Report Urges New Strategy to Aid Europe's Poverty-Stricken Roma

United Nations Development Programme
January 16, 2003

Countries in Eastern and Central Europe have allocated significant resources to assist Roma minorities, many living in deplorable conditions, but these have not led to improvements and new approaches are needed, says a report released by UNDP in Brussels, Belgium, today.

The Roma Human Development Report, entitled "Avoiding the Dependency Trap," points out that by such measures as literacy, infant mortality and basic nutrition, most of the region's four to five million Roma endure conditions closer to those of sub-Saharan Africa than Europe.

Progress on minority issues, especially the Roma, is a key criteria for European Union membership. The five countries surveyed in the report -- Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia -- are all EU candidates.

Nearly half the Roma surveyed are unemployed and close to one person in six is "constantly starving." Only six out of 10 households have running water, and fewer than half have toilets in their homes. Only a third of Roma surveyed completed primary school, only six per cent completed secondary school and one per cent attended college.

"If current socio-economic marginalization and inadequate education persist, in 10 to 15 years substantial parts of the labour force in Europe may be unemployable," said Andrey Ivanov, the lead author. A team of regional experts at the UNDP Regional Support Centre in Bratislava, Slovakia, prepared the report in cooperation with local experts and Roma representatives in each country.

More than two thirds of Roma households in some countries derive their income primarily from government assistance, creating dependency and isolation, the report says. Nearly four out of five Roma are not aware of any Roma aid programmes and nine out of 10 cannot name an NGO they can trust.

"This suggests that effective aid is not so much a matter of the volume of resources, but of how they are spent," said Mr. Ivanov.

"The international community needs to consider Roma issues from a broader developmental perspective and ensure that Roma people have equal access to education and job opportunities," said Kalman Mizsei, UNDP Director for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, who supervised the survey.

To overcome the culture of dependency, the report says that social assistance should foster involvement in income-generating activities and calls for policies that have a clear "welfare-to-work" character and strengthen incentives to seek employment.

Since education is a key to social and economic integration, the report suggests that inclusion of Roma children in pre-school education and proficiency in the majority language be given special priority.

It argues that spending on education should be treated as a long-term investment and be eligible for EU funding. Providing free or subsidized textbooks and hot meals for school children, especially at the primary school level, can encourage attendance. The report also proposes the creation of a Roma college fund to improve access to higher education and steps to promote greater Roma political participation.

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