Europe’s Roma: Yearning to Breath Free
A decade from today, 20 Percent of some Eastern European countries will have a Roma ancestry. Yet despite strength in numbers, the cycle of exclusion and marginalization persists.
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.
Discrimination perpetuates the vicious circle of poverty and social exclusion: exclusion from education leads to exclusion from employment, which leads to increased poverty, which forces people to live in poor or segregated housing which, in turn, affects their educational and employment opportunities, as well as their health. And the circle starts again…
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.