SIXTY-EIGHT years ago to this day 3,000 Hungarian Roma were massacred in the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps during the holocaust. Today experts warn that their discrimination is being perpetuated with the ill treatment of Roma (Gypsies) in Europe escalating.
The independent experts on minority issues insisted that Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2nd of August, should be marked with “commitment to confronting modern-day hatred, violence and discrimination against Roma and find real solutions to their persistent exclusion.”
“Genocide in Europe began by dehumanizing the other, blaming them for the problems of society, ridiculing their differenced, excluding them and surrounding them within the walls of a ghetto, labelling them as evil, filthy and unworthy of the rights and opportunities afforded to others. Today in much of Europe, nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, many Roma experience all of the above on a daily basis,” said Rita Izsák.
Special Rapporteur on cotemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere said that in order to tackle these issues awareness must be raised, and the discrimination must be brought to public consciousness starting with schools teaching Roma history. “There must also be a stronger message that Roma are a valued part of societies – not only in words, but in concrete actions – to protect Roma and improve their living conditions and inclusion.”
Last month Gay McDougall, also UN independent expert on minority issues, urged the Bulgarian government to take practical, financial steps towards facilitating the integration of the Roma.
McDougall cautioned that “current Government initiatives and financial commitments are having little more than superficial impact and are failing to address the entrenched discrimination, exclusion, and poverty faced by many Roma. Many policies seem to remain largely only rhetorical undertakings aimed at external audiences – official commitments that are not fulfilled in practice.”
Stressing the urgency of the matter, McDougall described their situation as desperate, and “at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder”. Approximately 80% of the Roma are unemployed, while the life expectancy of most is 10 years less than the average person. At least 70% of the Roma in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia live in squalor without running water, sewage, paved streets, waste collection or streetlights.
As well as raising awareness and financial investment into the Roma, their perception by the public must be changed. McDougall met with journalists and NGOs who were worried about the high level of negative stereotyping by the media and some high-profile officials.
The experts praised the European Union Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies which encourage EU member countries to develop strategies tacking and improving the current Roma situation.