It Now Suits the EU to Help the Roma

Marian Chiriac

BUCHAREST, Sep 29 (IPS) – Tired of asking her husband to read soap opera subtitles on TV, Tasia Stanescu decided to learn to read them herself.

Tasia, 29, joined a group of other Roma women in Zanea in eastern Romania in a new reading programme aimed at putting the long-mistreated ethnic group on a more equal footing with Europe’s other peoples.

The Roma are a people believed to have migrated to Europe from Asia since the 14th century. Today they still face racism and hunger, and get little education and health care.

But improving their lives now suits EU policies. EU leaders want the Roma in aspiring and new member countries to have more opportunities back home to make a migration of waves of Roma people to other EU countries less likely.

In the past decade eastern European countries have spent millions of dollars bringing roads, electricity and running water to Roma communities. They have set up educational and anti-discrimination projects, and begun training Roma for jobs like teaching.

EU needs have helped make literacy a dream come true for Tasia and her classmates. But an independent report raises questions about how many like Tasia are being helped.

“We are concerned because Romania’s efforts to improve the conditions of its Roma minority lack the necessary resources,” says Florin Moisa, executive director of the Resource Centre for Roma Communities (CRCR).

The CRCR, together with the independent EU Monitoring and Advocacy Programme (Eumap) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) of the Soros foundations launched a first report this week on implementation of the Romanian government strategy for Roma.

The 76-page report says many of the institutions envisaged in the strategy have been set up, but “while most of these bodies now exist in form, they lack the resources and authority that would enable them to carry out constructive activities at the local level.”

The report notes progress in small-scale initiatives that have helped some Roma acquire identity papers and get family planning advice. The moves have increased access to schools and provided job training. But it says that “as the only governmental contribution for strategy implementation to date has been through such EU co-funding, more resources should be directed towards systematic changes in policies and programmes, underpinned by clear political will.”

Romania launched a long-term strategy in 2001for improving conditions for the Roma. The EU has given about 20.5 million dollars for programmes for Romanian Roma up to 2005, but the government has offered only about three million dollars in direct help. Private foundations pay for most efforts.

“The government must make much stronger efforts to address major issues impacting the country’s Roma population such as racially motivated violence, discrimination, unequal access to quality education, to employment and to health care, and inadequate housing conditions.” Moisa said.

The government says its strategy for dealing with Roma people includes giving the issue a higher political profile, reserving places in high schools and universities for Roma, and starting vocational training programmes.

Gelu Duminica, president of the Roma non-governmental organisation Impreuna (Together) says government funding tends to be distributed among only a few close to the ruling party.

“There is an obvious lack of Roma participation in decision-making and project implementation,” Duminica said. “The local authorities and the government have to enhance opportunities for Roma to participate directly in all phases of planning and implementing projects intended to benefit their communities.”

About six million are estimated to live in eastern Europe. EU enlargement in May this year almost doubled its Roma population.

Romania has the region’s largest Roma minority, with some 550,000 registered under the 2002 census. By some estimates the Roma population could be as high as two million, representing ten percent of Romania’s population. Many Roma often refuse to register their race for fear of discrimination.

Neighbouring Bulgaria has about 600,000 registered Roma. Both countries expect to join the EU in 2007. (END)

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