Social discrimination heightened by crisis
By Manon Malhère | Monday 09 November 2009
Victims of economic marginalisation, social exclusion and ghettoisation, the Roma of Europe are plagued by segregation that is both social and spatial and which, combined with the crisis, exacerbates their situation of precariousness. For Ivan Ivanov, director of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO), “it’s a vicious circle: poverty and segregation make access to housing, education, employment and health services extremely difficult”.
The economic crisis has been extremely hard on the Roma, whose jobless rate has surged. Unemployment among the Roma in Bulgaria is estimated at 70%-80% and in the Czech Republic at 90%. In its fourth monitoring report on Greece
(1), the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) regrets that most Roma continue to live from scrap and garbage collection although vocational training and employment programmes have been put in place by the government.
For the ECRI, while economic difficulties have undeniably worsened inequalities in access to employment, it is the many acts of racist discrimination against the Roma and the low level of qualifications that explain the very existence of this situation. In the Czech Republic, it is quite ordinary, explains the Council of Europe, for “Roma job applicants to be rejected for a job on the grounds that it has already been filled, only to find that a later, non-Roma applicant for the job is invited to an interview”
(2). In any case, the Roma are often unable to compete with other job seekers given their low qualifications, particularly in the context of the crisis.
The figures are alarming. In Romania and Bulgaria, half of the Roma children have never set foot in a school. In Hungary, 40% of children from this community never finish primary school, only 5% complete secondary school and 1% complete higher studies.
While a low level of schooling remains one of the major causes of exclusion from society, it is not the only cause. Often placed in special schools on the grounds that they do not speak the national language, the Roma are stigmatised from an early age. Mihai Surdu, an expert with the Roma Education Fund, denounces this “disproportionate placement” of Roma children in this type of school. In Slovakia, 60% of the children placed in special schools in 2008-2009 were from the Roma community.
In the Czech Republic, placement in special schools for children with mental disabilities is continuing in spite of legal changes introduced in 2005. The Czech government’s objective is to make available to socially disadvantaged children education whose content, form and method correspond to their educational needs and ability. ‘Special schools’ have therefore been replaced by more appropriate ‘practical schools’. However, according to the ECRI, civil society players consider that this reform has not had the anticipated impact because in fact, it is nothing more than a simple reorganisation of the special schools, without any substantive changes. In addition, “in some localities, the only school in fact available is a former special school and the teachers are still the same. These factors increase the difficulties involved in breaking the cycle of lower education outcomes of Roma children,” states the report. On access to the ordinary schooling system, the ECRI notes that segregation continues to exist, “both through the segregation of schools themselves – a phenomenon linked though not exclusively due to segregation in housing – and through the creation of separate classes in integrated schools”.
HEALTH: A RIGHT DENIED?
Due to its precarious situation, the Roma community does not have full access to health care or preventive care, such as vaccination programmes. In its December 2008 report on Slovakia
(3), the ECRI notes: “The health situation of many Roma remains worryingly poorer than the majority population, with an infant mortality rate twice as high among Roma than non-Roma”. The ECRI therefore calls for more human and financial resources. It also expresses serious concerns over “reports that segregation of Roma patients in health care establishments is still a frequent practice”.
Even more serious, the ECRI documents on Slovakia and the Czech Republic report that Roma women are sterilised without their full consent. In 2005, 80 complaints were lodged by women, most of them Roma, with the Czech Republic’s ombudsman. An investigation was opened. Supported by an advisory body set up by the Health Ministry, the ombudsman concluded that, in most cases, legal and procedural guarantees had not been respected. Denouncing these illegal and discriminatory practices, the ECRI notes that “policy and law encouraged the sterilisation of Roma women as part of an overall policy of assimilation of the Roma community. However, even following the official termination of those policies in 1991, a number of doctors appeared to have acted outside the law, continuing the practices”.
VICIOUS CIRCLE OF GHETTOISATION
Lastly, the Roma experience serious discrimination in housing. “Living in segregated sites increases the difficulty for Roma children to have access to schools” and for adults “to find a job and to get to their workplace,” notes Morten Kjaerum, director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights(FRA), which has just published a report on the subject
First, the study stresses the “deplorable or even unhealthy housing” conditions. Many Roma live in illegal housing, such as squats, and are without adequate access to electricity, gas, drinking water and sanitation. But similar problems also affect legal and subsidised housing. According to a 2001 study on the Swietokrzyskie Voivodship in Poland, 85 of 125 flats had no running water. Another report denounces the Roma’s situation compared to other ethnic groups: 75% do not have gas (21% for the other groups), 72% do not have sanitation (15% for the other groups) and 73% do not have running water (10% for the other groups).
Another serious problem is the national authorities’ repeated expulsion of Roma from settlements, either due to non-payment of rent or because of the illegality of the place of settlement. In Italy, explains the ECRI, the Roma are regularly expelled by the authorities, who make no official announcement, do not propose any viable alternative and often destroy their homes and at times their personal belongings. Are these expulsions arbitrary? They occur “even in the case of Roma who pay their rent regularly,” states the report.
This “segregation exists in many member states” of the European Union, notes the FRA in a press release. And the phenomenon is not decreasing. In Hungary, for instance, the government had planned to multiply threefold its budget for 2009 compared with last year to tear down Roma settlements, rehouse them and encourage their integration in the public service. With the economic crisis, however, it has had to lessen its ambitions.
According to a European Union survey on minorities and discrimination, carried out from May to July 2008 by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), “on average, every second Roma respondent was discriminated against at least once in the previous 12 months”.
Areas of discrimination
- when looking for work
- at work
- when looking for a house or flat to rent or buy
- by health care personnel
- by social service personnel
- by school personnel
- at a cafe, restaurant or bar
- when entering or in a shop
- when trying to open a bank account or get a loan
Average rate of victims of discrimination in these nine areas, from July 2007 to July 2008
(500 Roma surveyed in each state)
- Czech Republic: 64%
- Hungary: 62%
- Poland: 59%
- Greece: 55%
- Slovakia: 41%
- Romania: 25%
Source: The first EU minorities and discrimination survey by the FRA, entitled ‘Data in focus report. 01/The Roma’ and published in April 2009.
(1) ECRI report on Greece (fourth monitoring cycle):
(2) ECRI report on the Czech Republic (fourth monitoring cycle):
(3) ECRI report on Slovakia (fourth monitoring cycle):
(4) The FRA report on housing conditions of Roma in the EU is available at