• An Open Society Institute survey in six member states found that only 42% of Roma children complete primary school (Photo: Boryana Katsarova/cosmos/Agentur Focus)

Roma still second class citizens, despite EU efforts

04.04.14 @ 18:51

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - Despite national strategies on Roma integration, many of Europe’s most discriminated minority are still being treated as second-class citizens.

Zoni Weisz, a 77-year old Nazi Holocaust survivor, on Friday (4 April) asked whether history is at risk of repeating itself.

“A civilised society respects human rights but still many Roma and Sinti are treated as second class citizens,” Weisz said at the third EU-level Roma summit in Brussels.

Weisz, who lost his entire family at Auschwitz concentration camp for being Sinti, warned EU and national governments against producing more piles of paper in their policy efforts to stamp out prejudice against minorities.

Problems remain pervasive and elusive for policymakers.

Three years ago, local authorities in Cluj-Napoca evicted Romani families from their homes and pushed them into a ghetto near a toxic waste dump where they remain to this day.

A Romanian court declared the eviction illegal but the families have nowhere to turn, according to the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).

Romania’s president Traian Basescu, present at the summit, warned against anti-Roma discourse at the European level.

“We see at the European level that there are a number of political people that resort to such discourse,” he told the audience.

But Basescu was himself fined in February for making discriminatory remarks against the minority in 2010, describing a majority of the Roma at the time as lazy thieves.

At the summit, he said many are doctors, lawyers and businessmen but are too afraid to reveal their true identities due to the stigmas.

Romania officially has over 600,000 Roma but the true figure is reportedly likely to be higher since many mask their identities.

An estimated 12 million Roma live in the EU.

Member states, for their part, committed themselves last December to reduce Roma social inequalities in education, employment, healthcare, and housing.

In 2011, they each adopted the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies but pro-rights group complain little is being done in substance.

“The commitment to combatting discrimination and human rights abuses against Roma remains largely no more than a promise,” said the ERRC in a statement.

The EU, for its part, in a report released on Friday said some progress had been made since 2011.

It noted more Roma children are attending pre-school and that programmes are in place to improve access to healthcare, jobs, and housing.

EU-wide stigmas remain entrenched.

Last year, police in Greece and Ireland raided Roma families and abducted children with blue eyes and blonde hair.

Irish police returned the seven-year old after DNA tests confirmed the couple where indeed the biological parents. Accusations of human trafficking in the Greek case turned out to be unfounded.

Meanwhile, at the EU level, EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding described the Roma policy wrangling as a major achievement compared to a few years ago.

Few bothered showing up at the EU Roma summit in 2010 in Cordoba, Spain.

“There were only two ministers present and no interest at all about what should be done,” she told reporters.

She noted it took four years before dozens of ministers from member states began to speak out.

“You cannot have a change in the Roma population if the Roma population itself does not want to be integrated,” she pointed out.

Reding had also locked horns with French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 for booting out Roma from the country. Ethnic-based deportations have since stopped in France, she noted.

But not forced evictions.

Last year, France kicked out 21,500 Roma from their homes, sometimes in the dead of winter.

“Where there are illegal settlements, they are illegal and it is possible, under the responsibility of the state, to dismantle those but it is also the responsibility of the national state to see that those people are cared for,” said Reding.