The new EU Roma Strategy and the fight against Antigypsyism in the Western Balkans

The new EU Roma Strategy and the fight against Antigypsyism in the Western Balkans

Despite limitation due to the pandemic of COVID 19, Roma Active Albania kept an active role in advocating for Roma inclusion in the Enlargement countries of the Western Balkans.

Combining distant working with field work, RAA coordinates the  partners of the regional project “Romani Women, Power of Change in the Western Balkans and Turkey”, in following their national plans and providing information from the grassroots  level to ERGO’s study on the impact of COVID 19 on Roma communities.

Thanks to the financial support of the European Union through the European Commission’s DG NEAR, RAA has been working jointly with its partners in the Western Balkans and Turkey to implement the components of the project “Romani Women, Power of Change in the Western Balkans and Turkey”. The last months focused on building synergies in regional advocacy in the context of the new EU Roma Strategy and the fight against antigypsyism.

RAA actively contributed to the organisation of the event “The new EU Roma Strategy and the fight against Antigypsyism in the Western Balkans”, which took place on 4 November 2020 via the Zoom platform.

This virtual conference addressed strategies and measures to combat antigypsyism and to strengthen Roma empowerment and participation in the Western Balkans in the context of the new “EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation” for 2020-2030. The conference brought together governments, international organizations and civil society representatives from all countries in the Western Balkan region.

The new EU Framework guides the commitment of EU Member States and defines the core policy for Roma equality, inclusion and participation in the accession and neighbourhood countries. A key priority of the new framework is to recognize and to fight antigypsyism as the root cause of discrimination and social exclusion. Combatting antigypsyism should be done in a combined approach as a stand-alone task and as cross-cutting issue in the priority areas education, employment, housing and basic services, health and poverty, and keeping a special focus on Roma Women empowerment.

Following this event, RAA participated in and coordinated three national virtual conferences on the same topic, addressing the realities and challenges in Kosovo, Serbia and Albania.

These conferences were organised by Roma Active Albania, ERGO Network and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, in partnership with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement and with support of the European Union and German Federal Foreign Office.

Intercultural Achievement Award for Roma Active Albania

Intercultural Achievement Award for Roma Active Albania

ERGO Member Roma Active Albania won the recognition award in the Intercultural Achievement Award (IAA) 2020 organised by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs with  the project “EU Award on Roma Integration 2019 – Unknown Heroes”. The project was organised  in partnership with the European Commission, DG NEAR and supported by the European Union. Participation in different conferences and seminars, as well the work of the partners in the Western Balkans and Turkey have positioned Roma women as a key factor in scoring tangible results in the Roma integration agenda. The award have brought additional recognition to the wider area of women empowerment.

The project honors women who brought tangible impact for Roma integration and empowerment in the Western Balkans and Turkey and provided political leverage enriching the policy dialogue of Roma integration with the cross-cutting issue of women empowerment.

The project got recognition in a competition of 300 entries from 41 countries under the category “Recent events” and a certificate for the recognition was delivered to Roma Active Albania in the Austrian Embassy in Tirana.

Through this award steps such as by setting up and running non-profit organisations and community centres, combatting violence against women, fighting early marriages, facilitating women to access to their legal rights, etc. received the deserved recognition as a way of improving the integration of Roma minority by acting locally.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Roma

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Roma and how to be prepared for the next crisis

Presentation during the High-level Conference launching the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation until 2030 by Adriatik Hasantari, Roma Active Albania, Vice-chair ERGO Network (12 October 2020)

During August and September 2020, ERGO Network and its members conducted a survey on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Roma in seven EU Member States, and together with Roma Active Albania in six enlargement countries. Preliminary findings show that during the first wave of Covid-19, entire Roma and Traveller communities in all selected countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey) were deeply affected in all areas of life, including regarding basic needs, housing and accommodation, education, health care, employment, poverty, and freedom from discrimination and antigypsyism. Roma women were disproportionately affected, particularly pregnant women, mothers with young children and the elderly.

Our study confirms that in the early stages of the pandemic, many governments implemented unequal and unfair lockdowns of Roma communities in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, despite not having any confirmed cases in these communities. Across all surveyed countries, Roma were faced with starvation after losing their income and the possibility to leave their houses to buy food. Our respondents reported that in general authorities did not provide them with masks, disinfectants and food while in lockdown or confinement.

In Hungary, children did not any longer receive previously offered free school meals, and had difficulties to learn at distance in the absence of school materials, digital equipment, electricity, or internet access. Because of overcrowding and inadequate housing conditions, many Roma families living in settlements were crammed in one single room with no means to follow preventive and sanitary measures. Our study confirmed that many Roma throughout the EU, Western Balkans and Turkey lost their jobs because of the lockdown, especially those working abroad who had to return home and did not benefit from state aid. Roma felt discriminated by the lack of action from state officials and service providers in the areas of education, healthcare, employment and state aid.

