Is the internet available and safe for Roma?

Is the internet available and safe for Roma?

Throughout the last years, Safer Internet Day on 9 February has become an important event, addressing the issues of online safety and digital dignity. From cyberbullying to social networking to digital identity, each year Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues and current concerns. This year, ERGO Network is highlighting the issues of online safety and digital dignity for Roma.

Online safety for Roma

From an era in which individuals communicated their ideas mostly orally and only to small numbers of other people, we have moved on to an era in which people can make free use of a variety of channels for instant communication to a large audience. More and more people make use of online platforms not only to interact with each other, but also to share news. The detachment created by being enabled to write, without any obligation to reveal oneself directly, means that this new medium of virtual communication allows people to feel greater freedom in the way they express themselves1. Unfortunately, though, there is also a dark side to this system. Social media has become a fertile ground for antigypsyism, which frequently results in the use of insulting and offensive language towards Roma.

Antigypsyist hate speech has always been present in our societies. With the use of social media, however, the phenomenon has achieved a status of normalized online behavior, where Roma are targeted and become victims of cyberhate, which further develops into practices of hate crimes. Hate speech should not be perceived from the prism of an online insult; hate speech is connected to hate crimes, as it directly influences affecting citizens outside of the internet space. It results into violation of the rights of Roma as citizens, causing direct discrimination and threats, and in some cases result in offline violence or hate crimes.

As an example we can pinpoint the recent events in Bitola, North Macedonia towards the Roma community in September and October 2020. In this period hate speech against the Roma community on social networks was drastically intensified, which resulted in the occurrence of several cases of police brutality.2

Being aware of the issue of online antigypsyism3, ERGO Network through the PECAO project aims to counter antigypsyist hate speech online by working with young people, using a combination of peer education and monitoring in order to obtain two-fold results: Peer education to achieve a direct change in attitudes and actions of a high number of young people, and monitoring to contribute to better understanding and a more systemic change of policies through advocacy based on the results.

Digital dignity for Roma

Much has changed with the pandemic and many of us thought that living in the 21st century and with the available technologies adapting would be easy. However, the pandemic made the digital divide and social exclusion of vulnerable communities such as Roma even more visible.

According to the FRA study from 20164, over 40 % of Roma in the EU Member State Bulgaria cannot afford a private computer, smartphone or internet access. With the Covid-19 pandemic, many of these long-standing issues around discrimination, educational exclusion and limited access to new technologies have been brought forward.

Beside all the direct health risks, Covid-19 deepened the existing inequalities and made the questions of poverty and lack of access to proper educational services for Roma children more visible than ever. It made clear that care, respect and human dignity in the digital age for Roma have been forgotten or pushed aside. Digital literacy and access to utilities or technologies cause Roma to be left behind; as Roma with no access to electricity or the internet cannot connect, benefit from online education or online services.

The way forward

When it comes to creating a safer internet space for Roma and ensure digital dignity, ERGO Network believes that we need to work on:

    • Higher awareness of journalists’ ethic commissions on the prevalence and impact of antigypsyist hate speech online, leading to improved self-regulation guidelines.
    • Higher awareness of national equality bodies and other relevant state institutions on the prevalence and impact of antigypsyist hate speech online, leading to better programmes targeting antigypsyism.
    • Stronger adherence by IT companies to the Code of Conduct on countering online hate speech.
    • Better data collection on hate crime and hate speech disaggregated by ethnicity and gender to allow analysis of trends by member states.
    • Stronger condemnation of antigypsyist hate speech in the public discourse.
    • More positive narratives promoted by young people online to counter antigypsyist hate speech.
    • Reducing the digital divide by investing in access to utilities and technologies, thus preventing the exclusion of Roma from the internet space, as well as by creating digital support and literacy programs.

1 Thirty years of research into hate speech: topics of interest and their evolution: Alice Tontodimamma, Eugenia Nissi, Annalina Sarra & Lara Fontanella

2 Hate speech in social media and the impact on the Roma community: Romalitico, Marija Sulejmanova


World Social Forum 2021

Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) and the pandemic, its impact and mitigation measures


On 26 January, ERGO Network was part of the seminar ‘Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) and the Pandemic, its impact and Mitigation Measures’ under the banner of the World Social Forum 2021.

This year, before the background of an unparalleled pandemic crisis, the seminar centered on the impact of Covid 19 on communities discriminated based on work and descent.

