ECRI Report. The situation of Roma community and recommendations for Poland

The number of Roma children attending school is increasing, while the percentage of Roma pupils in so-called special schools is decreasing, according to the latest report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The commission criticizes, among other things, the housing situation of Roma community, as well as its position on the labor market.

The purpose of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) is to monitor Council of Europe member countries among others on racism, discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation and intolerance. The Commission publishes its report each five years, and this report contains the results of monitoring and recommendations addressed to state authorities. One part of the report, that was published on the 18th of September, is devoted to the situation of Roma community. The commission focused on problems in education, housing, health care and employment. It also highlighted how Roma fleeing the war in Ukraine are treated in Poland. Among ECRI’s recommendations to Poland, there was a suggestion to implement a “Program for social and civil integration of Roma in Poland 2021 – 2030”.  From the beginning of its activity, the Foundation Towards Dialogue emphasizes the necessity of cooperation with representatives and representatives of Roma minority, who should be involved not only in the implementation, but also in the planning and designing activities addressed to them. It is also important to take into account the problem of anti-gypsyism, that significantly complicates the inclusion of Roma e.g. into the labor market”, states the president of the Foundation Towards Dialogue, Joanna Talewicz.

Education: progress that needs to gain momentum

ECRI has noted an increase in the number of Roma children attending schools. The number of graduates is also increasing. At the same time, the number of Roma pupils in so-called special schools is falling. These indicators show the positive direction that the Roma community is moving in. Nevertheless, the percentage of Roma in special schools is still significantly higher than the national average. The commission also pointed out a correlation between poor academic performance and insufficient knowledge of the Polish language. The positive note was received by Roma education assistants, who have played a key role in integrating Roma children into the education system or cooperation between schools and parents for years. In order to improve the situation of Roma pupils, ECRI recommends Polish authorities to take measures to reduce the number of children dropping out schools and ti prevent Roma children from being sent to so-called special schools. The commission suggests that this can be achieved by prioritizing the learning of Polish language, as well as through an adequate number of assistants. According to the Foundation Towards Dialogue, in order to achieve positive change in the field of education it is also necessary to strengthen and raise the assistants’ competencies and include anti-discrimination education programs in schools.

Housing: the situation is sometimes dramatic

The commission found the standard of housing and homes for the majority of the Roma community to be dramatic. The Comission also criticized the forced relocation initiated by local authorities and the prohibition of Roma families from living in housing specially prepared for them. It also mentioned about fines of up to 40,000 PLN levied on Roma by the Construction Inspectorate and the lack of financial support from local authorities to improve housing conditions. The report also cited positive examples such as Wrocław. In the capital of Lower Silesia, thanks to cooperation between social organizations, academia and local government, the Roma community agreed to move from a substandard housing estate on Kamieńskiego Street to better quality apartments. ECRI recommends Poland implement the provisions of the “Program of social and civic integration of Roma in Poland for 2021-2030” in the field of housing by e.g. introducing mechanisms to encourage or oblige local authorities to participate in state housing programs and developing in cooperation with the Roma community solutions to improve the standard of their apartments and houses. Simultaneously with ECRI’s recommendations, the Foundation is directing public’s eyes towards Roma communities living in settlements in Maszkowice, Koszary, Krosnica, that need immediate support.

Health care: a poor knowledge of procedures

The report concluded that Roma community in Poland has access to health care. It is also pointed out that the jobless people – after going through the appropriate procedure – have access to health insurance. At the same time, it was noted that there is low awareness among Roma of the procedures they need to go through in order to receive free medical care. The consequences of this sometimes include the high bills that Roma patients have to pay for medical care.  The Commission considers that it is necessary for the Polish authorities to take measures to eliminate all obstacles from the financial and administrative level that Roma face when interacting with the health service.

Employment: undocumented discrimination

As a result of its monitoring, the Commission has concluded that discrimination against the Roma community in employment is insufficiently documented. Most Roma women and men do not know that discrimination in employment or access to services is prohibited by law. As many as 40% of people in Roma community do not know the institutions they can go to when they experience discrimination. Moreover, this is a community characterized by a low level of trust to public institutions. ECRI recommends that Polish authorities take appropriate measures to support Roma women and men experiencing discrimination in the area of employment.

War: no roof over your head

According to civil society representatives, around 50,000 Ukrainian Roma have fled to Poland from the war since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. The Commission’s monitoring shows that Roma community faced accommodation problems that other refugee groups have not experienced. There were also situations where local authorities denied Roma families a roof over their heads. “Due to the war in Ukraine, it is necessary to establish cooperation between the government side and Roma organizations supporting refugees from Ukraine and immigrant women and men from Romania. It is also necessary to provide financial support for organizations that work on behalf of Roma community”, emphasized Joanna Talevich, president of the Foundation Towards Dialogue.

The Foundation Toward Dialogue has prepared a detailed report, “They are not refugees; they are travellers” on the topic, that is available on the it’s website.

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