The 8th April was the International Romani day, also known as International Roma Day. It was first declared in 1990 in Poland, in honour of the first major international meeting of Romani representatives, which took place on 7–12 April 1971 in Chelsfield, near London.
Each year this day is an opportunity for us all to celebrate Romani culture and raise awareness of challenges Roma people are facing nowadays. International Roma Day, in fact, should draw attention to discrimination directed at Roma and Gypsy communities at a global level, and is a call for the human rights of all to be respected and observed.
“The success (or failure) of Roma integration is a test of Europe’s ability to provide decent conditions for any vulnerable group”, reported the European Union agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). These groups have the same rights as all Europeans to live in dignity, to work, to receive an education, decent housing and healthcare. Unfortunately, several studies demonstrate a high level of discrimination and hate crime faced by Roma throughout the EU. FRA survey, for instance, indicates that every second a Roma was discriminated against over the previous year and a fifth of the Roma interviewed was victim of racist assault, threat or serious harassment. “For the fundamental rights of Roma to become reality, (…) authorities need to wake up to their responsibilities”, argued the EU agency.
The EU reiterated its commitment to this issue on last 8th April at all levels. The European Parliament (EP) devoted a meeting during last Plenary Session in Strasbourg with the participation of the European Commission (EC) and the Council. In effect, several actions have been carried out at European level.
From a juridical point of view, Member States have the competence to define their policies in this area, while the EU acts as coordinator. In this framework, the EC called on Member States to adopt national strategies for the years up to 2020, following common targets specified in the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies. In particular, four key areas for measures were identified: education, employment, healthcare and housing. The Commission also promotes the National Roma Contact Points’ network and the annual European Platform for Roma Inclusion, which brings together the EU institutions, national government and international organisations with Roma civil society organisations, to foster successful inclusion at the grassroots level. On the other side the Council, in its Conclusions on Inclusion of the Roma, encouraged a closer cooperation between the Commission and the Member States. Moreover, in 2013, the Council adopted a Recommendation on effective Roma integration measures in the Member States. The European Parliament, for its part, has expressed its views on the inclusion strategies as well as on the situation of Roma on several occasions, most recently in its resolutions of 12 December 2013 and 15 April 2015.
The Plenary Session on Monday 11 April was one of these occasions. Several parties took the floor (even if the room was not really crowded) to reiterate that “actions and common decisions are necessary”. The situation was defined as a catastrophe as “we have no manner yet to include Roma at national level so, this is the need now. Roma aspect has to be in the EU agenda. This situation is not acceptable in 2016.” The ALDE group, in fact, underlined that strategy for Roma integration is just on paper but “it is necessary going to practice now”.
Moreover, Terry Reintke, member of the group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance, highlighted that the International Roma day is a moment to commemorate the atrocities and the persecutions that Roma have been facing for hundreds of years in Europe but also an occasion to think about injustices that Roma still face in this continent. “Our present make it clear. We all have responsibility to create a fully inclusive EU.” However, the fight against discrimination does not end approving policies, it is necessary to go beyond; “it needs to go very deep in the civil society” fighting against every kind of prejudices.
In response, Věra Jourová, Commissioner responsible for fighting discrimination, stressed that “we are doing a lot, we have done a lot, but it has not worked because the situation is not improving”. According to her, there are barriers to inclusion: anti-Ziganism, policies definition without Roma and a misuse of European funds. Concerning the first point, all the four areas of health, labour and social protection and education have to be taken in one to best integrate Roma people in the society. There is also the need to attract Roma in defining policies, understanding their need and promoting their participation. Finally, European funds have to be used in longer-term projects to really tackle the situation, something that cannot be done in short term.
For these reasons, the Commission has launched a targeted campaign: “For Roma, with Roma”, a series of initiatives to challenge stereotypes and discrimination against Roma and to engage local authorities to deliver local actions promoting Roma inclusion. The aim of the project is to ensure that the policy, legal and financial support provided by the EC to promote Roma integration are effectively implemented at regional and local level and that they yield the expected results on the ground. “Delivering activities that place importance on working at local level, and create a transnational dynamic across countries, requires both commitment and vision to achieve results.” To this end, the EU has created a collection of targeted communication activities and transnational learning exchange between local authorities that will take place until December 2016. These include:
- a pan-European school drawing competition for 7-10 year old children;
- cultural, educational or athletic events for young people aged 12-16 years;
- in-field briefing visits for the media in eight countries, promoting less stereotypical and more balanced press reporting about Roma;
- a programme of twinning partnerships between 20 municipalities from across Europe;
- the development of a network of partners at local and transnational level.
All these activities, according to the EC, constitute the foundation of a pan-European network that will be engaged and enabled to make real progress towards Roma inclusion at local level.
This idea of “going local” has been shared by FRA, which affirmed that national-level legislative frameworks are a necessary but not sufficient precondition for combating racism and anti-Gypsyism. “We also need commitment and action on the part of local government. Such action at local level should take place with the active engagement of Roma communities and Roma civil society organisations, so that decisions on Roma policy and integration measures are always taken with and not on behalf of the Roma.”
For this reason, it is essential to support more NGOs and local community that act day by day alongside the Roma community, such as Fundatia de Voluntari Somaschi. This is a non-profit organization, headquartered in Baia Mare (Romania), that focuses on the social reintegration of youths and children, from disadvantaged groups as Roma, between the ages of 8 – 25 years old. Primarily focusing on the prevention of school and family abandonment, it offers help for disrupted families through donations of essential items: food, medicines and clothes. Moreover, activities include a day care centre, the Miani Community Home (a small family house) and a night shelter for street kids, whose sole shelter outside is represented by the glue that they are used to sniff to reach a sort of paradise where hunger, cold, harassment and prostitution stop to exist.
This organisation tries to give these young people a future, investing in their skills and capabilities. It tries to fill the gap that the State has been narrowing year after year, promoting not only economic support but social and cultural inclusion. “When young people find the right help and support, they can change their life”, claims the promoter of the project. Currently, 80% of youths that the NGO is helping come up with very good and considering results.
Alphabetisation, remedial schooling and workshops teaching a trade to these children are the key issues to offer them a new future. These will help the society to overcome differences between Roma and non-Roma people: these children will start a new inclusive society. And to be truly inclusive, as defined in the European core values, Europe must include the Roma.
For further information:
- FRA, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights: http://fra.europa.eu/en/theme/roma
- EU and Roma, European Commission: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/discrimination/roma/index_en.htm
- For Roma with Roma, European Commission: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/discrimination/roma/for-roma-with-roma/index_en.htm
- Council of Europe: http://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/new-european-roma-institute-to-promote-roma-and-travellers-cultural-heritage
- Open Society Institute in Brussels, EU policy for Roma inclusion: https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/2011-07%2520EU%2520Roma%2520Inclusion%2520Policies%2520final.pdf
- Fundatia de Voluntari Somaschi, Baia Mare (Romania): http://www.somaschibm.ro/it_zi.php
- Plenary Session Strasbourg, video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?sitelang=en&ref=I119254