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 is this programme about?

The aim of the ERELA project is to promote and protect the rights of Roma victims of human rights violations and discrimination by raising society’s and stakeholders’ awareness, enhancing implementation of non-discrimination legislation and empowering Roma to seek legal remedies, in Bulgaria and Croatia. The project aims 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 are we delivering 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 lack of protection of the rights of Roma victims of human rights violations and discrimination.

What are we doing?

  • Conducting research on discrimination against the Roma, their attitudes to and experience of access to justice and legal practitioners’ knowledge about anti-discrimination legislation; this will feed into a baseline report which partners will use to raise awareness about discrimination against the Roma;
  • Training legal practitioners on anti-discrimination law and minority rights to strengthen their capacity and enable them to provide legal aid for Roma victims of discrimination and to assist them with litigating discrimination cases;
  • Training CSO staff which work closely with the Roma community on how to identify discrimination cases, where to refer Roma victims of discrimination, how to conduct advocacy activities and involve Roma community members in decision-making procedures;
  • Training Roma mediators and activists to strengthen their capacity on how to provide advice, support and encouragement to Roma victims of discrimination who may be considering to seek access a legal remedy;
  • Providing free legal aid for Roma victims of discrimination;
  • Offering legal assistance to report discrimination cases to the equality body to promote better protection and access to justice of Roma victims of discrimination;
  • Supporting partners and Roma activists to carry out advocacy to combat discrimination at the local, national and international levels; and
  • Publishing a lessons-learnt report to summarise the outcomes of the project and to disseminate the experience at the national and EU levels.

Who are our partners?

Our partners are:

  • 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 is funding this programme?

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

Find out more

A similar project to ERELA, Roma Equality through Increased Legal Access (REILA), is being implemented in Hungary and Serbia by MRGE and its local Partners, Praxis and Idetartozunk.

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

European flagThis content represents the views of Minority Rights Group only and is its sole responsibility. The European Union does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

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