Equality for Roma through Enhanced Legal Access (ERELA): Increasing Roma access to justice in Bulgaria and Croatia

Bulgaria | Croatia | Europe |

Duration: February 2021 – January 2023

Countries: Bulgaria, Croatia

Community: Roma

What was this programme about?

The aim of the ERELA programme was to promote and protect the rights of Roma victims of human rights violations and discrimination by raising society’s and stakeholders’ awareness, enhancing the implementation of non-discrimination legislation and empowering Roma to seek legal remedies, in Bulgaria and Croatia. The programme aimed to create a virtuous circle whereby increased Roma involvement in access to justice mechanisms leads to more and better cases being filed, which leads to benefits to Roma communities, which in turn increases trust in legal remedies and lawyers and encourages yet more cases to come forward.

Why did we deliver this programme?

In both target countries of the project, Bulgaria and Croatia, Roma have been discriminated historically, and despite improvements in legal protection, there are still systematic patterns of discrimination preventing Roma population from the full realisation of their rights to employment, education, health care and housing. Roma communities tend to live in segregated neighbourhoods with limited access to public services and sub-standard general infrastructure. Similarly, many Roma face discrimination when looking for employment in relation to their ethnicity and negative stereotypes imposed on their community. When it comes to education, Roma school-aged children tend to be victims of severe segregation, placed in classes and schools with only Roma pupils or disproportionately placed in special schools for children with disabilities. Overall, one of the reasons behind these problems is that in Bulgaria and Croatia, anti-discrimination legislation and measures to make mainstream education, employment and social policies more inclusive, are not being systematically applied.

In contrast to the high levels of continuing discrimination and recent small improvements regarding awareness, there is a low number of complaints relating to discrimination affecting Roma persons. The main reasons behind the lack of reporting and direct access to legal remedies are a lack of trust towards the judiciary and public institutions and a widespread belief that reporting discrimination will only worsen the situation and/or cause open confrontation with the perpetrator/s. Likewise, there is an overwhelming lack of awareness and understanding of non-discrimination legislation and inclusion policies among professionals and public officials, leading to poor case identification and a lack of protection of the rights of Roma victims of human rights violations and discrimination.

What did we do?

  • We conducted research in Croatia and Bulgaria to map the different fields of discrimination against Roma and the obstacles in their access to justice. As a result, we produced a report in English, Bulgarian and Croatian (find links on reports below).
  • We trained 32 lawyers on national and international anti-discrimination law to strengthen their capacities and enable them to provide legal aid for Roma victims of discrimination and to assist them with litigation in discrimination cases.
  • We trained 21 CSO representatives who work closely with the Roma community on how to identify discrimination cases, where to refer Roma victims of discrimination and how to conduct advocacy activities.
  • We trained 60 Roma activists to strengthen their capacities on how to provide advice to Roma victims of discrimination who may be considering accessing a legal remedy in discrimination cases.
  • In Croatia 3 Roma mediators while in Bulgaria 7 mediators have been carrying out regular field visits since December 2021 to raise awareness about discrimination in the Roma community and to identify discrimination cases.
  • Since December 2021 Croatian Roma mediators have conducted a total of 62 field visits interviewing 75 community members, while in Bulgaria, mediators have conducted 92 field visits and reached out to 138 community members.
  • So far, in Croatia, ILC provided free legal aid in 28 instances of discrimination, while in Bulgaria, the contracted lawyer advised the mediators in 31 cases.
  • So far, in Croatia, ILC has reported three discrimination cases to the Ombudswoman’s Office.

Our publications

Who were our partners?

Our partners were:

  • Amalipe Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance is a leading Roma organization, working for the equal integration of Roma in Bulgarian society. The organization plays a central role in organizing a Roma civic movement and advocating for Roma integration within the state institutions.
  • Information Legal Center is a CSO established with the aim of providing free legal assistance to socially vulnerable groups of population in exercising their human and civil rights, and to strengthen civil society and active citizenship on the territory of the local community and the wider region.

Who funded this programme?

This programme was funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020).

Read the evaluation report

This programme was independently evaluated. Click here to read the evaluation report.

Find out more

A similar programme to ERELA, Roma Equality through Increased Legal Access (REILA), was implemented in Hungary and Serbia by MRGE and its local partners, Praxis and Idetartozunk.

MRG has carried out similar programmes which have focused on the human rights of the Roma in North MacedoniaCentral Europe and Ukraine.

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