Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Roma face the greatest discrimination in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Official estimates give a Roma population of 20,000, but other sources, including Roma associations and NGOs, estimate the number to be 30,000-50,000 or more. Most Roma in Bosnia and Hercegovina are Muslim. Most lived in today’s RS before the 1992-1995 war, but are refugees abroad or displaced in the Federation entity, with the largest concentration in the Tuzla Canton.
The Roma are excluded from some forms of political participation by law because they are not constituent peoples. They are represented only in very few cases on the municipal level. At the state level there is an Advisory Board for Roma, which includes Roma, but is rarely consulted on important issues.
Roma settled in the Balkans in the thirteenth century. They have always been viewed by others as second class and faced discrimination in many spheres of life. During Tito’s Yugoslavia, the Roma were somewhat better off than before and after. Before the 1992-1995 war, most of Bosnia and Hercegovina’s Roma lived on the territory of today’s RS. Most were displaced by the war and have not been able to return to their pre-war homes.
Roma fall under the category of ‘Others’ in the legal framework of Bosnia and Hercegovina and, as such, are discriminated against by law and cannot stand for certain public offices. Roma also face discrimination and exclusion from all spheres of societal life, including access to housing, education, employment, and health care. Poverty amongst the Roma is widespread. Twelve years after the war, most Roma remain displaced and live in informal settlements in extremely impoverished conditions, in many cases without proper heating or even access to fresh water. Furthermore, many Roma cannot access services because they do not have the necessary papers; this is mainly due to the fact that many live in informal settlements and cannot register with the municipalities there.
Most Roma do not attend school, even at the primary level, for a range of reasons including poverty; this means their parents cannot afford clothing, materials and transport, and results in negative attitudes of other people, including teachers. The government has elaborated an action plan on Roma educational needs and there has been limited implementation in some areas, including budgetary allocations, but few Roma children are in school.
Updated June 2015