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Ending discrimination against the Roma in Bulgaria and Europe

A new report by Amnesty International, ahead of International Romani Day on April 8th, highlights the widespread persecution of Roma or Gypsy communities.

There are an estimated 10-12 million Roma or Travellers across Europe and studies show that on average, their communities have lower literacy rates, higher levels of unemployment and ill-health and lower incomes. According to the report, this situation is often the result of “widespread...and systematic discrimination and other human rights violations”.

In a survey carried out in 2008, 1 in 5 Roma people reported they had been the victims of racially motivated assaults, threats or harassment at least once in the previous year. In Bulgaria, that statistic is even higher – 1 in 4 Roma said they had experienced discrimination, according to a 2009 survey. If these numbers seem high, you only have to look at prevailing attitudes of mainstream societies to the Roma. 

In Bulgaria, a number of anti-Roma rallies took place last Autumn across the country, including one in which 2,000 Bulgarians marched through the capital Sofia. The protests were sparked by an incident in which a young man was hit by a car driven by members of a Roma group. The demonstrators claimed the group were related to a Roma crime boss and accused the Roma and Gypsy communities of corruption and links with organised crime. While the President of Bulgaria called for “an end to the language of hatred”, far-right politicians in Bulgaria demanded the reinstatement of the death penalty and for Roma “ghettos to be dismantled”. 

Numbering around 750,000 people, the Roma make up around 10% of the Bulgarian population. However, many communities are not well-integrated into society. The European Roma Rights Centre says that segregation of Romani children in the school system is “systematic”. With low educational achievement and facing discrimination in the workplace, there is high unemployment among young people in Roma communities. This means that poverty among Roma in Bulgaria is four times higher than among the rest of the population. Endemic poverty leads to crime, though the Roma are just as likely to be victims. A 2010 European Roma Rights Centre survey found that the majority of those who fell prey to human trafficking in Bulgaria were Roma.

Amnesty International acknowledges the work which has already taken place in individual countries and under the auspices of the European Union to tackle social exclusion of the Roma. But the organisation says much more needs to be done to end the exclusion, poverty, ill-treatment and violence regularly experienced by Europe’s largest marginalised group of people.

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