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Destined to fail? Roma poverty alleviation initiatives replicate societal ills

26 September 2005

Strategies to combat Roma poverty in South-East Europe are failing due to factors including institutional racism, discrimination and exclusion experienced by Roma over generations. A new Minority Rights Group International (MRG) study finds that patterns of racism and discrimination inherent in wider society are replicated even in policies aimed at alleviating Roma poverty, leaving them destined to fail.

MRG and its Roma partners today launched the study ‘Roma Poverty and the Roma National Strategies’ at an event coinciding with the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, highlighting in particular the gender dimensions of Roma poverty. Roma women face multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion. While Roma National Strategies are failing whole communities, it is Roma women who may suffer the most severe effects of exclusion from education, labour markets and other key areas, directly leading to poverty.

Roma National Strategies of Albania, Greece and Serbia were considered in the MRG study, which demonstrates that Roma poverty is a legacy of discrimination and calls for full Roma involvement in meaningful poverty alleviation strategies. Drawing on Roma accounts of their poverty and perceptions of state efforts to eliminate it, MRG portrays tokenistic participation of Roma and lack of commitment by governments to strategies. Some policies are perceived to have been developed merely to satisfy EU membership requirements and international pressure. Often these strategies have not been adequately funded, publicized, implemented or monitored. Interviews with Roma and others have highlighted some of the major obstacles:

‘Roma were faced with a finished product. We never were consulted about the programme’s content’ stated the president of a local Greek Roma association. Speaking of the Serbian National Strategy, a Roma advisor stated: ‘practically all components are there, just one ‘small’ thing is missing: who is going to implement it, and with what money?’. The former Greek Deputy Minister of the Interior highlights institutional and societal obstruction to Roma policies stating that: ‘It is not at all easy to force local authorities to do things when they have a local population behind them.’

According to MRG, Roma National Strategies will fail without the full participation of Roma communities and NGOs at every level. Comprehensive approaches and implementation are needed to address the root causes of Roma poverty which lie in discrimination and exclusion. Unemployment in some Albanian Roma communities, for example, can be as high as 100 per cent. In Greece, forced evictions (so-called ‘cleaning operations’) are commonplace and the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) acknowledges that the numerous Roma tent-dwellers face ‘a very serious problem of survival’. In May 2005, the Serbian government estimated that the incidence of Roma poverty was five times that of the rest of the population while 62 per cent had not completed primary education.

The World Bank estimates that the expanded EU is now home to up to 9 million Roma, many from new EU countries who have seen little or no benefits from the accession process. In many ‘old’ EU countries discrimination remains widespread and is even on the increase due to factors including discriminatory media coverage. Roma initiatives including National Strategies and the Decade for Roma Inclusion (2005-15) offer potentially the most important prospects for overcoming Roma poverty. However core priorities in the fields of education, employment, health and housing, and cross-cutting issues of discrimination, gender inequality and poverty must be matched with funding and effective implementation.

Notes for editors

Roma Poverty and the Roma National Strategies: The Cases of Albania, Greece and Serbia by Alphia Abdikeeva and MRG partners is published by Minority Rights Group International in September 2005.

Download Roma Poverty and the Roma National Strategies: The Cases of Albania, Greece and Serbia.