SPECIAL REPORT: Governments and civil society should continue providing Roma with social housing, in oder to help them integrate locally, and reduce their travel between countries, says Valeria Atzori, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Adviser on Roma.
“Roma are not travellers by choice. They are obliged to leave because they are thrown out of their settlements,” she said. “When they have houses, they stay.”
This is one of the first EESC conclusions following visits to countries with Roma minorities over the last few months. EESC experts met with the Roma community, NGOs and national authorities in Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, and Spain.
Through these meetings, the EESC aims at exploring civil society initiatives in the Roma integration process, and provide recommendations to EU institutions in November.
According to Atzori, the situations vary considerably between the countries. While in Finland Roma are fully integrated, Romania still struggles to find ways to communicate with them.
In Romania, the government still lacks political will to help the Roma, despite the creation of a National Agency for Roma Integration. NGOs and the Roma were defensive in their meetings with the EESC, and blamed both the government and the EU for not doing enough.
Romania is also confronting deeply rooted stereotypes about Roma. Atzori said that due to a few Roma that are exploiting the system, a lot of Romanians believe that the minority deserves the deplorable situation they are in now.
This is the reason many Roma travel from East to West, as the situation is better in countries such as Spain. The EESC met with the Instituto de Realojamiento e Integración Social that helps reallocate Roma from shacks into a decent living place.
The institute buys houses on the private market, and rents them to Roma for a symbolic sum. On their side, Roma commit themselves to keep the place in good condition and send their children to school. The institute monitors that these conditions are met for a period of five years.
“This has led to a situation where up to 98% of Roma children are in school,” said Atzori. “The Roma families really engage and respect these terms so they can keep their homes.”
Rewarding excellence for civil society initiatives
According to Atzori many civil society organisations do an excellent job of helping Roma integrate locally. In fact, when the EESC announced an award for NGOs with the most successful Roma integration projects, they received a record number of 81 applications.
Eight organisations have been pre-selected for the prize. The jury will announce the three winners on 16 October.
ETP Slovakia – Centre for Sustainable Development is one of them. The organisation participated in the Building Hope project, which aims at educating, supporting, and motivating Roma families to build their own homes.
Slavomira Macakova, Director at the ETP Slovakia, hopes that similar projects will become part of the national and European tools for disadvantaged minorities. She also believes that Building Hope allows Roma “develop their potential, grow, integrate and enrich out societies”.
The other semi-finalists come from Finland, Croatia, France, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, and Spain.