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14th Aug 2022

NGOs push for pan-European strategy on Roma

  • Roma children at school (Photo: Amnesty International)

A group of eight non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International and the Open Society Institute, is pushing for an EU-wide strategy on Roma, who continue to face strong discrimination in parts of Europe.

In a letter to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, the NGOs urged the executive body to "become a catalyst actor in making Roma inclusion a reality in Europe" and to set up "an EU framework strategy to promote Roma inclusion".

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According to the activists, Brussels has adopted "a rather passive approach" in dealing with the Roma issue, limiting itself to existing policies and stressing member states' responsibilities.

"Despite the European Parliament calling upon the European Commission in an all party resolution in 2005 to develop a policy towards Roma, there is so far not even a draft of such strategy", the letter states.

The move by NGOs is yet another push for common European guidelines.

Earlier this month, Italian prime minister Romano Prodi and Romanian leader Calin Popescu-Tariceanu also called for a European strategy of inclusion for the Roma.

On Thursday (15 November), EU lawmakers adopted a resolution suggesting that a network of organisations deal with the social inclusion of Roma as well as promote the rights and duties of the Roma community.

The issue is expected to be discussed by a fundamental rights group in the commission, consisting of ten commissioners - Jose Manuel Barroso, Franco Frattini, Vladimir Spidla, Jan Figel, Margot Wallstrom, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Olli Rehn, Luis Michel, Vivianne Reding and Sim Kallas.

"We hope the EU will play a facilitating role", Andrew Wilkens from Open Society Institute told EUobserver, adding it should for example pay better attention to how the EU funds are targeted.

He cited an example of new housing for Roma in EU state Slovakia, which had been built six kilometres from the nearest village - something that further segregated the community.

Slovakia in general is seen by NGOs as the biggest trouble-maker, with the Roma at the eastern part of the country being described as "one of the most deprived communities in Europe".

"One third of Roma live in the settlements, where living conditions are very inadequate", Amnesty International's Jezerca Tigani told EUobserver, adding that segregation of Roma children is also a serious manifestation of the overall problem.

Two separate studies conducted by Amnesty International and the Open Society Institute show that Slovak Roma children are placed disproportionately in schools for children with mental disabilities or segregated into Roma-only schools.

In some parts of Eastern Slovakia 100 percent of schools are segregated.

According to Mr Wilkens, NGOs are setting their hopes on the recent ruling by the Strasbourg-based European human rights court.

According to research, the Czech Republic had violated non-discrimination principles by sending 18 persons to special schools for pupils with learning difficulties due to their Roma origin.

"We should consider out-ruling the segregation in the field of health care, labour market, education", Mr Wilkens added.

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