The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) is one of the most important framework documents for the support of an ethnic group in Europe. Yet the Framework and national integration strategies are only the first step. The integration strategies must be widened to truly ensure Roma access to healthcare, education, and employment. Roma must be involved in the reform process. The development of these strategies, as much as possible, must be done by Roma, for Roma.
October saw the deadline of the public consultation on the evaluation of the EU Framework on the NRIS. As part of its response, EPHA, thanks to its extraordinary Roma team, gave a voice to local community members, NGOs, and Roma professionals in five EU countries. They told us first-hand about their experiences of the Framework, and their views on how public policies for Roma should be reshaped and reformed.
Protecting, engaging, and improving the lives of its citizens and especially its vulnerable groups is one of the main responsibilities of every European country. Despite some achievements, practice shows that, efforts to promote Roma inclusion are still needed. For example, in Romania where it is estimated that nearly 10% of the population are Roma, EPHA’s recent survey shows that 40.79 % of Roma children are not enrolled in kindergarten, around 42% of them have never been vaccinated and almost 47% of Roma suffer discrimination in access to health and early childhood development services based on their ethnicity. In Hungary, life expectancy is 10 years lower for Roma, compared to the rest of the population; in Slovakia, 70% of those participating in in the survey highlighted the lack of medical units and pharmacies in Roma communities.
Roma communities experience infant mortality at four times higher than the rest of the population, 11 children out of 1000 die by the age of five, and household poverty is so great that all young people work from a very early age. The EPHA surveys also showed that the in most EU and national Roma inclusion policies, there is still little focus on the particular health challenges facing Roma communities: disease types, access to vaccination, local environmental health threats, or demographic factors.
These are shocking statistics which show only part of the reality. Of the almost 12 million Roma living in Europe, many live in overcrowded conditions, without gas and electricity; with poor access to clean water and cooking facilities on incomes as low as 100 euro/month. Childhood can be tough in these conditions. Family poverty and barriers to accessing social services may lead to children being left to care for themselves and have to start working from an early age.
Discrimination is still rife towards Roma, perpetuating economic isolation, and is fed by prejudices that the Roma want to be poor, that they do not want to work or be educated. However, building on the solidarity and support at the heart of Roma communities, early childhood development programmes and access to education, we can enable the Roma adults of the future to break free of these stereotypes by opening their perspectives and showing them that another life is possible.
The EU Framework, despite its shortcomings, has the potential to provide the opportunity to develop a space for hope and courage where every individual success will be part of a collective success, building confidence of the Roma community and enabling them to confront the feeling of being hopeless, powerless, and voiceless. The Framework should be used to channel the resources, skills and knowledge of the Roma community and support their involvement in the decision-making processes from local to European level, enabling them to shape their future in a more positive way. Tackling antigypsyism should be at the root of national integration strategies, because unless this deep-seated issue is addressed across Europe, focusing solely on service provision in health or education for Roma will only bring superficial and short-term change.
Equality and human rights are two of the core values of the European project. Roma parents also want their children to be healthy, warm, well fed and safe from harm, to live free from bullying, discrimination and prejudice. As the European Commission begins to plan for post-2020, let’s take the opportunity of the mid-term review of the current EU Framework to design the next EU Roma Framework to finally tackle these deep-seated injustices, which still prevent some children and young people in Europe from living a healthy life.
Roma Health and Early Childhood Development Project Manager