Renewable Energy in CzechiaThe EU Cohesion Policy Commission is partnering with the government of Czechia for new renewable energy projects from 2021-2027. These projects have the potential to tackle many issues that make life more difficult for Roma people living in poverty, including changing weather patterns, unemployment and unsanitary conditions in public facilities.

How Changing Weather Patterns Makes Conditions Worse for Roma People

Changing weather patterns bring extreme weather events like floods, wildfires, droughts and heat waves. In August 2010, flash floods left thousands of Czech citizens without electricity or gas. In 2021, a tornado in South Moravia left 70,000 households powerless and destroyed 1,600 homes. These events have been devastating to people living below the poverty line, leaving many homeless, including a Romani widow with six children. The tornado was an extremely rare occurrence and multiple studies have found that tornadoes from severe thunderstorms are more likely to form due to changing weather patterns.

Natural disasters such as floods, wildfires, and droughts have severe consequences for impoverished Roma communities. These events lead to population displacement, damage water and sanitation infrastructure and contaminate water sources with fecal bacteria. According to a survey conducted among Roma people living in EU countries, a staggering 80% continue to live below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold in their respective countries. Moreover, 52% of them reside in houses without proper sanitation facilities, and 22% have no access to tap water inside their homes.

The lack of proper sanitation facilities like running water and the challenges of poverty have resulted in alarming health disparities among Roma communities. Reports indicate that Roma women have an average life expectancy that is 11 years less than women in general, and Roma men have an average life expectancy of 9 years less than men overall. Furthermore, the changing weather patterns have become a significant threat to the lives of Roma people, particularly during and after extreme weather events. These challenges, combined with housing and employment instability, further exacerbate the vulnerabilities that members of the Roma community face.

New Renewable Energy Policies in Czechia and How They Aid Roma People in Poverty

The EU Cohesion Policy Commission has joined forces with Czechia to tackle its high natural gas emissions and climate-related disasters through a €21.4 billion agreement that focuses on renewable energy projects. This collaboration aims to support the green and digital transition of Czechia while promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion. The Just Transition Fund (JTF) will facilitate a New Circular Economy Plan, providing €1.5 billion to aid businesses in their shift to a low-carbon economy. The ultimate goal is to reduce Czechia’s GHG emissions by 30% by 2030.

Based on forecasts, the green and digital transition in Czechia could create more job opportunities, fostering employment and social inclusion. This will particularly benefit minority populations, including the Roma people. Moreover, the job market could become more gender-balanced, offering potential advantages for Roma women.

The new circular economy will both preserve and diversify jobs and improve the quality of education. It will also improve the integration of third-country nationals and the living standards of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The European Regional and Development Fund (ERDF) dedicates €3.4 billion to digitalize the economy and boost competitiveness in small and medium businesses. Additionally, environmental measures aim to reduce extreme weather events that impact the Roma people.

The clean urban and suburban transport funded by the ERDF and Cohesion Fund will reduce the number of diseases that would otherwise be spread to Czechia’s vulnerable populations via public transport, potentially addressing the health problems that disadvantaged Roma people face.

Additionally, a new program called “Environment” will directly address the environmental factor of the issue by helping Czechia restore its natural ecosystems and create more sustainable water management. This could create a cleaner and healthier environment while addressing the lack of clean water systems in many Roma homes.

The Progress So Far

According to the Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, “Under the 2014-2020 programming period, the Cohesion Policy supported investments in 11,000 enterprises, creating or retaining 10,676 direct jobs.” 

The new circular economy has begun to implement several new projects, such as modular buildings, smart waste systems and several forms of recycling. These projects have been cleaning up cities and suburbs, allowing flexibility in construction with relation to how many kids wish to attend school and reducing waste and global emissions.

Room for More Progress

Although there are many positive developments ahead for the implementation of renewable energy in Czechia, Roma people continue to face discrimination in education, housing, employment and interactions with the police. Such discriminatory practices are generally motivated by racist ideals. In addition to renewable energy projects that have the potential to protect Roma’s health and living conditions, there is a need for more political measures, such as the Anti-Discrimination Act and the new Social Inclusion Strategy, that focus on protecting the human rights of Roma people. 

