The Roma community suffers massive discrimination throughout Europe. Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment.
Living predominantly on the margins of society, Roma are among the most deprived communities in Europe. In some countries, they are prevented from obtaining citizenship and personal documents required for social insurance, health care and other benefits.
Romani children are frequently unjustifiably placed in "special schools" where curtailed curricula limit their possibilities for fulfilling their potential.
Wednesday is International Roma Day, a celebration of Romani culture that aims to raise awareness of the issues facing Roma people. Held on 8 April every year since 1990, the Day draws attention to discrimination directed at Roma and Gypsy communities globally.
Denied a proper education in the Czech Republic and Slovakia Discrimination against Roma continues in the Czech Republic. An anti-Roma march by far-right protesters through the Romani community in Přerov descended into violence on Saturday, when demonstrators clashed with counter-demonstrators.
An estimated 300,000 Roma live in the Czech Republic, making up less than 3 per cent of the population. Unemployment particularly affects Czech Roma communities, who are estimated by some sources to make up a third of all those registered as unemployed in the Czech Republic. The Roma are also among the most vulnerable to police ill-treatment and other racially motivated violence.
The Constitution of the Czech Republic guarantees that all children have the right to an education. Yet, despite positive measures taken in 2005 – in removing the category of "special schools" and the creation of measures to facilitate the integration of Roma children into the main educational system – there is still discrimination and intentional exclusion of Romani children from mainstream education.
The practice of segregating Romani children in schools for children with mental disabilities continues, despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in November 2007 that it amounted to unlawful discrimination.
In Slovakia, huge numbers of Romani children are inappropriately placed in "special schools" for children with mental disabilities, where they receive a substandard education, and have very limited opportunities for employment or further education. Independent studies suggest that as many as 80 per cent of children placed in special schools in Slovakia are Roma.
Pavlovce nad Uhom is a town in eastern Slovakia, 10km from the borders with Ukraine. More than 50 per cent of its 4,500 inhabitants are Roma. There are two elementary schools in the town: a mainstream school and a special school for children with mental disabilities.
In July 2008, nearly two thirds of Romani children attending primary school in Pavlovce nad Uhom were de facto segregated in the special school. Of approximately 200 pupils at the special school, 99.5 per cent were Roma.
Discrimination in Italy Since 2007, the Italian authorities have increasingly adopted "security" measures, which appear to be discriminatory, affecting disproportionally the Roma and Sinti minority.
Special agreements were signed in May 2007 between the national government and local authorities of major cities, transferring some powers from the Ministry of Interior’s remit to the local authorities.
The aim was to address perceived security threats, including those supposedly posed by the presence of Roma and Sinti communities in these cities.
In May 2008, a Decree by the President of the Council of Ministers conferred emergency powers to the Prefetti (who are permanent representatives of the national government in the territory) for one year, in order to solve the "nomad emergency," while using a law of 1992 enacted to provide for emergency measures in case of natural disasters.
The powers can be exercised against people of any nationality who are deemed to be “nomads”. They appear to disproportionately affect Roma and Sinti people.
The Prefetti may derogate from a number of laws, including those which confer rights to all people in regard to the powers of the authorities. They were also given the power to carry out a “census”, collecting data, including fingerpirnts, exclusively from those deemed to be ‘nomads’ – whether they were Italian, EU, or non-EU citizens. Serious concerns have been raised about the discriminatory nature of the "census".
Forced evictions of Roma communities have been routinely carried out for at least 10 years, but their frequency and impact seem to have increased since 2007.
Communities affected include Roma and Sinti, who live in unauthorized settlements and, in some instances, those with a legal title to live in authorized settlements. Roma and Sinti who are Italian or EU nationals have been equally affected.
Many of the forced evictions appear to have been carried out in violation of international human rights standards and relevant domestic law, which provide for appropriate procedural guarantees, including the possibility of judicial redress, to be given to individuals under threat of eviction. Moreover, in many cases, no adequate alternative housing solutions were discussed with or proposed to the communities, in violation of international standards, with the result that many Roma and Sinti have been left completely homeless.
Many of them, forced to find some form of shelter, at very short notice, in unauthorized areas, have been subjected to repeated forced evictions.
Measures taken by the authorities are often accompanied by strong anti-Roma rhetoric from local and national politicians and the vilification of Romani people in the media.
Throughout 2008, the stigmatization of Roma and Sinti contributed to a climate in which attacks on groups and individuals reached record proportions. Roma people have been victims of mob violence by members of the public, in which individuals were physically and verbally attacked and settlements were set on fire.
Anti-Roma sentiment on the rise in Hungary Hungary has recently witnessed a series of violent attacks against Roma.
According to media reports, on 23 February Robert Csorba, a 27-year-old Romani man and his five-year-old son, Robika, were killed in Tatarszentgyorgy, a village about 40km south east of Budapest. They were reported to have been shot dead while fleeing their house which was set on fire as a result of a suspected arson attack.
