For the participants of the III Summit in Brussels 04.04.2014

The upcoming Third Summit on Roma in Brussels is an opportunity for a deeper reflection on what has been achieved so far for Roma in the programs and projects defining the new perspectives in European policy on the million strong Roma community.

As Roma in the European Union, we are strongly interested in further EU actions. We are looking forward to many new one that will benefit Roma communities and allow the EU to improve the often very difficult situation of many Roma families.

One of the main objectives of EU actions is the increasing integration of the Roma community in civil society, an inclusion to be achieved by providing support in four areas: education (including general education as well as cultural, historical, and civic); housing; health and employment.

The new European Strategy for Roma for 2014-2020 also gives an opportunity for many EU-member states to show and prove that their political will and commitment is real. To this end, they should join the real preparations associated with this strategy, implement and support it at local governments levels, and take concrete actions to increase the integration its Roma residents.

Not all governments involved in developing this new strategy have taken the opportunity to involve and consult with Roma representatives. Such a strategy has a huge impact on the the priorities an guidelines that national governments will implement, and it is therefore essential, that the Roma community and its representatives are involved in shaping and defining it.

One of the key issues we face are the lack of reliable data on this minority and the lack of transparency and evaluation of the effectiveness of programs aimed at the Roma minority. The lack of reliable data tends to portray Roma as non-integrable, poor, with many children etc., and to portray this as a characteristic of Roma culture. The lack of transparency in the projects purported to help Roma results in wasted funds and a general view that Roma cannot be helped.

It is therefore essential to integrate the whole Roma community into the analysis, design, and implementation of the strategy, and this at the onset.

In the current Europe, the Roma minority is the only minority at real risk of social exclusion. The representation in the media, amongst politicians, and finally among the general population of Roma as a non-integrable minority, with low qualifications, education, and with inherent traits that prevent their integration in the larger community, results in a biased view.

There are Roma with a low education level, resulting in a lack of qualifications that are required in the labour market nowadays. This in turn, resulting in unemployment with its negative effect on living conditions and on health. After 1989, this increased unemployment resulted in an overall degradation of the situation of many Roma communities, and eventually in increased exclusion and racism as seen in many countries in Eastern Europe.

This fundamentally threatens the foundation of our existence. This threat of marginalisation is particularly real in a period of escalating economic and political crisis in many countries.

The enlargement of the European Union together with the increasingly difficult situation for Roma in their home country resulted in more Roma arriving in Western Europe. One needs to stress here that Roma are not more nor less mobile than the rest of the population. When there are 10% of Rroma among the population of a country such as Bulgaria, there will be 10% of Roma among Bulgarian migrants. Not more, not less.

But clearly, migrations resulted in a number of Roma, mostly of Romanian and Bulgarian origins, arriving in Western Europe.

It is not that these people necessarily wanted to leave their home country. Experience in Roma programs shows how interrelated education, living conditions, health, exclusion, are with the local situation and the eventual migration. This local aspect is essential and needs to be addressed if one doesn’t want a real migration wave. Decisive action is key. This requires active dialogue with the Roma community. Primary responsibility lies with the public authorities. They need to ensure the proper legal framework, the effective integration mechanisms as well as to provision financial resources.

The social and economic integration of Roma is a two-way process involving a change of attitude of both the majority of the population and of members of the Roma community. This is a key to success and needs to be promoted.  Integration of Roma in local environments is often a particularly difficult process. The essence of integration is the interaction and coexistence in harmony in general social groups differing in every respect, culturally, socially and economically. This even within the minority.

The reasons for the difficult situation of Roma are complex. Centuries of stereotypes, in many countries of exclusion and persecution, have often resulted in a the current situation. The stereotypes among the general population also mean that well integrated Roma will simply not say they are for fear of discrimination. This isolation and the lack of positive examples resulted in biased views among the general population and in isolation.

Assimilations attempts by numerous governments and countries also resulted in an aversion among Roma to institutions in general, and to schools, in particular. This latter point especially since many Roma in numerous countries have been relegated to “special schools”, often schools for mentally disabled children

There are many Roma who are not integrated in the society and are not always prepared for life in an increasingly complicated society, the reality of the modern world. Low level of education among some Roma prevents their integration into the labor market and the subsequent lack of or minimal economic self-reliance, is both the cause and the result of social exclusion of this group.

Acceptance of the others, a joint discussion of the objectives, and absolute transparency in the execution and finances are key in implementing policies and projects for and with Roma. Roma need to be equal partners into the elaboration and implementation of policies. Roma often have the impression of being instrumentalised, and that no one is really interested in truly resolving their problems. They often rather feel that a “Roma Problem” is in the foreground, and that its issue is less relevant than the projects one can do to “resolve” it.

What is needed is a true representation of Roma into policies and projects. As a representative of the Roma community for many years, I have watched with concerns the events concerning Roma in different countries. The lack of effective measures for Roma is unfortunately due to the indifference of national administrations and irresponsibility of those who already deal with the problems of Roma.

The effect of past actions and projects affecting many million Roma in the European community should be carefully analysed!

Stahiro –Stanisław Stankiewicz

Council of Polish Roma