The main concerns of this era on CDWD are the gender dimension and access to justice, escalating with Covid 19 exclusion and lack of access to education. Further, the CDWD are blamed wrongfully for spreading of COVID19,  facing atrocities and violence from other communities. 6 regional and national leaders of CDWD from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America shared their communities’ experiences during this crisis and together determined the impact of livelihood, access to services, and developmental justice during the COVID 19 mitigation measures.

The seminar came up with clear recommendations for social movements, addressed to state authorities across the regions. As these communities( CDWD) are one of the most excluded and segregated groups globally, it is crucial that they are included in the recovery plans of the pandemic.

Gabriela Hrabanova, Director of ERGO presented the impact of Covid 19 on Roma and Traveller’s communities, mentioning that antigypsyism spread considerably during the pandemic. She spoke about the organization’s focus on advocacy towards EU institutions to fight antigypsyism and to create equality for Roma communities.

She stated:

“We want to set a better example for governments by upholding the rule of law and human rights, to fight antigypsyism and to cover Roma in mainstream causes and recovery plans by EU  institutions”.

The World Social Forum is a visible manifestation of global civil society, that seeks international solidarity. It consists of members of the global movement for social and economic justice, meeting annually to endeavor alternative future through promoting counter-hegemonic globalization.

Recommendations for national strategic Roma frameworks

Recommendations for the national strategic frameworks under the new EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation

On 7 October 2020, the European Commission published a Communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the new Strategic Framework for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation for 2020-2030. The new framework is replacing the previous EU framework for national Roma integration strategies 2011-2020. The new framework is a positive step in the right direction; it shifts the perspective of the previous EU framework to a more balanced approach between social inclusion, human rights and empowerment objectives. It asks Member States and Enlargement countries to develop national strategic frameworks (NSFs), not just strategies, proposing an intersectional approach to tackle discrimination and defining intersectional discrimination as such for the first time. The new framework includes a good reference to antigypsyism using the spelling proposed by the Alliance against Antigypsyism. The framework addresses Enlargement countries on an equal footing and acknowledges the importance of the Western Balkan region for the EU, while the Neighbourhood countries are mentioned for the first time in relation to Roma inclusion under the current framework.

ERGO Network has developed a set of recommendations for national governments that should be prioritised when developing national strategic frameworks in the first months of 2021.

These recommendations have been developed based on ERGO Network’s previous policy and monitoring work in the area of equality, inclusion and participation of Roma and on valuable on-the-ground input from ERGO Network’s member organisations across Europe and from Roma and pro-Roma organisations members of the EU Roma Policy Coalition.

You can access the recommendations here.

The following organisations contributed to the recommendations:

  • European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)
  • Open Society Public Policy Institute (OSEPI)
  • European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC)
  • Phiren Amenca
  • European Network against Racism (ENAR)
  • Roma Active Albania
  • Roma Association Utrecht ,Netherlands
  • National federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, UK
  • La voix des Rroms, France
  • Slovo 21, Czech Republic
  • Integro Association, Bulgaria

ERGO’s monitoring of the European Semester

ERGO Network continues its monitoring of the European Semester and meets the cabinet of Commissioner Nicolas Schmidt

The European Semester had a surprise early start this year, with the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy (ASGS) released two months earlier than expected, in September 2020. This year’s document is driven by an overriding impetus to fight the immediate consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and build a green and digital Europe, and is built around the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the central pillar of Next Generation EU, which is the European Union’s “emergency temporary recovery instrument to help repair the immediate economic and social damage brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, support an economic recovery and build a better future for the next generation. ERGO Network members are already engaging on the ground with the drafting of the National Plans that Governments need to submit to access these funds.

While there is no explicit mention of the European Roma in the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy, ERGO Network welcomes that “people with a minority racial or ethnic background” are indicated as having been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus crisis. There is a lack of coordination and complete disconnect between Europe’s growth and recovery strategies and the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion, and Participation. While it is indicated that the National Resilience and Recovery Plans should be consistent with other national initiatives, such as the Energy and Climate Plans and the Partnership Agreements and Programmes, sadly nothing is said about coherence with the National Roma Integration Strategies. You can read ERGO Network’s full response to the ASGS here.

The situation is mirrored by the draft Joint Employment Report, which was released as usual at the end of November. This year’s disconnect between the ASGS and the draft Joint Employment Report means that the former was not underpinned by the latter, and that Europe’s priorities for a green, digital, sustainable and inclusive recovery were not guided by in the in-depth analysis of realities on the ground that the Report provides. While the Roma are mentioned a number of times throughout the document, it is exclusively in the context of access to education. While the focus on improving Roma access to quality and inclusive mainstream education is very welcome, particularly as it also refers to obstacles such as severe poverty and housing exclusion, tackling structural problems like persistent poverty or rampant discrimination does not seem to be a concern. The Report also contains no reference to the situation of ethnic minorities or combatting antigypsyism and racism. Read ERGO Network’s full response to the draft Joint Employment Report here.

