BUCHAREST, Romania – Roma in Central and Southeast Europe have no economic, political or social role. Discrimination against Roma increases the likelihood of poverty and higher unemployment. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported in its 2011 data that 90 percent of surveyed Roma households live below national poverty lines.
The UNDP estimated that 6.8 to 8.7 million Roma live in Europe. Roma are one of the most disadvantaged groups in Europe and the European Union has struggled to successfully integrate Roma.
Roma grapple with extreme poverty and how it affects their quality of life. Roma receive fewer years of education in school and must live without necessities such as drinking water, sanitation and electricity. Housing for Roma is substandard and overcrowded with too many residents. Roma have inadequate access to health services and are more at risk of developing chronic illnesses.
The UNDP found that as few as one out of two Roma children surveyed go to preschool or kindergarten. Few Roma young adults have a high level of education as only 15 percent surveyed had finished upper-secondary general or vocational education. Roma have an average primary school enrollment that seldom exceeds 50 percent.
According to the UNDP, 45 percent of Roma households do not have at least one basic housing amenity. Electric power and an indoor kitchen, toilet, shower or bath are typically unavailable amenities for Roma households. Roma households often have more than two people living in one room as well.
The UNDP reported that 20 percent of surveyed Roma either did not have healthcare coverage or did not know if they had it. Prescription drugs are difficult to acquire as 66 percent of Roma cannot afford them. Roma children are vulnerable to health risks due to 15 percent of those under 14 being unvaccinated.
Roma find it difficult to get employed because of the prejudice and stereotyping they encounter from politicians, the media and society as a whole.
Anti-Roma sentiments are on the rise in Europe, which make matters worse for Roma. Roma are looked down on as the minority in Romania, a country where Roma were slaves until 1856. The Romanian anti-discrimination council fined President Traian Basescu $180 for making anti-Roma comments after two prior warnings, marking the first time a Romanian president has been issued a fine.
The largest Roma minority population resides in Romania, the second poorest country in the European Union. An estimated two million Roma live in Romania. Roma children are especially vulnerable, with 35 percent of them living below the poverty line.
Roma children live in perpetual fear of the pervasive prejudice against the Roma community in Romania. Romanians have grown up with a negative perception of Roma. Grandparents threaten their misbehaving grandchildren that they will give them away to the “gypsies.”
Bulgaria has Roma as one of its poorest populations. The Roma community in Bulgaria struggles with extreme poverty as one in three Roma must make a living off earnings less than $4.30 a day. Only one in 20 of the non-Roma Bulgarian population earns less than $4.30 a day. Moreover, 86 percent of Roma are in the bottom 40 percent of the Bulgarian income group.
The UNDP reported that 40 percent of Roma households have had someone go to bed hungry at least once in the last month due to not having the means to buy food.
Poor attitudes toward Roma make discrimination a major employment obstacle and contribute to the extreme poverty among Roma. The UNDP found that 30 percent of college educated Roma are unemployed, whereas only 14 percent of the remaining college educated population is unemployed.
Furthermore, one third of surveyed Roma were unemployed, while less than one third had paying jobs. Nearly 67 percent of Roma work in either unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. Roma are at least four times more likely to work in the informal sector than non-Roma.
Inequality limits the access Roma have to employment, health services and education, therefore further exacerbating extreme poverty in the Roma community.
Sources: AFP, UNDP, World Bank
Photo: Rosmont Missions