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EU tackles discrimination against Roma people

Latest update : 2008-09-29

Two weeks after the EU approved Italy’s controversial decision to fingerprint Roma people, the 27-nation bloc is holding its first summit on discrimination against the Roma on Tuesday.

FRANCE 24 has been following the story of a Roma community forced to evacuate their dwellings in a Paris suburb.


Click here for Part 1: "Roma face eviction in Paris suburb".


Here for Part 2: "Last goodbyes in a Roma slum".


And here for Part 3: "Slum evacuation divides Roma community".



Faced with what they see as contradictory immigration policies and discrimination against Roma people, non-governmental organisations defending their rights have called for strong action at the EU summit on Roma people in Brussels on Tuesday.

“We hope that this is not just a PR stunt and that the summit will send out a strong message underlining the European Commission’s determination to work towards integrating the Roma people,” Nicolae Gheorghe, a Roma activist and former advisor for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, told the AFP.

According to the European Commission, the summit aims to make EU members work together to fight discrimination against the Roma, a group commonly known as "gypsies". According to Eurobarometer, which monitors public opinion in the EU, eight out of ten EU citizens believe that being a Roma is a disadvantage today. Integration, access to work and schooling are expected to top the agenda of the talks.

The president of the French NGO La Voix des Rroms (Voice of the Roma), Saimir Mile, an Albanian Roma, maintained in an an interview with FRANCE 24 that EU funds should be better employed. “There is a bit of corruption but that is not the only problem. Some of the money lands in the pockets of ruthless crooks, but a lot of it is just wasted on pointless programmes,” said Mile.

However, many doubt that much can be achieved at the summit. “I don’t expect much from the summit, but I hope that the EU will work strongly against racism, for equal rights and will clearly recognise the genocide of Roma people,” Henri Braun, a lawyer who works for the French NGO Human Rights League, told FRANCE 24. He was referring to the death of 220,000 to 500,000 Roma people during the Second World War.

Today, about eight to 10 million Roma people live in the EU, and though they are perceived as a nomadic people, many have settled down. Most of the Roma live in Eastern Europe, especially in Romania and Bulgaria, where one out of ten citizens is a Roma.

Free to circulate, not to settle in many EU states

Only two weeks ago, the European Commission approved Italy’s controversial new immigration policies, which included the fingerprinting of Roma people living in squalid conditions in camps. Catherine de Wenden, a senior research fellow at France’s leading research institute, the CNRS, and immigration expert, told FRANCE 24 that Italy’s new measures were “barely legal”, recalling that all EU citizens have the right to move freely around the EU and that no measure can target a particular group on grounds of ethnicity.

While the European Union’s action has baffled more than one Roma expert, De Wenden underlines the contradictory nature of EU immigration and its impact on Roma lifestyle.

“It’s hypocritical,” says De Wenden of EU immigration policies. Since Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU at the end of 2006, their Roma residents have acquired the right to move around the EU but not to settle and work. In France, however, authorities still deport Bulgarian and Romanian Roma on state-sponsored flights, despite the fact that they are free to return as EU citizens.

“Such practices are completely stupid,” says Braun. “Roma children are taken out of schools to be sent back, and the Roma families are kept in poverty.”

The French immigration ministry nevertheless maintains that fewer Romanians and Bulgarians are encouraged to leave France on state-sponsored flights than before. In 2007, about 2,000 Romanians and Bulgarians left French territory on such flights, according to a ministry spokesperson.

True Europeans?

While the pressing needs of the Roma people are at the centre of Tuesday’s discussions, Roma NGO and specialists are wary of overarching EU policies that would specifically target and stigmatize the Roma.

“They are always treated differently,” says Braun. “We always work on the premise that the Roma are problematic, but they are not.” According to him, there is no need to work on specific policies towards the Roma but to accept that they are also Europeans and work on guaranteeing equal rights for them.

According to Mile, the EU could improve its integration efforts if it better valued the Roma people. “The EU could learn something from the Roma identity,” insists Mile. “Their identity is not linked to a territory, although they are very attached to their country.” Lessons learnt from the European nature of the Roma people could help resolve EU integration problems, he says.

Date created : 2008-09-16