– Sophia Holub
Photo: Unsplash

roma people in EuropeThe Roma people originated from Northern India and migrated toward Europe in the ninth century. Romany is the predominant language that the Roma people speak, derived from Sanskrit, an ancient classical language from India. The Roma are often referred to derogatorily as “gypsies” and have faced persecution in Europe for centuries, including during World War II. The Roma people in Europe also endure discrimination and marginalization that puts them at higher risk of poverty.

Poverty Among the Roma

According to UNICEF, the Roma are “one of Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minority groups.” About 12 million Roma people reside in Europe but many live in slums and do not have access to basic services and resources. Discrimination has resulted in their exclusion and impoverishment.

A 2016 report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) highlights that the Roma people face barriers to employment, education, housing and health services. The report is based on a survey of thousands of Romani people across nine EU states.

The report found that almost 80% of Roma people in Europe are at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared to around 23.5% of the EU population in general in 2016. The same report found that one in three Roma people have no access to running tap water in their homes. Statistics also indicate that just about 50% of the Roma have indoor flushing toilets or shower facilities.

The Roma people in Europe have higher health risks than non-Roma people. They are also far less likely to be employed due to discrimination so they often struggle to find adequate housing and have access to food and other necessary support. In 2015, only 30% of Roma people could work to earn an income, which is low compared to Europe’s 70% employment rate at that time. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Roma had unequal access to a variety of essential services, including health care.

Roma Children

In addition, one in three Roma children comes from a home where a family member “went to bed hungry at least once in the previous month.” About half of Roma in the age group of 6 and 24 are out of school. Furthermore, 40% of Roma people have experienced an act of discrimination against them “at least once in the past five years.” Romani children face health risks that begin early in life. Roma infants are four times more likely to be underweight at birth in comparison to other infants and are also less likely to have a valid birth certificate, which limits their rights to access essential services. Child marriage is also common among the Roma as marrying off a daughter will lessen the financial burden of the family with one less mouth to feed.

COVID-19 and Roma Exclusion

During the pandemic, the Roma faced hate speech and prejudices from communities who blamed them for the spread of the virus. “Hate speech is especially present in times of crisis,” said Csaba Ferenc Asztalos, president of Romania’s National Council for Combating Discrimination in April 2022. “Resources are less, society is more tense, competition is higher, and then, people resort to prejudices, false news, to gain or to maintain economic or political power. In this context, the Roma are the target of prejudice,” Asztalos explained.

According to the Human Rights Journal, countries in Eastern Europe specifically targeted the Roma population during the pandemic, labeling them as a health and safety threat. Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia took strong military measures to police and oppress the Roma people. The Bulgarian government-imposed roadblocks and police checkpoints among Roma communities. These actions are reminiscent of older anti-Romani sentiments.

Action to Uphold the Rights of the Roma

In 2021, Romania passed legislation to combat the discrimination against Romani by punishing hate speech and holding those contributing to the continuous social discrimination of the group accountable. The law is the “first of its kind in Europe.”

UNICEF focuses on upholding the rights of Roma children so that they may reach their full potential. UNICEF runs home visit programs to educate families on how to access services in relation to childhood development, health, education and social protection.

In Montenegro, UNICEF has supported social workers to establish a strategy to address discrimination against the Roma and “increase access to social benefits among Roma communities,” the UNICEF website highlights.

Furthermore, in Bulgaria, UNICEF is supporting the operation of programs in three family centers to reduce the prevalence of child marriage among the Roma and strengthen access to high school education for young Roma girls. The programs, which also aim to change societal mindsets about gender, have managed to provide “hundreds of Roma adolescents to date with health and education advice and support,” UNICEF says.

