For too long, European governments have swept the issue under the carpet - it is time to wake up and put a stop to persecution of these marginalised communities – argues Amnesty International director
Just over a year ago, 76 families were forcibly evicted by the local authorities from the centre of the city of Cluj-Napoca, in north-western Romania. No consultation with the affected families took place prior to the eviction and no feasible alternatives to the eviction were explored. Those evicted were not given any written or detailed notification with sufficient notice, nor were they given the opportunity to challenge the eviction decision. Some 40 of these families were relocated to inadequate housing conditions on the outskirts of the city, close to the city's garbage dump and next to a former chemical waste dump, while the remaining families were left without alternative housing.
Elena, one of the women affected, said: "It was minus 20 degrees, we were moved to a room of 16 metres squared - which we are now sharing with ten people. All of us sleep on the floor." Elena, like all the 76 families, is Roma. Her story is one of hundreds that are highlighted in a new Amnesty report
on the plight of Roma across Europe. The report, launched before International Roma Day on April 8, paints a picture of institutional discrimination across the continent. It provides a statistical breakdown on all the European countries and makes for bleak reading.
Numbering between 10 and 12 million people, the Roma are one of Europe's largest and most disadvantaged minorities. On average - they have lower incomes, worse health, poorer housing, lower literacy rates and higher levels of unemployment than the rest of the population. In Ireland, life expectancy for male travellers is 61.7 years, around 15 years lower than the national average. In Kosovo, 97 per cent of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians are unemployed. In Moldova, 59 per cent of Roma live in absolute poverty. In Slovakia, 70 per cent of Roma children are in institutional care. In Spain, poverty among the Roma community is 4.5 times higher than that among the rest of the Spanish population.
These are not simply consequences of poverty; they are the result of widespread, often systematic, discrimination and other human rights violations. They are, in particular, the result of prejudice - of centuries of societal, institutional and individual acts of discrimination, that have pushed the great majority of Roma to the very margins of society - and which are keeping them there. Sadly the last couple of years have also seen a significant rise of anti-Roma political parties. In Hungary, the far-right Jobbik party now has a large presence in parliament and they have organised several anti-Roma marches, including one of nearly 3,000 through the village of Gyöngyöspata, situated to the north east of Budapest.
Following the march, several vigilante groups now patrol the area harassing and intimidating Roma residents. The local authorities have at best shown disinterest. It is a disgrace that this behaviour has been allowed to continue not just in Hungary, not just in Romania, but across the whole of Europe.
The Roma and Traveller populations continue to suffer. For too long, governments across Europe have swept the issue under the carpet. It is time Europe woke up and put a full stop to persecution of these marginalised communities. And we hope that our report will bring the issue to the public's consciousness. Kate Allen is director of Amnesty International UK