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Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg visited ERIO office in Brussels

Brussels, 5.2.2010 21:58, (ROMEA)

On January 29th 2010 Human Rights Commissioner Mr. Thomas Hammarberg visited the premises of the European Roma Information Office in Brussels.

He met ERIO staff to have an update on ERIO’s latest activities as well as to discuss human rights issues Roma face in the European Union, candidate and potential candidate countries to the EU. Mr. Hammarberg was briefed on the human rights situation in several countries including Bulgaria, Croatia. Romania, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

ERIO's Executive Director Ivan Ivanov presented the latest activities of the organization and the Roma related initiatives taken by the European institutions. Mr. Ivanov said that ERIO is very well informed about what is going on in these countries and will help its network members to advocate and stand up for their rights. Mr. Hammarberg expressed his deep concerns about the housing situation of a Roma group in Bulgaria evicted from a ghetto and placed years ago to live in containers. He also mentioned that he has approached the German Chancellor Mrs. Angela Merkel about the forced repatriation of a large number of Roma to Kosovo.

Mr. Ivanov said that ERIO follows closely the Roma housing demolitions in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey and is in constant communication with Roma organisations and responsible authorities. The demolitions of Sulukule and Bakkal Kyoi in Istanbul are followed by other municipalities and often Roma are left without any accommodation.

To the question of Mr, Hammerberg whether there are any changes in the Roma situation in Europe, Mr. Ivanov replied that at European level there are some changes: the Roma problem has been well articulated and the fact that is it in the political agenda of the EU is a step forward in comparison with five years ago. The Commission also pays more attention to ERIO's proposals and ideas as a key partner organization.

The Roma summits (the first in September 2008 in Brussels and the upcoming one in Cordoba next April), the Roma Platform for Roma integration and several other initiatives are a clear indication that European institutions are concerned about the Roma situation and there is political will to do something. But Mr. Ivanov also stated that no much commitment is shown. Mr. Hammarberg agreed that in the latest months there is too much rhetoric but not concrete actions.

The HR Commissioner asked if ERIO knows about concrete steps taken at national level. ERIO staff mentioned Spain as a country with a specific Roma plan, but unfortunately it is not successfully implemented in the whole country but only in some regions.

Mr. Ivanov gave more examples about Greece, Finland, Sweden and Slovenia, countries that have specific Roma programs. In terms of Roma rights, the Greek Ombudsman pays special attention to the Roma situation and publishes each year a report on the Roma related activities of his office. Lately, Turkey also reacted to the requests of the European Commission to pay attention to the Roma situation. Recently, a national conference with Roma organiations and governmental officials has been organised in Turkey, something which had never happened before.

ERIO staff members also discussed the need of disaggregated ethnic data in order to counter indirect discrimination and foster social inclusion: it will specially be needed for implementing positive measures in fields like education and employment. At the end of his visit Mr. Hammarberg said that he wants to continue this discussion with ERIO and that he expects ERIO to cooperate closely with his office.

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