European monitoring centre says more effort is needed to integrate Romany minority|
It is a vicious circle: poor education -unemployment - bad housing. Despite
efforts to integrate the Roma community into Czech society, the Roma still
remain on the fringe of society, unable to break free of the constraints
which pre-determine their place in life. A report by the Vienna-based
European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia says more effort needs
to be undertaken across Europe to resolve this problem.
The operative word in the latest report of the Vienna based centre is
"segregation". The centre criticizes the Czech Republic, but
also Slovakia and Hungary, for segregating Romanies in access to
education, failing to provide equal job opportunities and gradually
forcing them into Romany ghettoes. Beate Winkler, the head of the European
Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia had this to say about the
"We have found specific problems in the Czech Republic regarding
segregation in schools. Eighty percent of Roma students are educated in
segregated schools and segregated schools means, nearly always,
discrimination. Another area of segregation is housing. The Roma live in
such poor housing conditions and often have a very insecure housing
situation. This was found to be a big, big problem not only in the Czech
Republic but also in other EU member states. And thirdly there is
unemployment. The research teams found that around 80 percent of the Roma
are unemployed. And clearly these three areas are closely linked. Poor
housing leads to poor education and poor education leads to
Kumar Vishwanathan is an Indian community worker based in Ostrava in the
eastern part of the Czech Republic where unemployment is highest. I asked
him to assess the situation of the Roma community in this region and
pinpoint some of the problems relating to integration.
"In the field of education there is now a new school law which offers
possibilities for regions and municipalities to be innovative in
integrating Roma children into normal schools, but the problem is that
there is a lack of leadership - overall. Most municipalities feel
exasperated by this task of changing the curriculum, preparing teachers
and so things stay as they are. Most Roma children are segregated to this
day despite the possibilities offered by the new school law."
How about the situation regarding unemployment and housing?
"As far as unemployment goes - I think something is changing for the
better - at least in my region, in the Ostrava region. Thanks to
industrial development an increasing number of young Roma are finding
jobs. So that is a ray of hope and I hope that the trend will continue.
But overall it is still a very grim picture with a 70 percent unemployment
rate among women and a very high unemployment rate among men. As for
housing, I think that is one of the biggest problems and it is connected
with health issues. Most municipalities have gone through a phase of
developing their city centers, renovating old houses by selling them off
to private entrepreneurs and they have generally got rid of the Romany
tenants so there is a huge internal displacement of Roma families who are
at the mercy of people and institutions who prey on them."
So in general - if you were to say what is essential - it is not so much a
lack of legislation as a lack of leadership and a lack of initiative, is
"Yes, exactly. It is very important to have some kind of dialogue
between state institutions, local bodies and NGOs. It is vital to have
dialogue because apart from laws being passed which could be used for the
benefit of the Roma community you see that the state institutions are so
far away there is no leadership there. At the local level - the local
institutions say - we are not going to do this because we do not know how
and we do not have the capacity to do these things - reform the school
system, invest in housing development. So I think we really should come
together and meet in these problem regions - for example like the Ostrava
region - state officials could move for a couple of days to these regions
to talk to the local authorities in order to see what are the
possibilities and the constraints here at local level that prevent things
from changing for the better."
Kumar, is there a will to solve this problem?
"I think there is no ill will. I think there is a lack of goodwill
and goodwill can be cultivated when people feel confident that things can