The Roma people in Europe are a highly marginalized group that faces a higher risk of poverty. Comprehensive solutions and strategies to address marginalization and discrimination will help the Roma rise out of poverty.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

European Roma Persecution
Amid the genocide of 6 million Jewish people during the Holocaust in World War II, there existed a simultaneous, lesser-known genocide. The Roma minority in Europe, known derogatorily as “Gypsies,” also became targets of an extermination campaign between 1933 and 1945, with estimates indicating that the Germans and their partners murdered “between 250,000 and 500,000 European Roma during World War II,” according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia. However, the persecution of the Roma, now a population of about 12 million in Europe, did not begin or end in that period of history. Organizations are making efforts to address ongoing European Roma persecution and promote cultural unity.

History of European Roma Persecution

The plight of the European Roma, who originated as a nomadic group from Northern India, began with their enslavement “in the Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia” from the 14th to 19th centuries. As slaves or serfs to “noblemen, landowners, monasteries and the state,” the Roma “were sold, bartered, flogged and dehumanized” for their artisanship and labor.

Racial discrimination continued during the World War II genocide and continues now with hate crimes. For instance, in June 2021, roughly a year after police killed George Floyd in the United States, a police officer in the Czech Republic suffocated a homeless Roma man to death.

European Roma Poverty

The Roma’s economic plight escalated during Europe’s socialist era in the 20th century. In former Czechoslovakia, in 1958, authorities outlawed nomadism and pushed the Roma into state-assigned housing, often breaking up extended families. Employment was also limited to unskilled labor. In Hungary in the 1980s, the government declared more than 40% of the Roma as “functionally illiterate” and created segregated schools for them to attend, resulting in crowded and substandard educational classes for the Roma.

A cycle of poverty, poor education and unemployment persisted to a point of systemic destitution. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, European governments used the Roma as scapegoats for inflation, unemployment, crime and “scarcity of goods,” further denying the Roma access to government welfare services.

A survey of 34,000 Roma individuals across nine European countries in 2016 indicates that about 80% of the Roma live in conditions of poverty.

Erasure of European Roma Identity

A major obstacle in the European Roma’s fight to improve their social and economic condition is the inability to achieve the legal status of a minority for many years.

In socialist countries in the mid-20th century, many rights for minorities had come from the official declaration of that group as a legal minority. These rights included receiving schooling and media broadcasts in a minority language.

Because of existing stereotypes, as well as unwillingness to bear responsibility for providing for an ethnic minority, countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia decided to regard Roma as an inferior social group rather than a nationality.

Several nations even made concerted efforts to erase Roma’s identity. For example, in the 1960s in Bulgaria, the government banned the practice of Roma culture, including language, traditional music and dance and Muslim religious practices, perpetuating efforts to eradicate their culture and furthering European Roma persecution.

The Fight for a European Roma Nation

In 1948, the Roma in Yugoslavia began to establish themselves politically and culturally. In Macedonia, the Roma secured seats in the Skopje town council and formed a cultural association, Phralipe (translating to Brotherhood). These stand as the earliest steps to establish a sort of safe space for Romani individuals to ensure their representation and preservation within European society.

The first World Romani Congress took place in 1971 in London, setting a precedent for similar congresses to meet and discuss the establishment of a greater Roma identity. These congresses, which continue today, inspired Roma to embrace their identity, establish their status as a minority diaspora with legal protections and created education programs focused on preserving Roma culture and empowering the Roma community.

Looking Toward the Future

Unfortunately, Romani identity and statehood are not quite enough to lift the minority out of their impoverished and marginalized circumstances. Despite the achievements of the World Romani Congresses, poverty rates of the European Roma remain high and both violence and racism persist.

Unfortunately, empowerment or establishing statehood cannot solve these issues that continue to plague the lives of European Roma alone. Rather, the World Romani Congress must look toward substantive economic solutions to uplift the Roma and alleviate their poverty.

Organizations today continue to work to find solutions to the systemic issues forcing Roma into poverty. The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an organization that European activists and civil rights lawyers founded in the 1990s. The ERRC advocates for “the elimination of discriminatory structures that prevent Roma from enjoying full equality.” In 2016, the organization elected a Romani president, and in 2017, the ERRC had a majority Roma staff.

