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Roma people less safe than 20 years ago? GFoD report reveals shocking situation of  Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent in Europe

European Union Member States must formally recognize and acknowledge the existence of discrimination based on work and descent as a distinct form of discrimination that deserves the attention of the international community and that affects communities around the world including among others, the in Europe, a report titled ‘Status of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent: The situation of  Roma in Europe and beyond 2023' has revealed. 

The report, published by the Global Forum of (GFoD) and The Inclusivity Project(TIP) in collaboration with European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO), explains, in great detail, that even in Europe, which prides itself on its commitment to diversity, equality, and human rights, “the persistence of discrimination against Roma communities, based on work and descent, stands as a stark reminder of the challenges that still lie ahead.”

The report sheds light on the troubling issues of discrimination faced by Roma individuals, particularly in the countries of Slovakia and Romania, and illuminates the intricate web of challenges that contribute to the perpetuation of discrimination, examining the contexts of EU nations.

‘Roma', as an umbrella term, encompasses a wide range of people of Romani origin, such as Roma, Sinti, Kale, Romanichels and Boyash/Rudari, etc. It also encompasses groups such as Ashkali, Egyptians, Yenish, Dom, Lom, Rom and Abdal, as well as traveler populations, including ethnic travelers or those designated under the administrative term gens du voyage and people who identify as Gypsies, Tsiganes or Tziganes (pejoratives), without denying their specificities.

‘Roma people less safe than two decades ago'

Worryingly, the report says, many Roma feel that Europe is less safe than it was 20 years ago, because despite economic  growth and innovation, life continues to be extremely  challenging for those at the bottom of the society. 

“Civil society has played an important advocacy role in visibilizing and contributing to the recognition of the plight of Roma, and advancing their concerns and agenda in many international institutions, and national and local governments. But now we need a renewed and stronger commitment, which reflects  today's challenges and realities. We need to take this important work  a step further, incorporating the lessons learned and current challenges and opportunities with the help of civil society and other relevant partners,” Gabriela Hrabaňová, Director, European Roma Grassroots Organizations (ERGO) Network, said.  

‘Discrimination at every level, across every sector'

The report, sourcing data from the Fundamental Rights Agency (2021), shows that one in every fourth Roma feels discriminated against based on their ethnic background. 

“Approximately 17 percent of Roma surveyed experienced at least one form of hate-motivated harassment in the last 12 months. The most prominent areas where discrimination towards Roma can be seen are education, housing, employment and health. Discrimination can also be seen in the justice system” the report adds. 

Roma children are placed in special, separate schools and classes because the teachers and school managers perceive them as mentally retarded or unclean, despite many decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on the issue, the report pointed out. 

Similarly, a Council of Europe study, highlighted that school curricula often exclude information on Roma history including Roma Holocaust and there is an absence of this history in classrooms as well as in Holocaust education in general.

“Despite the work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and increased awareness of the Romani Holocaust, there is still a gap in both research and memorialization of the Holocaust,” the report added. 

“In addition, one in five Roma children experienced hate-motivated bullying/harassment due to being Roma while in school,” said the report. 

The discrimination continues in housing too, where almost half of the Roma studied by the Fundamental Rights Agency live in a state of housing deprivation, and/or live in damp, dark dwellings or housing without proper sanitation facilities and one in every four Roma still faces discrimination when looking for housing. 

“In employment, one in every three Roma older than 16 years has felt discriminated against because of being Roma when looking for a job,” the report pointed out, adding that “in health, in 2021, more Roma felt discriminated against for being Roma when accessing health services in the past 12 months as compared to the 2016 data.”

Even in the justice system, Roma are often faced with investigators who refuse to investigate hate crimes and prosecutors who refuse to prosecute the cases. Worryingly, legal systems do not provide sanctions for the breach of Constitutional guarantees of non-discrimination, the report added.  

“The 12 million Roma people in Europe are denied basic human rights and are victims of widespread discrimination, racist attacks and hate speech mainly because of their heritage and current social status. This widespread discrimination has severe implications for socio-economic development and the inclusion of Roma in the European countries where Roma live, and are citizens,” the report highlighted. 

The multi-faceted discrimination also has significant consequences on Roma political participation and their invisibility in public life, the report said, “with Roma communities largely absent from local and national political decision-making structures and electoral campaigns run with  a strong anti-Roma rhetoric.” 

Highlighting the depths of discrimination against the Roma people, the report points out that even facilities considered essential remain a luxury for the Roma. “Connections to water supply systems remain particularly low for the Roma community. The overall share of Roma without tap water was 22 % in 2021. In Romania, which has the highest proportion of Roma people in Europe, 68% of Roma households do not have access to potable water,” the report points out.  

