights legislation, we arguably have the most developed and powerful human rights discourse in the world. Yet as a continent, as a People, we have failed the Roma. Whereas discrimination on grounds of race has become a taboo, there is still a casual acceptance of the maltreatment of Roma communities. Negative stereotypes that they are criminals (even purported by French President Sarkozy) abound and there is a worrying trend of physical violence against them.
It’s not just xenophobic individuals that we ought to be condemning though. Amnesty International has highlighted, in aid of Romani day, how governments neglect their responsibilities to Roma citizens. In France, in 2010, Sarkozy controversially expelled Roma families, paying them off with a mere 300 Euros and flying them out of France and to Romania. Yet as they’re Romanian citizens and hence EU citizens, they have the right to Freedom of Movement and at least three months in another EU member state just like all EU citizens. In Serbia, a candidate EU country, the Roma are denied the right to suitable housing and evicted from settlements during the harsh Balkan winter. They are rehoused in metal containers on the suburbs of derelict Belgrade. These containers don’t even pass human rights standards for proper housing.
Why are the Roma treated so badly? Partly because of the way they’re viewed. They’re not treated like citizens of a state and so we don’t associate mistreatment of them as racism. Simply put, the Roma are not given the same rights as other immigrants are. They can’t become skilled or educated because they are not given proper education, the children are segregated from other European children and shockingly, as Amnesty points out, they’re sent to school for pupils with ‘mild mental disabilities’. They’re not given a political voice and their access to healthcare is abysmal.
So how can we ensure another generation of Roma are not lost to the fringes of society? The UN suggests we use education as a tool to encourage children to mix with Roma children from a young age and to bridge the gap for when the generations are older. By giving the Roma children equal opportunities in education they have better chances of escaping the poverty they’re subject to now. In some areas, health mediators who interact with the community have been a good way of bridging the gap between the Roma and wider society so this shows us that the Roma would be willing to engage with society if we were to give them a political voice.
The EU has published a Framework for Roma Integration by 2020 which encourages member states to meet integration goals in four crucial areas: access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. The framework also reminds us that member states are already under an obligation to give Roma (like other EU citizens) non-discriminatory access to education, employment, vocational training, healthcare, social protection and housing through Directive 2000/43/EC. Yet until we see well thought out strategies and a comprehensive, homogenous plan for the entire Union, it is likely the governments will do little to concern themselves with the Roma’s plight.