Why should other Foundations join the EFC/ Forum for Roma Inclusion

Published August 7, 2013 – by Reem Judeh

Estimated at 10 – 12 million, the Roma1 is the largest ethnic minority in Europe, comparable in size to the population of Belgium or Portugal. It is a young and fast growing population group, with an average age of 25 compared to the EU’s 40. There are 1.5 million Roma children under the age of 6 in Europe, more than the same age group in Spain and roughly equal to that in the five Nordic countries combined.

Discrimination and social exclusion still characterise the lives of many Roma. Despite all international, European, and national laws, and existing mechanisms in human rights.

Eight out of ten Roma housholds are at risk of poverty2. Roma people live in subsistence poverty levels and much poorer conditions, suffering from more chronic diseases than majority non-Roma population groups.

Many Central and Eastern European countries still segregate the Roma into special schools, or special classes within mainstream schools, where teachers often have lower expectations, fewer resources and poorer infrastructure. The Roma Education Fund’s study in 2009 found out that in regions with large Romani populations, at least three out of four special school pupils are Roma. Even in countries without overt segregation, such as Serbia and Italy, Roma children are often denied access to local schools due to pretexts such as language. Research in Italy by Associazione 21 Julio, a child rights organisation, found that buses provided to take Roma children to school arrived later and picked them up earlier than other students, denying them many hours of schooling.

A Continent open for all its Citizens?

Europe is built on the premise of a continent open to the free movement of all its citizens. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent EU enlargement processes, many Roma migrated to the old EU member states from the former Yugoslavia and from the new EU member states, mainly Romania and Bulgaria but also Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

This migration was driven by poverty, unemployment, racism, and violence, along with an assumption that the more prosperous old EU member states would provide better social services and protection.

Accross the Continent- the position of Roma population in Europe is more precarious than ever

The assumption so far has been that the situation of the Roma in Western European countries, the old member states of the EU, is better, or even much better, than it is in Central and Eastern Europe. This divide between the two sides of the continent is not a valid one. In the last few years France and Italy, as prime examples, have taken harsh measures against the Roma, violating international and European human rights conventions.

Recent studies confirm the precarious position of the Roma throughout Europe. A recent report of the World Bank confirms that “in most countries in the past two decades, barring specific groups and individuals, the gap between Roma and non-Roma population groups has widened“. A survey conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency survey in 2011 concluded that the gap between Roma and non–Roma is bigger in countries like France, Italy, Hungary, and Romania.

It is not only erroneous, but damaging to think of the Roma issue as one that only concerns Central and Eastern European countries. It is a European problem and needs to be tackled throughout the continent, without neglecting or taking any part for granted

Few Actors in Western European Countries

Most of the current political attention and private funding for Roma is focused on the places where the majority of the Roma are living – Central and Eastern Europe. In comparison far few actors are working on Roma issues in Western European countries. This disparity in foundation funding of Roma initiatives between the two parts of the continent merits urgent action.

What role could the Foundations play to social inclusion and rights agenda of Roma

In its December 2012 meeting, the EFC – Forum for Roma Inclusion stressed the need to bridge the East –West gap and urged unified efforts across the continent as a cross-cutting issue for the Forum’s work. As originally proposed in the Weinheim Declaration, the Forum for Roma Inclusion re-confirmed the following areas which can contribute to substantive improvement in the lives of Roma:

  1. the critical importance of the period of early childhood,

  2. the transition of young people from education to adult and working life,

  3. awareness-raising to eradicate prejudice and stereotyping and build a collective commitment to social cohesion

  4. And, quality education for Roma through their lives remains crucial cross cutting area

The Forum seeks to play an active and creative role in promoting inclusion policies towards Roma, drawing strength from our independence as organisations and from our proven capacity to work at the European level.

We are in a decade for “Roma Inclusion’ that is nearing completion. The European Commission has adopted an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, with member states having to report annually on progress. The European Commission’s progress report on the implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategies and the Recommendations to member states on Roma integration issued in June 26, 2013 place a strong emphasis on involving civil society and local authorities, including recommendations for adequate resourcing and fighting discrimination. These openings present us with a window of political opportunity that we need to utilise fully.

We invite other Foundations to Join the Forum and here are three reasons why:

  1. Foundations can have a stronger voice at the European level, promoting dialogue and exchange of experiences to inform and urge policymakers to act with more urgency on Roma inclusion. We operate in different countries with diverse partner portfolios and know our national context. Working together allows us to address the issue effectively at its European dimension.

  2. The East-West divide in Europe, as far as work on Roma is concerned is not valid. While continuing the work in Eastern and Central Europe, we believe that we should mobilize our resources to work equally energetically in the Western part of the continent. Euro-cities, and the Roma Education Fund (which currently operates only in CEE) are tow important allies in this direction.

  3. Through our access to the EU, we could play an important facilitating role in strengthening the involvement of civil society and Roma communities in shaping and engaging with the EU policy agenda for Roma.

Reem Judeh

An edited version of this article, co-written with ERSTE Foundation, was
published in EFFECT Magazine (vol.7, issue 1, Spring 2013)

1 We are using the term Roma as it is commonly used by EC and UN and international institutions, as an umbrella term referring to a variety of groups of people who describe themselves as Roma, Gypsies, Travellers, Manouches, Ashkali, Sinti and other titles. The use of the term Roma is in no way intended to downplay the great diversity within the many different Romani groups and related communities, nor is it intended to promote stereotypes. Roma, however, now seems to be an accepted name for the various groups that can be traced back to having Romani origins. Roma are known as “gitanos” in Spain, for example

2FRA Roma pilot survey and the UNDP/World Bank/European Commission regional Roma survey carried out in 2011