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.

Beate Winkler
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 center's findings:

"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 unemployment."

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.

Kumar Vishwanathan
"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 that correct?

"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 be changed."