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EU summit calls for integration of the Roma minority

Córdoba, Spain, 12.4.2010 18:08, (ROMEA)

Racism, violence, school segregation, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, and gender discrimination are the main problems the Roma minority faces today, according to participants in the Second EU Roma Summit held recently in the Spanish city of Córdoba. In a final declaration issued today, those meeting at the conference called for greater efforts on including the Roma into mainstream society, according to the Associated Press.

Spanish Health Minister Trinidad Jiménez announced today that the Spanish government will create a plan to improve Roma integration and will commit a total of EUR 107 million towards its implementation by 2012. The money will used, for example, for stipends for Romani students. Jiménez called on other Member States to take similar steps.

The two-day meeting in Córdoba was attended by representatives of the European Union and Member State governments, as well as representatives of the Roma minority, NGOs, and humanitarian organizations. The summit concluded that the standard of living of many Roma in Europe is deteriorating and tens of thousands of healthy Romani daughters and sons are segregated into schools for mentally disabled children.

School segregation is said to be common in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. A general lack of interest on the part of majority societies and institutionalized racism against the Roma is a great problem, conference participants said.

The economic crisis is another obstacle. "The socioeconomic conditions of the Roma have never improved, and due to the economic crisis they have deteriorated even further,” said David Mark, a 27-year-old Romani man who works for a Roma foundation in Romania.

Violence against the Roma is also growing. Since 2008, cases of violence have been reported in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy. In Hungary alone, 45 physical attacks against the Roma have been noted during the past two years, nine of them fatal.

Katalin Barsony, a Hungarian Romani woman from the Romedia Foundation, complained that the list of speakers at the conference illustrated yet another problem of the Roma: Significant discrimination of women. Of the 52 lecturers who spoke at the forum, only five were Romani women.

Barsony is also exasperated with right-wing extremist parties blaming the Roma for economic problems. "They need scapegoats, and the easiest thing to do is to denounce the Roma,” Barsony said.

Mark said the EU is providing financing and support to aid the Roma, but individual governments are not very active in this direction. In his view, the solution is for the Roma to step up the pressure at local level.

"The Roma also need to push back a bit. It’s better than saying ‘Good, you go away. … Find yourselves a better life somewhere else’,” Mark said.

An estimated 12 million Roma live in Europe. The Roma population of the Czech Republic is estimated at a quarter million and at 400 000 in Slovakia. There are about 600 000 Roma in Spain, where the conference was held, half of them in Andalusia, where Córdoba is located.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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