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Brussels conference addresses the fight for Roma rights

22:43 11/04/2018

Europe's six million Roma people remain "neglected, discriminated against, stigmatised and dehumanised", an MEP leading the fight against anti-Gypsyism told a Brussels conference this week.

Swedish MEP Soraya Post leads a group of members of parliament who began International Roma Week in 2016. Workshops, seminars, debates and conferences fill up the busy agenda all week to help combat this specific form of racism.

More than 100 people - incuding representatives from the Parliament and the Commission - attended a conference in the European Parliament to discuss what action is being done to help integrate Roma people.

In Post's report - "Fundamental rights aspects of Roma integration in the EU: fighting anti-Gypsyism" - she highlighted the many struggles Roma people face every day. She found that 80% of Roma families are at risk of poverty and one third of Roma children are at risk of going to bed hungry at least once a month. A third of Roma families live without tap water, and half without a toilet or shower.

There are more than six million Roma people in the EU facing these issues everyday, and the panel members said the fight to help them is not close to being over.

European Commissioner Vêra Jourová said that the legislation needed is already in place, but the proper enforcement is missing. She said the solution comes with directly working with Roma people.

'We have a long way to go'

Post agreed: "Roma people have been neglected, discriminated against, stigmatised, excluded and dehumanised for 800 years. We are now slowly starting to improve the human rights situation of Roma people, but we have a long way to go."

Claude Cahn is a human rights officer at the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. His wife is Romani, and at home with their two daughters they speak Romani and English. When filling out paperwork to enrol his daughters in school, Romani was not an option under the list of languages. "We need to get Roma people known and understood," Cahn said. "My girls will never learn Roma history in school - it will always be a blank chapter."

Gabriela Hrabanova, executive director of the European Roma Grassroots Organisation Network, spoke about what needs to be done. "We need to be building the bridges instead of the walls," she said, adding that Roma people remain hidden because when people discriminate against them, there is hardly anything being done to stop it.

The panel members agreed that more needed to be done to build trust between Roma people and society. "Even if the anti-Gypsyism is caused by unintentional neglect and not by racist motives, the result is the same: exclusion of one group of people,” Post said. "These groups of people are unable to enjoy the same rights and opportunities, and the same level of protection provided by the EU laws and enjoyed by other EU citizens."

Events for International Roma Week continue until 12 April.

Written by Molly Dove