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Promoting the Social Inclusion of Roma: A Challenge for the German Presidency of the European Union

Brussels, 27.1.2007 12:50, (ERIO)

The Roma are the largest minority in the European Union. With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, there are now over 10 million Roma living in Member States. The Roma issue has been on the agenda of European institutions for the last decade, and according to the European Commission, over €270 million have been invested between 2001 and 2006 (within the framework of European Funds) in projects exclusively targeting Roma communities. Unfortunately, the outcome has not been proportional to this significant investment. Roma communities continue to face strong patterns of social exclusion and discrimination throughout the countries of the EU.

The extremely disadvantageous position of the Roma puts into question the fulfilment of the human rights and social agenda of the EU. The social inclusion and equal treatment of Roma has to be a priority for both EU institutions and national governments. The realisation of this goal requires efforts to be undertaken in various areas and necessitates the engagement of decision makers at national and EC levels. The ultimative goal of EU policies towards Roma should be to guarantee them an equal access to labour, education, housing and health and the necessary framework conditions for exerting their civil rights and for participating in decision making processes. In this context, ERIO believes that the EU-German Presidency should play a key role in the improvement of European policies towards Roma.

Anti-discrimination and Social Inclusion Policies towards Roma

Most Roma are at a disadvantage in the employment and housing sectors and in the education and health care systems, and do not have the opportunity to participate in the related decision-making processes. European institutions and national governments should make it a priority to incorporate into their agendas policies aimed at the improvement of living conditions of the Roma and at eliminating the constant discrimination the latter face. In order to achieve this goal, ERIO calls upon the German EU-Presidency:

1. To strengthen efforts aimed at the eradication of all forms of racism and discrimination against Roma. At EU level, the EC campaign “For Diversity. Against Discrimination” should be made more effective through a better allocation of campaign funds, focusing on projects with clear goals, target groups and indicators of success. The participation of Roma organisations in the design and implementation of campaign activities at the national level should be ensured.

2. To promote the implementation of policies aimed at the social inclusion of Roma at both EU and national levels. By permitting consultative status to Roma organisations with regards to selection, design, implementation and evaluation of Structural Fund projects aimed at Roma, an improved use of such funds can be ensured at the EU level.

3. To ensure that the planned European Agency for Fundamental Rights places a strong focus on the fight against racism towards Roma. A working unit should be created within the Agency that deals specifically with Roma issues, and the participation of Roma organisations in the Platform of Non-Governmental Organisations should be ensured.

4. To encourage EU Member States to follow the principles of the Roma Resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 28 April 2005.

Roma Children and Young People in the Education Systems

Most Roma children and young people face discrimination in education systems in Europe and do not have access to mainstream education as enjoyed by children and young people of the majority societies. A majority of Roma children and young people attend segregated schools and many are put into special schools meant for the mentally disabled. Segregation is done a discriminatory basis, and as a result of this unequal system, many young Roma do not develop the necessary skills required to access adequate labour or self-employment. The integration of Roma children and young people is thus one of the biggest challenges faced by the EU and national governments in guaranteeing equal opportunities to Roma. In order to achieve this goal, ERIO calls upon the German EU-Presidency:

1. To promote comprehensive policies of school desegregation. In countries where segregated schooling (of Roma) is practised, national governments should be encouraged to implement national strategies that enforce school desegregation. National governments should be also galvanised into carrying out awareness campaigns on discrimination at schools and in ensuring that Roma children and young people are treated the same as their majority society counterparts.

2. To ensure that actions aimed at abolishing racist discrimination faced by Roma in schools become a priority in the EC’s Progress Programme, particularly in the fields of anti-discrimination and social inclusion. Projects promoting and supporting school desegregation should place a strong focus on Roma children and young people.

Roma in Labour Markets and Self-Employment

According to various surveys conducted by recognised research institutes, European institutions, and human rights organisations, Roma face great disadvantages in the labour markets and in self-employment opportunities. Very high rates of unemployment and under-employment, as well as unqualified and low-paid jobs, characterise the situation of Roma in the labour markets in both Member States and the Candidate Countries. According to researchers and as documented by numerous surveys, this situation is greatly the result of the low levels of education prevalent amongst Roma and the discrimination they face in the labour market. Guaranteeing Roma access to fair and equal employment and payment is fundamental to promoting their social inclusion and to fighting the high rate of poverty they face. In order to achieve this goal, ERIO calls upon the German EU-Presidency:

1. To encourage the EC and national governments to implement vocational training programmes that can provide Roma with the skills required to access adequate labour and self-employment opportunities. As Roma women are the most affected by unemployment, specific programmes should be created to target them that take into account the particular needs of the Roma communities and include Roma in their design, implementation and assessment. Provision of and access to micro-credit options to self-employed Roma should also be counted as a priority in programmes aimed at Roma integration in the self-employment sector. It should be ensured that the EC, especially through its Progress Programme and through the Structural Funds focus on these issues.

