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19th Oct 2019

Watchdog warns of 'blatant racism' against Roma

  • Discrimination against Roma is on the rise (Photo: Council of Europe)

Europe's Roma population is subject to growing discrimination and more and more attacks by extremist groups, according to the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe (CoE).

The council in a 250-page report published on Monday (27 February) said they suffer from "blatant racism" and have a life expectancy 10 years less than the average in several EU member states including Hungary, Spain and the United Kingdom.

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"They remain far behind others in education, employment, access to decent housing and health," the CoE's human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg told reporters in Brussels.

He noted that a cycle of disadvantage, exclusion, segregation and marginalisation feeds into a growing "anti-gypsyism" that uses Roma as a scapegoat to explain away society's ills while simultaneously depriving them of any chance to improve their lives.

The council report cited as examples of the trend recent marches into Roma camps by Hungarian exremist groups wearing paramilitary uniforms. Extremists in the country between 2008 and 2009 murdered six Roma, including a five-year-old child.

It added that in Sofia, Roma families were 10 years ago forced out of homes they legally owned to make way for a commercial centre. The families were placed in shipping containers, described as temporary housing units by the government until more adequate lodging could be found. But after nearly a decade, the families are still in the containers where they share a single outdoor faucet. None have toilets.

The stories are not unique.

In Italy in 2008 the image of Italian holidaymakers sunbathing on the beach next to the corpses of two Roma girls drew widespread condemnation.

Meanwhile, Ivan Ivanov, the executive director of the Brussels-based European Roma Information Office, said it is a popular misconception that Roma-related problems are concentrated solely in eastern and central Europe.

"Roma civil society in eastern and central European countries are generally better developed and more vocal than their western counterparts," he told EUobserver, noting that severe problems exist in the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, Italy and France.

The French authorities are for instance still deporting Roma migrants from other EU countries despite the uproar in 2010 when it was discovered they were officially targeting the ethnic group and had labeled them as a "threat against public security."

Integrating Roma starts by Europe coming to terms with the crimes committed against the population, the CoE noted. "The apology and recognition of crimes against the Roma is the first step," said Hammarberg.

The Roma population was decimated by Nazi Germans but this was never acknowledged at the 1946 Nuremburg trials which sentenced Hitler's inner circle to death for crimes against humanity.

The European Commission has requested all EU member states to submit strategy reports and actions plans on how to best integrate the around 10 million Roma into their respective societies.

The plans should present a set of policy measures to improve their education, employment, healthcare and housing.

Nineteen final texts have been submitted to the commission while the remainder are either draft versions or have yet to be submitted. Member states are scheduled to discuss the national strategies at the end of March.

"To be honest, some of the strategies are far from the European Commission’s criteria," said Ivanov, noting that the final draft version of the submitted Dutch action plan is only six-pages long.

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