European Platform for Roma inclusion - Health and housing inequalities endured by Roma

We can be sad and we can be angry. But we also need to persevere. We need to keep reminding our governments to acknowledge the impact of anti-Gypsyism that undermines their own considerable investment in Roma inclusion. Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos provides welcome remarks at the 12th Platform meeting on 9 October 2018.

Distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Thank you for inviting FRA to the 12th meeting of the European Platform for Roma inclusion. I’m looking forward to the debate to take stock of what has been achieved under the EU policy framework for Roma inclusion in the areas of housing and health, and how we can move forward.

As many of you know, for many years now FRA has been collecting data and reports on the situation of Roma - and now we have extended our work to cover Travellers in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland and the UK.

The results? Summarised in one sentence: shame for Europe. One of the most affluent regions in the world still fails to treat its Roma citizens equally.

The most heinous forms of anti-Gypsyism, hate-motivated crime and harassment continue to hamper Roma inclusion efforts. After several years of inclusion efforts, still, one out of three Roma experiences harassment: personal threats of violence, offensive comments or gestures, and virulent comments online. Incidents of hate motivated physical violence have not been eradicated and most are not even reported by the victims to the police.

Health and housing are the core topics of our meeting today – both are areas of critical importance; they affect our ability to work and study - both are areas where little progress or even setbacks are recorded since 2011, the beginning of efforts under the EU policy framework for Roma inclusion.

For example, as regards health, in 2016, 26 % of Roma reported that they had no medical insurance compared to 22 % 2011. The largest drop was in CZ (92% - 79%) and the largest increase in Greece (46% - 79%). At the same time, while in some countries the number of Roma who assess their own health positively did increase a little from 2011 to 2016, in others it remains far below the proportion of the general population who describe their general health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

As regards housing, for many Roma the situation remains critical: in 2016, a disturbingly high share still lived without tap water in their homes - for instance in Romania, 68 % of Roma had no tap water in their homes. This is an important indicator of severely deprived housing conditions and affects Roma in particular: no one or only a negligible proportion of the general population has no tap water at home.

Overcrowded housing is another problem affecting many Roma with little, if any, improvement recorded between 2011 and 2016 – among the many negative consequences of overcrowding I would underline its impact on children’s ability to study and do their homework.

Overall, the proportion of Roma still living in conditions of severe housing deprivation (without an inside toilet, shower or bathroom) in 2016 – 38% – remains far greater than that of the general population, especially in RO and BG, but also in GR, HR, HU, PT and SK.

Dear colleagues and friends,

Next summer, EU Member States will be discussing with their United Nations counterparts in New York the progress they have made in reaching Sustainable Development Goal 10 on ‘reducing inequalities’ of the global Agenda 2030. How embarrassing will it be to acknowledge that on a global scale, the proportion of Roma youth in the EU who are not in education, employment or training comes close to their peers only in much poorer countries, such as Honduras, Yemen, Trinidad and Tobago or Samoa; or that on a global scale the proportion of Roma in Romania – the country with the highest number of Roma in the EU – who enjoy access to safe water is similar to that in Bhutan, Ghana or Nepal.

These sobering statistics are not accidental. They are the outcome of historical disadvantage and persisting discrimination.

2019 will mark 50 years since the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued Recommendation 563 expressing its deep concern about the failure to improve the situation of Roma “owing to discrimination against Gypsies, on the ground that they belong to a particular ethnic group, which is incompatible with the ideals underlying the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights”.

This is sad, because in a European Union that prides itself on being the human rights beacon for the rest of the world… one would have expected that governments would not shy away from calling a spade a spade; that they would not tolerate anti-Gypsyism; that they would roll out bold policies to make a tangible difference in Roma people’s lives.

What can we do: we can be sad and we can be angry. But we also need to persevere. We need to keep reminding our governments to acknowledge the impact of anti-Gypsyism that undermines their own considerable investment in Roma inclusion; we need to keep reminding them of their human rights commitments and of their global policy commitments under Agenda 2030; we need to insist that they fully implement the Council’s Recommendation on Roma integration of 2013:

First, by embarking on comprehensive poverty-reduction policies blending social protection and active labour market measures using the full potential of European Structural and Investment Funds, as well the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), to assist Roma in conditions of severe material and housing deprivation.

Second, by promoting desegregation and non-discriminatory access to social housing in order to combat spatial segregation, as well as by ensuring that Roma living in settlements have full access to public utilities and infrastructure.

Third, by targeting Roma explicitly when improving or developing social housing stock. Public authorities should combine investments in housing stock and local infrastructure improvement with job creation at local level, engaging Roma in the implementation of Roma-targeted housing projects.

Fourth, by respecting, as required by Principle 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the right of anyone in a vulnerable situation, such as many Roma, to appropriate assistance and protection against forced eviction.

Finally, by ensuring access to preventive health measures for all Roma – especially women, children, older people and those with disabilities – providing systematic medical check-ups free of charge, as well as pre- and post-natal care, family planning and immunisation, especially to those Roma who live in severely deprived housing conditions with limited access to clean potable water and sanitation. Community health workers and mediators can facilitate the engagement of Roma at different levels in health services, boosting prevention and healthy lifestyle habits.

Thank you very much for your attention