2. To clearly contest the discrimination of Roma in the labour market. It should be ensured that the EC promotes anti-discrimination awareness-raising campaigns with regard to Roma, especially within the framework of the EC’s Progress Programme. These campaigns should target employers and administrators, especially those working in employment offices. National governments should guarantee Roma the right to bring grievances to the court and to anti-discrimination bodies on discrimination-related issues.

Roma in the EU-Enlargement Process

Large Roma communities live in the Candidate Countries, Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Croatia. Reports from intergovernmental bodies and human rights organisations – and even the Progress Reports of the European Commission on the Accession of the Candidate Countries – reveal that Roma face strong patterns of social exclusion and widespread poverty in the aforementioned countries. Widespread human rights violations, demolition of Roma settlements, substandard living conditions, and high rates of unemployment and school absenteeism among Roma children are the most prominent characteristics of the situation of Roma in the Candidate Countries. It is vital to facilitate an improvement in the living conditions of Roma in these countries. In order to achieve this goal, ERIO calls upon the German EU-Presidency:

§ To prevail upon the Candidate Countries to establish the legal and material framework conditions necessary to improve the situation of Roma. The progression of the living conditions of Roma in the Candidate Countries should be a requirement to achieving EU accession. The agenda for accession into the EU should be developed while establishing (and enforcing) minimal standards of protection and respect for minority rights.

Roma Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The situation of refugees of the former Yugoslavia, among them those of Roma origin, is alarming in various Member States of Western Europe. In many Member States, such refugees cannot exert their basic civil rights, and are often barred from working or following higher studies. In addition to experiencing social exclusion in asylum countries, Roma are often forced to return to their countries of origin despite the fact that conditions back there are still far from adequate for return. The reasons why Roma have been forced to leave their home countries in the last decade do not differ greatly from those experienced by the majority population in the former Yugoslavia: armed conflict, ethnic violence, collapse of social structure and cohesion, and economic and social poverty. To guarantee security for Roma refugees, ERIO calls upon the German Presidency of the EU:

1. To urge Member States to fulfil the requirements of the Geneva Refugee Convention and take active measures to halt expulsions and forced returns of Roma from the former Yugoslavia as far as the situation remains dangerous for them in their countries of origin or if conditions there are inadequate for their safe return.

2. To advocate to Member States the need to simplify bureaucratic procedures defining the legal status of Roma refugees in host countries, thus facilitating their integration and contributing to equal access opportunities in the fields of employment, education, housing, and healthcare and in the exertion of their civil rights. The legal provisions applicable to refugees and foreigners should always respect the principle of non-discrimination.

Roma in Kosovo

The situation of minorities in Kosovo, particularly Kosovo-Roma and Kosovo-Serbs, is still very precarious and overlaps with problems linked to internal displacement. Besides experiencing inhuman housing conditions and poor or non-existent access to healthcare, education and employment, Roma are regularly the targets of racist violence and crime. No Action Plan has been developed to address the situation of Roma in Kosovo. An important condition for stabilising the region and securing the currently hazardous situation of the Kosovo-Roma is the clarification of the status of Kosovo – this must be achieved as soon as possible by the interim administration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), together with Serbian and Kosovo authorities. Having witnessed the role the EU can play, not only in the negotiation process but also in boosting human development in the region and in stabilising the social situation, ERIO calls upon the German Presidency of the EU:

1. To promote the participation of representatives from Roma communities in negotiations on the status of Kosovo. The full respect of minority rights should be subject of the talks on the Kosovo statues.

2. To support initiatives for the design and implementation of an Action Plan for the improvement of the situation of Roma in Kosovo. This Action Plan should include measures aimed at the elimination of all forms of discrimination and racism against Roma, and encourage the development of an effective judicial system that protects minority rights. Measures for the improvement of educational and employment opportunities for Roma and for ensuring their participation in decision-making processes should also be included.

3. To urge UNMIK and Kosovo authorities to closely scrutinise the living conditions of Roma in the refugee camps in order to determine potential health risks and to improve the supply of services for the camp inhabitants. Particular attention should be given to those camps where there is a risk of lead contamination (e.g., the camps located in northern Mitrovica region, such as Camp Osterode). Independent of this, the EU should call upon the UNMIK administration and local Kosovo authorities to ensure that accommodation in refugee camps is only a temporary solution, and that under no circumstances must they become definitive settlements. As long as external conditions force Roma children to remain within the Kosovo refugee camps, their educational needs must be given particularly close attention. The reconstruction of destroyed Roma settlements in Serbia and Kosovo should be also confirmed.

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