Roma integration: The EU has a role to play

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Underneath the Duomo. Milan, February 2010. [Joel Schalit]

On International Roma Day, Caritas Europa calls on the European Union to promote the full inclusion of Roma people across Europe, writes Shannon Pfohman. 

Shannon Pfohman is Head of Policy at Caritas Europa.

Many EU Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the UK) continue to struggle to deliver effective results in the implementation of local measures to support their National Roma Integration Strategies in four key areas: access to education, employment, healthcare, and housing. Moreover, few member states have allocated EU funds to this priority, showing a clear lack of commitment and political will.

It was observed by Caritas in Bulgaria, for instance, that measures in the sphere of education remain inadequate. Despite the implementation of a mandatory two year preschool education, the availability of schools and sufficiently trained teachers is inadequate. Due to public spending cuts in the UK, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller education services within local authorities have also been reduced or closed.

In Bulgaria and Romania, access to the labour market remains difficult for Roma people for reasons related to limited job creation, lack of accessibility, as well as discrimination and prejudice from employers and workers. The opinions of mediators working with Roma in Bulgaria are also contradictory, with no visible positive results stemming from their actions. Rather, these actions have created greater dependency of the Roma population as a result of evident segregation and discrimination. Work restrictions placed on EU nationals from Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania have also led to limited employment prospects for Roma migrants in the UK, resulting in significant economic hardship – with many trapped in casual self-employment or reliant on ‘gang masters’ for work and housing.

The situation of Roma living in settlements in Slovakia is also particularly worrying, as these camps are typically located in areas lacking infrastructure such as transportation, schools, healthcare facilities, etc. The same difficulty was identified among Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families in the UK who are evicted regularly, making it more difficult for them to access healthcare, a particular problem for pregnant women, children and the elderly. Such exclusionary trends have lasting negative impacts, especially on children, as it complicates their ability to attend school or receive support. Reforms to the National Health Service (NHS) and changes to General Practitioner Commissioning have further negatively impacted Roma communities, which suffer particularly from reductions in community nursing and pressure to reduce hospital referrals.

Caritas members also observed in Belgium that long-term grassroots work and mediation methodologies require stronger structural support, especially with regard to Roma migration, and that greater integration efforts are needed to support the most disadvantaged Roma communities. Similarly in Slovenia, more is needed to nurture the identity of Roma people and to foster interconnections with Roma communities.

Despite the many examples of underperformance when it comes to National Roma Integration Strategies, there are also some observable positive measures, such as the fact that Greece initiated three regional, integrated, pilot programmes with an infrastructure component, and that a part of the total amount of the Extraordinary Fund Against Child Poverty and Social Exclusion in Spain is to be dedicated to measures aimed at tackling child and family poverty among the Roma. The fact that the Latvian Ministry of Culture envisaged various integration measures in its budget, including extracurricular activities for Roma school children and their parents, activities to raise awareness of civic participation, human rights and legal support in cases of discrimination, as well as a project to teach and improve seamstress skills for Roma youth, is also a positive sign.

Considering the persistence of social exclusion affecting an estimated 6 million Roma people in Europe, the European Council should not only ensure that a minimum of ESF funds be dedicated to marginalised communities, but also that greater pressure be exerted on policy makers to actively involve Roma people in policy decisions that affect them. The European Commission has a role to play in strengthening measures to support and monitor the Member States, so that National Roma Integration Strategies continue to apply specific objectives in the four key areas, which include clear indicators and monitoring as well as the allocation of specific resources and staff responsibilities.

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