What lessons can be drawn to be better prepared for future crises?

The data collected by ERGO Network and other NGOs so far confirms without a doubt that the pandemic affected Roma and Travellers disproportionally, particularly those living in socially excluded and marginalised settings both within the EU and Enlargement countries. COVID-19 is an additional challenge to the daily exclusion and discrimination that they had already faced on a daily basis previous to the pandemic.

The pandemic revealed gaps in the approach of local authorities and governments to deal with vulnerable groups and with Roma. Exceptional cases may exist in some countries when it comes to humanitarian aid provided as one off measures. It was, however, mostly NGOs who stepped in to provide support on a regular basis.

If we learnt something from the first wave of Covid-19, it is that we simply cannot afford to be unprepared and to allow EU Member States and Enlargement countries to enter into a new crisis unscrutinised and without any concrete plans, measures and funding in place. Now more than even we need to think preventively and not reactively to what is in front of us. The EU and its Presidency have to put aside an investment package dedicated to vulnerable groups to support poor families, small and medium sized enterprises, and solo workers. The Directive for universal minimum income must be prioritised and accelerated.

The 2020 “EU Strategic Framework for Roma must be accompanied by a strong EU Council Recommendation demanding Member States to put a specific focus on humanitarian aid and a 10-year plan to fight structural racism and inequality at the centre of their policies and strategies, delivering basic services and infrastructure in Roma communities, viable solutions in the areas of education, employment, health, social protection and poverty, putting an end to forced evictions, segregation in education and housing, homelessness, hate speech, racist crime and police brutality – in order to guarantee a level playing field in the access to basic rights and services. It is clear that if we are to overcome this upcoming crisis, governments have to set higher targets and increase the scope of interventions beyond what it is in the new EU Framework, for all the countries.

The Fundamental Rights Agency has reported many times that Roma are the only European population living in absolutely inhumane conditions, in appalling and total housing deprivation. This resonates 10 times more during the  Covid-19 pandemic. There should be no pretense that all governments must put their efforts into putting an end to segregation in housing, into providing running water, electricity and garbage collection. Governments must invest in safe and green housing, including social housing for all those living in shacks, shanty towns, unsafe and inhumane conditions.

All supposedly good intentions by the EU did so far not translate into specific funding for vulnerable groups under major post 2020 EU funding and programmes. This is a failure for the human rights agenda, as the coming decade could be the most challenging for all livelihood throughout Europe and across the world. Competing interests and challenges will yet again leave those vulnerable overlooked and at the margins. This needs to change. The EU needs to change its approach towards governments and lead Europe towards substantive equality where no Roma is left behind. All EU funding, with no exception, should by default target vulnerable groups and Roma, in line with the EU’s own principles and standards.

Anti-Roma rhetoric increased significantly during the pandemic, even blaming Roma for spreading the coronavirus. NGOs tried to warn policy-makers about the dangers of antigypsyism going unrecognised and unpunished. Instead of taking these warnings seriously, many governments curtail human rights of minorities during this crisis. The EU proved to be weak and powerless with its tools and enforcement mechanisms against discrimination and racial violence.

Going forward, the EU has to set a better example for governments and their duties to uphold the rule of law and human rights and be quicker and firmer in sanctioning racist governments.

 

Case studies: Experiences of Roma individuals and communities during the pandemic.

 

 

STRENGTHENING ROMA NGOS AS TRANSPARENT AND INDEPENDENT WATCHDOG ORGANISATIONS

STRENGTHENING ROMA NGOS AS TRANSPARENT AND INDEPENDENT  WATCHDOG ORGANISATIONS

ERGO Network’s new transparency and accountability criteria give recommendations on how grassroots civil society organisations should be governed and managed in order to be reliable and accountable.  Fulfilling the criteria will bring attention to an organisation’s quality work. The set of criteria focuses on governance, financial management and performance.

ERGO Network together with its member organisations – Roma Advocacy and Research Centre (Slovakia), Roma Active Albania (Albania), Slovo 21 (Czech Republic), Autonomia Foundation (Hungary), OTAHARIN (Bosnia and Herzegovina), RROMA (Macedonia), Mladi Romi (Montenegro) and Zero Discrimination (Turkey) – developed a set of transparency and accountability criteria for grassroots organisations with the aim to strengthen civil society organisations. Using the criteria will give more legitimacy, better fundraising opportunities and more trust from both the grassroots level and institutions and ultimately reinforce the power of civil society organizations. Being transparent and accountable are important prerequisites for the effectiveness of civil society that is taken seriously by its institutional counterparts and other partners.

Furthermore, the members of ERGO Network agreed on joining their efforts and putting their thorough expertise together to empower Roma and pro-Roma civil society in their countries in implementing the transparency criteria. For this aim, ERGO Network has developed a board game that leads the players through different steps necessary to become more transparent and accountable. Anyone can download the game and play it by themselves, or invite an ERGO Network facilitator to support them through the process. Besides the offline game, there is also an online self-audit that you can go through to discover how far you are in applying the criteria in your organisation.

