Yearning to Breath Free
What comes to mind when we hear the word “Roma”? The picture that emerges from media reports is that Roma migrate from the Eastern parts of the EU to settle in the West and North. There they tend to come into conflict with the authorities and the locals when settling in sometimes illegal settlements. It is common to read articles focussing on petty crimes committed by some Roma and of repeated violent attacks against Roma people.
Do the headlines give us the full picture of everyday life for the ten to twelve million Roma in the EU? Of course not. For a start, the vast majority do not migrate to other countries, and there are hardly any nomads left among today’s Roma. Furthermore, being Roma does not inevitably mean a life of discrimination and marginalization. I have met Roma teachers, doctors, professors.
However, the Roma are the most discriminated against minority group in the EU. A FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights) survey highlighted that 60% of Roma respondents had experienced discrimination when looking for work, and only a very small minority get education beyond 5th grade.
Marginalization does not just carry a social cost. It also results in skills and talents that can benefit our economies going undeveloped. The Roma population is growing: in a decade, one out of five people in some Eastern European countries will be Roma. In a difficult global market, can Europe realistically afford not to promote the full social and economic inclusion of all its peoples?
To break this cycle of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination, we need an integrated approach that promotes access to housing, employment, education and health care simultaneously.
In many Member States there are a multitude of Roma inclusion strategies and policies. However, they sometimes address myths and prejudices rather than reality, because surprisingly little data has been collected on the Roma by national governments.
In April this year, the European Commission established an EU framework for national Roma integration strategies. This marks a promising new start for more targeted and sustainable national level approaches, with effective use of EU funds, and systematic measurement of progress on the ground.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Morten Kjærum directs the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in Vienna. He was the founding Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) and a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) from 2002 to 2008, and of the EU network of independent experts responsible for monitoring compliance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from 2002 to 2006.