The term “Roma” is used at the Council of Europe to refer to Roma, Sinti, Kale and related groups in Europe, including Travellers and the Dom and Lom peoples. It covers a wide diversity of groups, including people who identify themselves as “Gypsies”. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg published a survey in February on the Roma communities. This found that Roma and Travellers continued to be denied basic human rights and suffered disproportionately in the fields of education, employment and access to housing and healthcare. It also found that the average lifespan for members of the Roma community is shorter, and infant mortality rates higher, than other groups. Its author hoped that publication of the report would encourage the international community to address these issues.
UK efforts to combat the marginalisation of the Roma communities have both a domestic and an international dimension. We seek to share our experience of integration and at the same time to reduce the push factors that force communities which are discriminated against to come to the UK. In Britain, a National Roma Network was established in 2012 to help local authorities and Roma NGOs to overcome the challenges to Roma integration in the UK. The Department for Communities and Local Government, which is a member of the network, reports to the European Commission on its activities and on the situation of the Roma community in the UK more widely. The University of Salford is due to issue a report in 2013 which will provide the most accurate picture to date on the number and distribution of the Roma in the UK.
Our embassies in Central and Eastern Europe were at the forefront of our international efforts in 2012 to combat discrimination against Roma communities. In the Czech Republic, the British Embassy, working with colleagues from Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia, as well as with local NGOs, organised a day of events to highlight role models from Roma communities and to consider how best to promote positive images of Roma through the media. The key event was a conference addressed by speakers from eight countries. This was followed by lunch with the Czech government’s Human Rights Commissioner, an expert round table and a reception at the Ambassador’s residence where guests were entertained by Romani rap band Gipsy.cz. The event was well attended, covered widely in the media and received positive feedback from the government, Roma representatives, NGOs and journalists.
Our Embassy in Prague also sought to tackle discrimination in education by sharing models of UK good practice with Czech practitioners. In cooperation with “Equality”, a UK NGO, the Embassy organised a series of seminars in several regions attended by local, regional and national government representatives, including the Czech government Human Rights Commissioner, Czech Education Ministry representatives and the Council of Europe. They also brought British teachers to the Czech Republic to share their experience of teaching Roma children and methods of inclusive education. This followed a study which demonstrated that Czech Roma pupils, unfairly segregated in special schools for children with mild mental disabilities in their home country, had been successfully integrated into mainstream education in the UK. The British Ambassador in Prague also worked to encourage the integration of Roma communities into mainstream society by visiting universities, local government and Roma ghettos and funding support to local NGOs, including those in regions that faced violent anti-Roma protests in 2012.
Other British embassies in the region also carried out local projects aimed at strengthening the rights and living standards of the Roma community. In Serbia, an FCO-funded project delivered through the office of the Ombudsman focused specifically on the status and rights of members of the Roma community. In Romania, our embassy paid for 100 children to go to nursery school in an impoverished Roma community in south-west Romania to try and stem the relatively high levels of school abandonment in Roma communities. The embassy also partnered with a school located in one of Bucharest’s most deprived areas to highlight “sport for all” during the Olympics and Paralympics. Activities included co-hosting a mini-Olympics and a street-dancing show for the opening ceremony of the Paralympics.
We have also supported initiatives by international organisations such as the OSCE, which hosted a round table in September on overcoming the barriers to integration of migrant, minority, Roma and Sinti women into their communities and into society as a whole. This was followed up by a day at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting dedicated to the empowerment of Roma women. UK Government representatives and education experts on the Council of Europe Roma Experts’ group also visited the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2012 to look at inclusive education. The Council of Europe’s Roma mediator training programme then organised a training course in Manchester in December to help to ensure that Gipsy, Roma and Traveller communities receive support in accessing services such as education and healthcare and in finding employment and accommodation.
In 2013, British Embassies in Central and Eastern Europe will continue our efforts to address social exclusion of Roma communities. Our Romania Country strategy includes work with local authorities and developing twinning partnerships such as the link that is developing between Dolj County in south-west Romania and South Yorkshire to share best practice and expertise on employment, healthcare, education and housing.