The majority of Roma still live in overcrowded households, with every second Roma (52%) living in a state of housing deprivation, living in damp, dark dwellings or housing without proper sanitation facilities. 

Pointing out that tackling discrimination and structural racism, and dispelling prejudices are essential to ensuring that Roma can become equal citizens in European societies, the authors called for several recommendations for the United Nations, the European Union, and the member states of the European Union. The recommendations can be classified under two categories: one, which applies to all CDWDs, and two, recommendations specifically for the Roma people. 

Universal recommendations for CDWD

Universal recommendations include formally recognizing and acknowledging the existence of discrimination based on work and descent (DWD) at the national, regional and global levels, taking into account the continuing relevance of ancestry and occupation to practices of and , with a view to ensuring meaningful policymaking that reaches affected communities. 

This means the states shall take all necessary constitutional, legislative, administrative, judicial, educational, and social measures to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent and respect, protect, promote, restitute, implement and monitor the human rights of those facing these forms of discrimination including through robust disaggregated data collection in line with data protection and data privacy principles.

Other universal recommendations include combating prejudicial beliefs and practices in all their forms, including notions of , pollution and caste superiority or inferiority, as well as preventing human rights violations taken on the basis of such beliefs. 

A working group on DWD, including members of DWD communities, shall also be formed at the regional level to undertake an extensive regional study on issues and challenges faced by Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) in order to come up with strategies to address it further. 

Adequate budgetary allocations for the implementation of protection and welfare measures for CDWD, and allocate specific funds to awareness-raising campaigns aimed at combating discrimination and prejudice is another important recommendation. 

UN-specific recommendations for Roma people:

  • The Human Rights Council to contribute to the full realization of the human rights of persons discriminated against on the basis of work and descent including the Roma by considering ways to include this issue in the regular work of the Council, requesting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to recommend further steps for states and the United Nations system to address discrimination basis of work and descent, and through the mobilization, inter alia, of financial cooperation and technical assistance at the global, regional and national levels. 
  • The United Nations system to recognize discrimination based on work and descent as a distinct form of discrimination and integrates attention to this human rights issue within their respective mandates and operational activities, in cooperation and consultation with affected communities. 

European Union specific recommendations: 

  • As a truly global development agenda, the 2030 Agenda must be considered in all policies for EU member states as well as the enlargement region. Its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the promise of governments to “leave no one behind” provide crucial opportunities for advancing the rights of Roma in Europe. 
  • At the same time, policy-makers and civil society face challenges when bringing European economic and social policies, such as Europe 2020 and the European Pillar of Social Rights, under the roof of the 2030 Agenda. 
  • The European Institutions should push member states towards aligning their policies and measurement mechanisms with the SDG framework as well as incorporating the SDGs into EU policies and programs
  • The EU should ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are included in the Social Scoreboard that monitors Member States' performance in relation to the Pillar of Social Rights. 

European Union Member States specific recommendations:

  • Formally recognize and acknowledge the existence of discrimination based on work and descent as a distinct form of discrimination that deserves the attention of the international community and that affects communities around the world including among others, the Roma in Europe.
  • Address the deep-rooted structural and institutional discrimination that exists at all levels of society and is a major barrier for members of the communities discriminated on work and descent to fully enjoy their fundamental rights in all spheres of life, including employment, housing, education, healthcare, care, social protection, and other key public services.
  • Take all necessary constitutional, legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, and educational measures to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent in their respective territories and to respect, protect, promote, restitute, implement, and monitor the human rights of those facing discrimination based on caste and work and descent.
  • Combat prejudicial beliefs and practices in all their forms, including practices of untouchability, segregation, pollution, and caste superiority or inferiority, and prevent human rights violations taken on the basis of such beliefs.
  • Work in collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions, civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and other stakeholders to address the root causes and effects of discrimination on the basis of work and descent that nullify or impair equal enjoyment of human rights.
  • Improve data collection and disaggregation, in line with data protection and data privacy principles, to measure progress, inter alia, in the Sustainable Development Goals for persons affected by discrimination on the basis of work and descent, to ensure they are not left behind.

The report also called for the formal recognition, acknowledgment, and existence of Discrimination based on Work and Descent at the national, regional and global level, taking into account the continuing relevance of ancestry and occupation to practices of modern slavery and caste, with a view to ensuring meaningful policymaking that reaches affected communities.

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