Organizations, such as the ERRC, are gradually reforming the institutions that perpetuate European Roma persecution and poverty.

– Alisa Gulyansky
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Among the Roma in Bucharest
Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a vibrant urban city with booming contemporary institutions and a greater income per capita than the European Union average. However, there remains a population of individuals that do not benefit from Bucharest’s expanding economy: the Roma. Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is of particular concern. According to Brookings, the Roma in Romania face an employment rate of about 72% and endure a poverty rate of almost 70%.

Who Are the Roma People?

Scholars agree that the Roma people’s ancestors immigrated to Europe from the Punjab region of Northern India, across “what is now Iran, Armenia and Turkey.” From the ninth century forward, the Roma progressively expanded throughout Europe.

As a nomadic group traveling with few essentials or assets, the Roma face widespread marginalization in Europe. Dating back to the 14th century, some of the Roma arrived in Bucharest, Romania, where they became slaves of the state, institutions or private people. In 1860, the Roma became free but they still relied completely on the state and landowners for sustenance and survival. Some Roma attempted to break this dependency by banding together in clans and migrating.

The Roma in Bucharest

The European Union (EU) is home to “between 10 million and 12 million Roma” people. According to the Council of Europe, roughly 1.85 million Roma reside in Romania and make up 8.32% of the population. These are all preliminary estimates because the Roma people usually choose to reveal their ethnicity only to other Roma people. This renders it challenging to estimate the actual number of Roma people in Romania’s capital of Bucharest, although there is no uncertainty that a considerable number of Roma people reside in Bucharest.

Roma Poverty

The Roma people live and travel in close-knit groups with large families. The Roma are one of Europe’s most prominent ethnic minorities. Aside from these characteristics, people know very little about the Roma people; they speak their own language, which is undocumented, they have unique traditions and they keep to themselves.

Poverty among the Roma in Bucharest is largely the most pressing issue within their communities. Seen as a “problem” within Bucharest, the Roma population reside in slums or ghettos where they live in close quarters with few possessions. In the slums, the Roma often live in squalor with minimal food or water.

The Roma people labor in very specific occupations such as fortune-telling, metalwork and agricultural work. Some, on the other hand, do not occupy genuine occupations, but instead, steal and swindle in order to supplement their income due to their circumstances of poverty. Because the Roma face high rates of unemployment, they end up with minimal means of survival.

Apart from marginalization, one of the main issues that greatly contributes to their circumstances of poverty is a lack of education. Because of a lack of documentation or identification, the Roma struggle to access education, health care and other essential services. The Roma experience profound deprivation across every standard —  education, employment and health.

Roma Discrimination

In Bucharest, Europeans often refer to the Roma people as Gypsies, which is a discriminatory term when used by individuals of non-Roma descent. In fact, the term “Gypsy” is one of the most derogatory social labels in Europe, particularly in Romania. The discrimination the Roma endure also impacts their access to the necessary services and resources to live a better quality of life.

What is the Drug Problem?

Many Roma people in Bucharest rely on drugs to help them cope with their difficult circumstances. Drug use is common among individuals of all ages in Bucharest’s Roma ghettos. In an interview with author Max Daly, Dan Popescu, harm-reduction services coordinator at the Asociatia Romana Anti-SIDA (ARAS) said that “The general public’s attitude to the Roma and to the drug addicts is that we are wasting money on nothing, that it’s better to let them die than to help them.”

Due to their lack of legitimate identification, only 45% of the Roma have access to health care and welfare benefits. Roma drug users often use unclean needles, leaving their community with high rates of HIV and hepatitis C. The fact that authorities rarely acknowledge the Roma only exacerbates the situation.

The Good News

The Romanian Harm Reduction Network (RHRN) aims to reduce “risky behaviors” linked with drug abuse “by increasing the degree of communication between partner organizations and improving the quality of services for drug users at the national level.” RHRN develops and encourages reforms aimed at facilitating the application of successful socioeconomic strategies and initiatives aimed at drug users and various socially marginalized subgroups.

