Will International Romani Day draw attention to Europe's largest minority population?
The report highlights how Europe’s largest minority continues to face racism and discrimination. In the UK the Roma and Traveller population is said to be around 225,000 but some organisations estimate that there could be as many as 500,000. This discrepancy is in part because many Roma families fear of attack or discrimination.
At risk of violent attacks
Amnesty’s report highlights that more than 120 serious violent attacks against Roma people – including shootings, stabbings and arson attacks – occurred in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia in the last four years. State authorities, including the police, frequently fail to prevent or properly investigate these attacks.
The report also shows that on almost all human development indicators, Roma fall far below the national average. According to the European Commission, approximately one in five children in the EU are in or at risk of poverty, while four out of five Roma live in households at risk of poverty, which results in severe material deprivation and ill-health.
Struggling to feed and clothe their children
We work with many Roma families living in severe poverty in England. Some Roma families come to here in search of a better life for their children while others are fleeing danger and prejudice from their home countries.
Through our destitution project in the West Midlands we recently supported a Roma family with no income living in very poor quality private rented accommodation. They struggled to pay rent, and feed and clothe their children.
Two of the children attended school without uniforms and didn’t have warm clothes for the bitter cold winter weather. Our service provided practical support to the family to help the children get uniforms and the mother to attend her local children’s centre with her baby to help overcome social isolation.
Paid just £2.50 per hour
Through our SMART project in Newcastle, we worked with a family who were living in a small rundown flat. The father was being exploited by his employer who was also their landlord, being paid just £2.50 per hour.
While the employer was being investigated by HM Revenue and Customs the family was unable to access any benefits, which meant that they had to survive on the father’s low wage for over a year. This also meant that the family fell into debt.
SMART helped the family to access a food bank, school and health services. We also supported the family to find alternative accommodation and to resolve the exploitative employment situation.
Many families need support
While our services are able to support some of the most vulnerable Roma children and families, many more are unable to access any such support.
A survey conducted by European Dialogue in 2009 showed that many Roma families in England work for low wages on temporary contracts organised by gangmasters and disreputable recruitment and employment agencies. Many live in sub-standard, overcrowded accommodation, shared with other families. This often leads to poor health, and low school attendance and attainment by children.
As attitudes towards migrants from Eastern Europe harden and the situation becomes increasingly more difficult for all children and families living in poverty in the UK, it’s difficult to see how the situation for Roma children is likely to improve.
Nevertheless, in keeping its commitment to tackling child poverty for all children, the government must ensure that its approach doesn’t exclude Roma children, who are some of the most marginalised in our society.