Local police at the scene were reported to have initially announced that the fire had been caused by an electrical fault. This was despite neighbours' reports of gun shots and of spent cartridges and blood stains in the snow. Hours later, the police said that it was not an accident.
The Hungarian National Bureau of Investigations (NNI) on 27 February was reported to have announced that this attack may have been one of a number of similar assaults, possibly carried out by the same group of perpetrators. The head of the NNI, Attila Petőfi, said that recently there had been seven similar attacks on Roma people in which four people had died.
According to the Hungarian National Police, in 2008, there were 16 incidents involving the use of weapons against Romani homes that led to at least four Romani people being killed.
Forced evictions in Serbia Romani people are also denied the right to adequate housing. In Serbia on 3 April, a group of Romani people who had been living in an unlawful settlement in Novi Beograd were evicted on the orders of the mayor of Belgrade.
Around 250 Romani people, some of them internally displaced Roma from Kosovo, including small children and the elderly and infirm were evicted from a temporary settlement. Two women were reported to have been taken to hospital suffering from stress.
According to the press, bulldozers accompanied by police officers arrived to clear the site early in the morning before the formal eviction notice was presented to the community. The makeshift dwellings were torn apart while their former occupants watched.
The site was cleared in order to make way for an access road to the site of the 2009 Student Games, to be held in Belgrade later this year.
Temporary alternative accommodation in the form of containers had apparently been provided by the Mayor of Belgrade, but some 50 residents of the suburb where they had been located attempted to set fire to three of the containers. Many of the evicted Roma have spent five nights sleeping in the open in the absence of any alternative accommodation.
Refused adequate housing in Romania In August 2004, over 100 Roma were evicted from a building in Miercurea Ciuc, in the mainly Hungarian county of Harguita. The 12 families now live in an 800m² field. Signs on the fences around nearby waste water filtering station warn of toxic danger.
The authorities provided eight metal barracks for the Roma to live in. They were not enough, so the Roma built another 14 houses from wood and other materials.
The dwellings are connected to the filtering station's electricity and water supply. When they run out of wood – a certain amount of which is provided by the municipality – the people heat the barracks using solid fuel. The barracks do not offer sufficient protection from cold or rain. Weather conditions during the winter are very harsh and temperatures can reach -26°C.
Transportation is provided by the municipality to take the children to the Roma-only primary school at the other end of the town.
According to the testimony of local Roma, living conditions are an extreme danger to health, due to the proximity to the waste-water filtering station and the adverse weather conditions.
The placement of the Roma on the site was supposed to be a temporary solution. The community has been living there for more than four years now.
Other Roma evicted from the same building in 2004 decided they did not want to go to the barracks provided. Instead they built shacks next to the rubbish dump, an hour’s walk from the town. Living conditions there are equally inadequate.
A number of Roma people have filed a complaint of discrimination against the authorities. The non-governmental organization Romani CRISS (Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies) in partnership with the National Council for Combating Discrimination (NCCD) documented the case in July 2005, making numerous visits to the site.
At the time, the Vice Mayor of Miercurea Ciuc was reported to have said that this was not a case of discrimination. He said that, at most, it could be considered as positive discrimination, arguing that the Roma who were moved near the filtering station were provided with free land from the private property of the state along with a connection to electricity and water networks, utilities being paid by the local authority.
The case has also been covered by the local and national media. So far, nothing has changed.
Forcibly returned to Kosovo Several EU governments plan to forcibly return Roma to Kosovo, where they face severe discrimination. Forcible returns are expected from Switzerland, with whom an agreement was concluded in February 2009, France and most of the Scandinavian countries.
Some 18, 500 persons are expected to be returned from Germany including 3,500 Albanians, 10,000 Roma and 5,000 Ashkalia, Gorani, Turks and Serbs.
The Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians fled from persecution, including abductions, after the end of the war in Kosovo in June 1999. Other Roma were forced to flee in March 2004, during inter-ethnic violence between Albanians and Serbs, which also affected Ashkalia and Egyptians.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported in July 2008 that around 1,000 cases of inter-ethnic violence remained unresolved, partly because of a fear of intimidation and a lack of witness protection.
Although the intensity and frequency of inter-ethnic violence has declined, low-level intimidation continues, including against persons of all ethnicities returning to places where they are in the minority. Discrimination against Roma is widespread including in access to education, healthcare, employment and the right to adequate housing.
While the government has developed an action plan for integrating the Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptian community, and another for the integration of returning refugees, both remain unimplemented. Tens of thousands of Roma may be forcibly returned in 2009.
A Kosovo government official told Amnesty International in February that Kosovo does not have the resources or the capacity to deal with mass returns.
In perhaps the worst case of discrimination in Kosovo, over 200 families have lived, since 1999, in camps sited on wasteland contaminated by lead. Despite reports in 2001 by the World Health Organisation and others that the degree of lead contamination in the blood of both children and adults is one of the highest in the world, the Roma remain living in these camps.
To coincide with this year's celebrations, a candlelit vigil of protest will be staged by 500 Roma/Ashkali residents of camps.