Human Rights Day: A Critical Look at Roma Housing and Human Rights in Europe

Human Rights Day: A Critical Look at Roma Housing and Human Rights in Europe

On this International Human Rights Day, we find ourselves reflecting on the persisting challenges faced by the Roma and Traveller communities across Europe, particularly in the realms of housing, discrimination, and social inclusion. This article provides ERGO Network’s position on the pressing issues surrounding access to one of the fundamental human rights – the quality and affordable housing for Roma.

As we delve into the discourse, the narrative reveals a stark reality exacerbated by the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and escalating costs of living, all of which disproportionately affect these marginalised communities.

As we commemorate Human Rights Day, let this article serve as a call to action, urging governments, institutions, and civil society to collaborate in realising tangible progress and comprehensive solutions for the Roma across Europe.

According to ERGO Network’s most recent case studies on Roma and Traveller access to quality and affordable housing and accommodation in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain, with additional benchmarking evidence from 6 other European countries – in Ireland and the Western Balkans and Turkyie, the impact of Covid-19 and increase in inflation and cost of living – hit Roma and Travellers’ communities in Europe the hardest on top of existing inequality and antigypsyism.

The vast majority of Roma and travellers experience vast amounts of poverty and homelessness. Their living conditions tend to be considerably poorer than those of non-Roma, including the lack of utilities and services, unsafe and unsound dwellings, exposure to environmental hazards and injustice more broadly, as well as chronic overcrowding, but not lastly segregation, which is flourishing also because of mass forced evictions without the provision of alternative housing and accommodation, and which entails among others insecurity of tenure and lack of identity papers.

In the face of the demonstrated picture of historical, widespread structural and institutional antigypsyism against Roma and Travellers across the EU and Enlargement countries, the EU has taken unprecedented action by proposing the EU Roma Framework in 2011 and mobilising Member States to commit to developing national strategies and local action plans, including a council recommendation on Roma in 2013. However, as the 2018 evaluation report of the implementation of the EU Framework showed, in the areas of housing and discrimination, the situation was reported as worsening while some progress was observed regarding the general objective of fighting poverty.

Fortunately, the new EU Strategic Framework for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation, supported by the Council Recommendation, has somehow tried to mitigate the situation by proposing specific targets in the area of housing. With the 2023 Commission assessment of the NRSFs, Several Member States included measures to improve access to essential services […] and, to some extent, prevent and eradicate spatial segregation. Few NRSFs have […] measures to facilitate access to social housing, while several NRSFs propose measures for urban and residential upgrading and to invest in infrastructure such as electricity, gas, running water, sewage and waste management, roads and access to transport. Combatting discrimination and antigypsyism as obstacles to accessing housing or addressing forced evictions are only mentioned by a few Member States.

The European Pillar of Social Rights also covers housing aspects and is applicable under the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Desegregation is also covered under the European Semester but not followed up on under the Resilience and Recovery; more needs to be done to ensure operational alignment and synergy throughout EU policies, including EU environmental policies. Some shortcomings are also evident with the newly adopted conclusions on Roma housing, where linked social determinants are not adequately addressed, including its proxies such as environmental justice.

But more needs to be done by the Member States to commit to improving desegregated housing and accommodation for Roma and travellers, combat poverty, social exclusion and antigypsyism, political will and know-how.

We salute the Spanish Presidency for continuing the work on Roma housing under the National Roma Platform. However, we need all MS and Enlargement countries to invest in improving the structural condition of the dwellings of Roma, including their connection to utilities and develop and implement comprehensive desegregation plans, tackling the legalisation of irregular housing situations and the environmental consequences stemming from the use of unsuitable locations; Roma housing and energy poverty must be addressed. Evictions should be the last resort and always accompanied by adequate alternative accommodation. Social housing allocation should follow a human rights-based approach, reducing conditionality and unaffordability and ensuring that vulnerable groups such as Roma are prioritised.

The new Roma Framework is aligned with all relevant EU and Enlargement countries funding for addressing Roma housing and linked social determinants, so governments need to make use of the ESF+, ERDF, Horizon 2020, Invest EU, Recovery and Resilience, IPA 2021-27, Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – for the Enlargement countries. Perhaps even more relevant is the possibility for MS to use the Technical Support Instrument that provides tailor-made technical expertise to EU Member States to design and implement reforms, which is demand-driven and does not require co-financing from Member States. The same type of technical assistance is available for Enlargement countries under TAIEX and Twinning.

Western Balkan need to be an integral part of all policy processes under the EU Roma Framework and also benefit from the same attention and representation in the EU Platform agenda, mainly because the enlargement countries are those where political commitment can be leveraged easier through the enlargement criteria and where the situation of Roma whether in the area of housing or otherwise is even more dire.

As such, in July 2019, at the Poznan Summit, the Western Balkans Prime Ministers adopted the Declaration on Roma integration in the EU enlargement process. The Poznan commitments cover housing and inclusion of the Roma dimension in the green and digital agendas, and new Roma inclusion Strategies/Action Plans align with the EU Roma framework.

As we advance with the EU Roma Platform, we need to ensure that until the upcoming EU Presidency event, we have concrete and tangible progress and developments at the national level. We also allow civil society to attend even party meetings with national Roma Contacts Points. In these meetings, we need to see a higher and broader in-person political representation from the EU and National MS.

Ultimately, let us not forget about the principle of nothing for Roma without Roma – the shrinking space of Roma civil society is an undeniable reality, following the negative trend in Europe where we experience a human rights crisis both in our communities, including in the leadership of the EU and many of its Member States. In the context of antigypsyism, limiting the role and exercise of NGOs to participate and monitor human rights issues and policy implementation process on Roma inclusion and equality is not only undemocratic but also dangerous not only to protecting Roma lives but also to ensuring their wellbeing. Ensuring that Roma NGOs are inside the programmes and projects as partners and leaders is essential.

This article is an adaption of the speech held by ERGO Network’s Senior Advocacy Officer Isabela Mihalache as a part of the panel on the political conclusions of the 16th Roma Platform organised by the European Commission under the patronage of the Spanish Presidency in Madrid. If you have more questions about our work on the EU Roma Framework, please email

For more information about our work on Roma access to quality and sustainable housing, please contact Amana Ferro (

Human Rights Day: A Critical Look at Roma Housing and Human Rights in Europe – ERGO Network

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