In France, the government recently ordered the closure of 300 Roma gypsy settlements and is encouraging Roma families to return home. The European Commission (EC) is watching this situation closely. The French government has stated it is acting legally, because the European freedom of movement law allows for “restrictions on the right to move freely for reasons of public order, public security and public health”. However, these exemptions to the law usually apply on a case by case basis for removing individuals from a country, rather than for mass deportations.
Whatever the legal issues, there is great concern among members of the EC about the message other countries could take from France’s action, at a time when anti-Roma violence is already on the increase across Europe. At the second European Union (EU) Roma Summit held in Spain during April, the European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC) warned that ‘Too many Roma are still victims of racism, discrimination and social exclusion. Too many Roma children are still on the streets instead of going to school.’ The summit called for the EU to adopt a Framework Strategy to provide a ‘comprehensive approach at European level’ to the reintegration and social inclusion of the Roma people.
Over the last couple of years, reports of violence against the Roma have increased significantly, particularly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, where extremist and openly racist groups and political parties are gaining in popularity. In Hungary, right-wing groups are particularly active in organising demonstrations against the Roma and over the last two years, 48 serious attacks against Roma families and their children have been reported by the Hungarian media.
There are an estimated million Roma in Hungary, making up one tenth of the population. During communist rule, socialist policies encouraged large families and those with three children or more were virtually guaranteed an unconditional mortgage loan. Such financial incentives allowed many Roma to build their own homes. But since the collapse of the socialist system, Hungarians receive less than 50 dollars per child and with the slow Hungarian economy, many Roma are struggling to find work and feed their large families.
Almost 90% of Roma adults are unemployed and most are living below the poverty line. And with worsening racial attitudes, it is becoming even harder to find employment, especially since many Roma lack a decent level of education. Fewer than 10% of Roma students complete secondary school in Hungary.
With increasing poverty amongst the Roma in Eastern Europe, it is hardly surprising that families travel to countries like France in order to find work. But it would seem that despite the EU’s ambition for countries to provide conditions which allow the Roma to improve their lives, these poorest of Europe’s citizens continue to face discrimination and an uncertain future.