Based on the extensive work carried out by the ERGO Network to include a Roma perspective on the European Semester and other social and economic inclusion strategies at EU level, we secured a meeting with the Cabinet of Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights. The exchange, attended from the Commission side by Policy Advisors Christoph Nerlich and Anouk Faber, focused on how to create positive synergies between the EU Roma Strategic Framework and the European Green Deal, the European Pillar of Social Rights, and the Multi-Annual Financial Framework 2021-2027. It also touched upon other social policy topics that ERGO Network is working on, and which fall under the purview of DG Employment, such as the the Youth Guarantee, Child Guarantee, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as social economy and minimum income.

ERGO Network members Katalin Nagy (Butterfly Development, HU), Pedro Aguilera (Federation of Roma Associations in Catalonia, ES), and Adriatik Hasantari (Roma Active Albania, AL) spoke about how the upcoming Social Economy Action Plan and the reinforced Youth Guarantee can be very useful tools to contribute towards reducing the gap between Roma and majority populations, as well as about the importance of including the Western Balkans and Enlargement and Neighbourhood Countries in the learning and exchanges about Roma inclusion in Europe. Cabinet members Ms Faber and Mr Nerlich confirmed Commissioner Nicolas Schmit’s commitment to Roma rights and inclusion and exchanged with ERGO Network members and staff about the best ways to engage with the above-mentioned policy frameworks in order to ensure a strong Roma dimension in Europe’s social and economic development strategies, as well as drew the attention to the key role of EU Funds (including InvestEU and ReactEu) to support these processes. Find the full meeting of the report here.

ERGO Network will continue to push for bringing Roma rights and inclusion much more in focus in the processes of the European Semester and the disbursement of Recovery and Resilience funds, and for better alignment with the priorities of the Sustainable Development Goals and the European Pillar of Social Rights. Hopefully the new decade will bring closer alignment between the EU Roma Strategic Framework and these frameworks, to ensure that Europe’s Roma are not left behind, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and recovery.

For more information about our work on the European Semester, please contact Senior Policy Adviser Amana Ferro in the ERGO Network Brussels Secretariat.

Child Guarantee and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child

ERGO Network response to the European Commission public consultations on the Child Guarantee and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child 2021-2027

The European Commission will be proposing, in 2021, a Child Guarantee and a Strategy on the Rights of the Child, two instruments specifically designed to improve the lives and wellbeing of children in the European Union.  ERGO Network has been engaging closely with these processes to ensure that the unique situation of Roma children is taken on board. We are also pleased to have become a member of the EU Alliance for Investing in Children, which brings together over 20 European networks sharing a commitment to end child poverty and promote child wellbeing across Europe.

The Child Guarantee is meant to ensure that all children in Europe who are at risk of poverty, social exclusion, or are otherwise disadvantaged, have access to essential services of good quality. ERGO Network strongly welcomes the initiative and gave input to the European Commission consultation on the Roadmap for a Council Recommendation for a Child Guarantee (Download the full input). The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the urgent need to invest in proper care services and income support for Roma children and their families.

While the proposed Roadmap for the Child Guarantee identifies several groups of “children in need”, Roma children are not one of them. This is unacceptable, where the Fundamental Rights Agency found that every third Roma child (30%) lives in households where someone went to bed hungry at least once in the previous month, and only about half (53%) of young Roma children are enrolled in early childhood education and care programs. Unless they are explicitly mentioned as target group and specific measures put in place to deal with very specific needs, experience shows that Roma children will once again be left behind.

We equally contributed to the EU Alliance for Investing in Children’s Response to the public consultation on the Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, which calls on EU Member States to develop actions that will protect children (including Roma children) from poverty, as well as support their access to quality early childhood education and care and to equal opportunities.

Additionally, we also prepared an input to the European Commission public consultation on the upcoming EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child (2021-2024), whose objective is to provide a framework for EU actions to better promote and protect children’s rights, with specific measures and funding.

ERGO Network will continue to work closely on the file to ensure that Roma children’s voices are heard, and that appropriate links will be made, at EU and national level, between initiatives on children’s rights and wellbeing such as those above and the objectives of the EU Strategic Framework for Roma Equality, Inclusion, and Participation.