The European Commission omits in some of their Annual Reports on the situation in the countries in the accession process the existence and impact of antigypsyism. Considering that the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation which is equally relevant for the countries in the accession process, puts a strong emphasis on the fight against antigypsyism, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma considers it as fundamental that the Annual Reports of the European Commission acknowledge the existence of and emphasise the need to fight against antigypsyism in the countries in the Western Balkans.
Recently, the European Commission published their annual reports on the state of affairs in the countries in the accession process. The reports should show a realistic picture of the situation in the accession countries, inter alia in the field of fundamental rights and the situation of minorities. However, when analysing the reports from the perspective of the situation of Roma, some of the reports don’t show a realistic picture of the situation on the ground.
In the six Western Balkan countries, Roma constitute the largest minority group. There are no reliable data from census-takings, but there could be around one million Roma living in these countries though many fled antigypsyism and discrimination. Many Roma live in devastating conditions, they face antigypsyism – the specific form of racism against Sinti and Roma and related groups –, discrimination and social exclusion.
However, the 2021 Annual Reports of the European Commission show a different picture – whitewashed and not reflecting the situation on the ground. Some reports omit the existence of and the need to fight against antigypsyism or the widespread discrimination, others only indirectly admit that there seem to be racism and discrimination.
Keeping in mind that the European Union adopted in October 2020 the EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation which puts a strong emphasis on the fight against antigypsyism and is equally relevant for the countries in the accession process, one might wonder why the Annual Reports of the European Commission do not refer at all to the existence of and the need to fight against antigypsyism in the countries in the Western Balkans and even fall short of admitting the existence of discrimination in some countries.
With regard to Serbia, the report admits indirectly the existence of discrimination when stating that the “Equality Commissioner’s 2020 report underlined that out of 112 complaints on discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, 94 were filed by Roma, with the main issues being access to employment and sources of income”, but it still falls short of stating that discrimination of Roma exists and that the government has the obligation to combat antigypsyism.
Similar is the situation with the report on Kosovo. The report states that the government “has established a Technical Group for the Protection from Discrimination of Roma Ashkali and Egyptian communities”, and in the health sector “incidence of discrimination have not improved”, but it still falls short of stating that discrimination of Roma and Ashkali exists and that the government has the obligation to combat antigypsyism.
According to the report of 2021, in North Macedonia discrimination affects “Roma children and children with disabilities who are victims of discrimination and segregation”. No further mentioning that discrimination of Roma exists and that the government has the obligation to combat antigypsyism.
For Albania, the report states that with the new Strategy for Roma and Egyptians, “a new chapter on anti-gypsyism was introduced to address this increasing phenomenon”, however, the report doesn’t refer to the “increasing phenomenon” at all.
The report admits that the “discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons remains pervasive and dominant in the Albanian society, especially regarding access to health care, education, justice, employment and housing”, but didn’t mention respective discrimination of Roma and Egyptians.
With regard to the health sector, it states that in the coming year, Albania should amongst others in particular, “continue to improve access to health and services for disadvantaged populations, including Roma and Egyptian minorities, older people, people with pre-existing mental health problems, people with disabilities; and populations in rural or remote areas, notably for women and girls belonging to these groups who are often subjected to multiple forms of discrimination.
By far more outspoken is the report on Bosnia and Herzegovina. It concedes that “prejudices and anti-gypsyism still hinder their social inclusion. Roma women in particular face multiple forms of discrimination. (…) Discrimination in employment is rampant, with very high unemployment rates”. Further, the report identifies “gender-based violence, ill-treatment of detainees and the protection of minorities, including the Roma” as issues of concern. Discrimination is mentioned with regard to children ““Not all children are covered by compulsory health insurance, and marginalised groups, such as the Roma, face multiple forms of discrimination”).
Also the report on Montenegro is more outspoken. It concedes that “vulnerable groups, including Roma and Egyptians, and persons with disabilities continue to experience multiple forms of discrimination and difficulties in enforcing their rights in administrative and judicial proceedings”. It refers to discrimination as a ”barrier to employment”, and stipulates that in the coming year Montenegro should in particular amongst others “improve the legal and institutional framework to ensure better access to justice, procedural rights and free legal aid for victims of human rights violations and crimes, in particular children, women, minorities, including Roma and Egyptians, and persons with disabilities”. It also mentions that the new strategy for the inclusion of Roma and Egyptians 2021-2025 pay special attention to antigypsyism for the first time.
The impact of antigypsyism on the situation of Roma is striking and the neglect of the European Commission to omit the existence and impact of antigypsyism is not acceptable. Their situation on the labour market should serve as an example of the antigypsyism and its consequences: in Kosovo up to 90% of the Roma and the related groups of Ashkali and Egyptians are unemployed – as conceded in the 2021 EU Report on Kosovo. According to UNDP in the year 2017, between 11% (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and 22% (North Macedonia) of the Roma were employed. The majority tries to make a living from precarious self-employment with no social security and in most cases with very limited earnings.
Looking at the NEET data (not in employment, education or training) of the young people between 18-24 years, the scope of antigypsyism and discrimination becomes obvious: between 73% (Serbia) and 86% (Bosnia and Herzegovina) of the young Roma were neither in employment, nor in education nor in training. For young Romani women the data are even more horrendous: Between 88% (Kosovo and Serbia) and 93% (Montenegro) of the young Romani women were neither in employment, nor in education nor in training. These are data after twenty years of international interventions. All countries have legal obligations to employ Roma in public services – legal obligations none of the countries is adhering to. In the private sector, it is often the antigypsyism, the racism of potential employers and colleagues which hinder employment of Roma.
Within the European Union, the European Commission emphasises the impact of antigypsyism and that without fighting it as the root cause for discrimination and social exclusion, the situation of Roma will not improve. This understanding should also apply to all countries in the Western Balkans.
Therefore, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma considers it of utmost importance that the European Commission admits in its reports the impact of antigypsyism on the daily life of Roma in the Western Balkans. The European Commission has to emphasise that antigypsyism is the root cause of discrimination and social exclusion and that it is indispensable that the governments in the Western Balkans step up their fight against antigypsyism and structural discrimination instead of downplaying it.