Fulfilling the transparency criteria means not only being able to show that Roma and pro-Roma civil society takes these very seriously, but also having the right to demand the same from other stakeholders.

Find out more about the transparency and accountability criteria and download them in several languages: https://ergonetwork.org/transparency/

Do the online audit and know how well your organisation fulfils the transparency and accountability criteria https://ergonetwork.org/transparency/transparency-audit/

Roma Active Albania and ERGO Network Award the Most Roma Friendly Mayors

PRESS RELEASE

Brussels, 09/04/2018

 

Roma Active Albania and ERGO Network Award the Most Roma Friendly Mayors at the 3nd EU Roma Week on April 9, 2018

 

Roma Active Albania and European Roma Grassroots Organizations (ERGO) Network organized an award ceremony in the European Parliament to acknowledge positive examples of local authorities – eight Mayors from the Western Balkans and Turkey. The campaign “The Most Roma Friendly Mayor” is part of the project Joint Initiative to Empower Roma Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey aiming to mobilize Roma communities and strengthen their existing capacities to engage in a dialogue with public authorities.

The eight winning mayors, selected from 49 competing municipalities, were welcomed by the Member of the European Parliament Ms Soraya Post, the Minister of Labor and Social Policy of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Ms Mila Carovska, the Director-General of the European Commission DG Near Mr Christian Danielsson and the Director of Roma Active Albania and General Manager of the project Mr Adriatik Hasantari.

Ms Post explained the importance of cooperation between all the stakeholders by pointing out the relevance of participation of mayors in fighting antigypsyism. “We are looking forward to have more mayors who will take full responsibility”, she stated. Mr Danielsson highlighted the ways of support by the DG Near and the investments of the European Union under IPA II in the Western Balkan and Turkey. “The commitment shown by the mayors and local organizations should inspire future efforts to continue the good work”, he asserted, and assured future commitment of the DG NEAR as well. Ms Carovska highlighted the importance of partnership of governments with Roma civil society organizations in implementing the strategic plans for Roma integration. “We have to work for the development of the whole region”, she argued by pointing out the importance of joint efforts. Mr Hasantari introduced the project Joint Initiative to Empower Roma Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey focusing on “the Most Roma Friendly Mayor” component. He concluded with the strong message: “When Roma civil society is strong, authorities perform better!”

The awards were given to the following eight mayors: Mr Erion Veliaj, Municipality of Tirana, Albania; Mr Mićo Mićić, Municipality of Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Mr Blagoj Bochvarski, Municipality of Štip, FYROM; Mr Burim Berisha, Municipality of Fushë Kosova, Kosovo; Ms Snežana Matijević, Municipality of Tivat, Montenegro; Ms Latinka Vasiljković, Municipality of Odžaci, Serbia; Mr Osman Genç, Municipality of Canik, Turkey and Mr Hayri İnönü, Municipality of Şişli, Turkey by Ms Post, Mr Danielsson and Mr Hasantari.

Seven independent juries were established in the respective countries, assessing the applications and comparing the facts with the realities. The juries pointed out the progress in having a concrete and budgeted Local Action Plans, efforts in creating education-related opportunities, support for social entrepreneurship, improvement of infrastructure in terms of roads, lighting, sewage and water supply, newly built apartments, Roma participation in local authority structures, and some results are visible in the fields of employment and health as well as in applying holistic approach.

After the award ceremony, all participants were invited to a luncheon discussion. Ms Gabriela Hrabanova, the director of ERGO Network, invited the participants to engage and open about challenges they face and think about how they can work together to find solutions. The award was followed by discussions about the situation of Roma in the Western Balkan and Turkey by speakers ranging from civil society representatives, mayors and the National Roma Contact Points to members of the European Parliament, the European Commission and international organizations. Main questions that lead the discussions were the following: how can the participants overcome specific challenges they are facing from their own positions and how do they see the development of the positioning of the enlargement countries’ Roma agenda in the post-2020 EU programing period.

The Award Ceremony is organized in the framework of the EU Roma Week 2018 held from April 9 to April 12, 2018 to mark the occasion of the International Roma Day on April 8. The International Roma Day in 2018 commemorate the 47th anniversary of the first Romani Congress that was organized in London in 1971. The third EU Roma Week is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Parliament, together with civil society and international organizations.

Hosting MEP of the Most Roma Friendly Mayor Award Ceremony: Soraya Post

 

All the events of the Roma Week can be found at https://www.ardi-ep.eu/roma-week-2018/. Contact: Jelena Jovanovic (j.jovanovic@ergonetwork.org, +32 486 451 393).

 

Disclaimer: This press release has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The content of the release is the sole responsibility of Roma Active Albania and ERGO Network, and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.