Data reveals ‘shocking hardship’ of Romani people in Western Europe

Protesters stand in the rain at Potsdamer Platz, in Berlin, Germany, 13 June 2020. [EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER]

A new report lays bare the widespread encroachments to the fundamental rights of Romani people in Western European countries, providing the latest piece of evidence of discrimination against Europe’s largest ethnic minority.

The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) interviewed almost 4,700 people in the Roma and travellers community in six Western Europe countries: Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Almost half of the respondents (45%) felt discriminated against in at least one area of life in the previous year. This is consistent with widespread anti-gypsyism revealed by previous surveys, which showed that almost half of EU citizens (45%) feel uncomfortable having Roma or Travellers as neighbours.

44% experienced hate-motivated harassment in the preceding year, while 7% were physically attacked, but the majority did not report neither the harassment (93%) nor the  physical attacks (88%) to anyone.

“The data clearly shows that discrimination is not only a problem in some parts of Europe, it happens everywhere. In fact, our survey shows that Roma and Travellers in Western Europe feel more discriminated than in Eastern and Central Europe,” said Ursula Till-Tentschert,  expert on Roma discrimination in charge of the survey at the Fundamental Rights Agency.

A previous survey conducted in nine eastern and southern member states – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – showed that about a quarter (26%) of Romani experienced discrimination there, compared to almost a half (45%) in Western countries.

Till-Tentschert said there could be many reasons to explain this difference, including a greater awareness of rights in the West. Another is that Romani people may have “to some extent given up their fight against persistent discrimination” in eastern countries and “rather avoid situations where they could be discriminated.” This could be the case especially in segregated communities, where their exclusion leads to fewer opportunities for discrimination.

Many Roma and Travellers in the West (11%) also reported ethnic profiling, saying they were stopped by the police in the past year because of who they are, while almost 1 in 20 said they were physically assaulted by a police officer.

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Findings also showed that Roma and Traveller communities have difficulties progressing in education. Two thirds of young adults aged 18–24 years have completed only lower secondary education, while the number of those “who completed tertiary education is extremely small and statistically invisible,” the report found.

Healthcare results are also distressing. The life expectancy of the Roma and Travellers in the surveyed Western European countries is 10 years lower than that of the general population. Around one in 10 Roma and Travellers said they have experienced direct discrimination when accessing care in the past year, despite the fact that the EU’s non-discrimination law applies to healthcare.

Poverty levels also continue to be high. “Most worryingly, the results show unacceptably high rates of adults and children ‘going to bed hungry’ at least once in the last month,” the report reads.

In Sweden, 1 in 5 Romani said they went to bed hungry at least once last month, but the rate was also high in Belgium (about 14%) as well as France and Ireland (10%).

“This report lays bare the shocking hardship too many Roma and Travellers endure in the Europe of today,” FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty said in a statement.

“It is important that we realise that we cannot tackle the inequality and discrimination issues without tackling the hatred first,” Till-Tentschert told EURACTIV. “The root cause of the problems is the racism we have in our society against the Roma and Travellers.”

Last week, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to come up with a law for the equality, inclusion, and participation of Romani people and combating antigypsyism. The EU executive is expected to present its new decade-long framework for  the inclusion and participation of Romani people in October.

“It’s a fact that there has been not much progress for years,” Till-Tentschert said.

Many member states have not implemented measures laid down in the Council’s 2013 recommendation on Roma inclusion.

“It is high time to take this issue seriously and to set binding targets,” Till-Tentschert added.

According to Till-Tentschert, there is a need for data on the socio-economic situation, the extent of discrimination and exclusion as well as living conditions of Romani communities, followed by concrete targets set along the data.

“I think these targets should be ambitious because we are starting on such a low level. There has to be ambition.”

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(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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