To address the drug problem among people in Bucharest, the RHRN provides training to professionals to enhance their “capacity in harm reduction and HIV prevention service provision.” The curriculum covers topics such as syringe exchange initiatives and treatment with opiate substitutes as well as guidelines for communication and advocacy. These collective efforts ensure a more comprehensive response to the drug problem in Romania, with a particular focus on marginalized groups like the Roma.

Despite the fact that the Roma encounter poverty and oppression in Bucharest, various groups are working to help them rise out of poverty to become an empowered, self-sufficient and thriving population.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Working to Empower the Roma 
The Roma represent a previously nomadic group of people who are now scattered throughout Europe. Since their initial migration from India to Europe in the 10th century, the Roma have endured persecution. As a result, an estimated 80% of Roma people located in Europe live in poverty. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower the Roma people throughout Europe.

How Discrimination Drives Poverty

The Roma have faced discrimination in Europe for centuries — an issue that persists even today. Data from 2016 reveals that, at the time, one out of every four Roma encountered some form of discrimination in the past year. Discrimination often restricts people’s opportunities and limits their capacity to escape poverty. For example, the Roma often struggle to find housing and face forced evictions in countries like Bulgaria and Italy. Thus, advocating against anti-Romani discrimination is imperative to alleviating poverty among the Roma.

3 Organizations Fighting for the Roma

  1. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). Founded in 1996, this Roma-led nonprofit organization advocates for the rights of the Roma people through legal action, policy change and education. The ERRC has brought attention to the failure to protect the rights of the Roma throughout Europe, making the situation a primary political focus. The organization has relayed the urgency of this issue to member states of the European Union as well as candidate countries to ensure it receives attention. Furthermore, the ERRC has taken legal action by initiating more than 500 court cases to hold various governments, organizations and even individuals accountable for any discriminatory or violent actions against the Roma.
  2. European Roma Grassroots Organisations Network (ERGO). This network, established in 2008, is a conglomeration of more than 30 smaller organizations that are working together toward the common goal of addressing anti-Romani discrimination. The network’s main objective is to make policymakers aware of how discrimination against the Roma is responsible for the group’s struggle to achieve equality and inclusion. ERGO endorses improved policies to empower the Roma while launching several public campaigns to raise awareness of the issues plaguing the Roma.
  3. The Roma Support Group (RSG). This organization is a Roma-led, U.K.-based group that supports Roma families by offering them a diverse selection of services, such as homeschooling resources, a guide to COVID-19 prevention and steps to follow to report hate crimes. The RSG intends to better the current situation of these families by helping them conquer obstacles such as discrimination and exclusion. It also advocates for the Roma within the public sphere to raise awareness of the struggles they face. This organization is responsible for various projects including the Financial Inclusion Project in London. This initiative helps alleviate poverty among the Roma by familiarizing them with the welfare system and increasing their financial knowledge.

Moving Forward

For years, the Roma have faced persecution and marginalization across the world. As a result of this discrimination and exclusion, many Roma people have fallen below the poverty line. However, organizations are working to empower the Roma while fighting for their rights to live a life free of discrimination. By supporting organizations that empower and protect the Roma, even an ordinary individual can make a difference in the lives of this marginalized group.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Human Trafficking in Ukraine
Human trafficking in Ukraine is a serious and overwhelming issue that has affected the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Ukraine is one of the most prominent countries in Europe for human trafficking with over 260,000 Ukrainian trafficking victims over the last 30 years. Despite this disheartening number, Ukraine’s government and some organizations are fighting human trafficking in Ukraine.

The History of Trafficking in Ukraine

When Ukraine became a separate nation in 1991, the slave and human trafficking trade skyrocketed. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has worsened the issue as it has caused displacement for millions of individuals. These individuals are far more susceptible to ending up in the trafficking trade because of the vulnerable state they are in due to the turmoil between the two countries, according to the Library of Congress Law. Traffickers often target the Roma community of Ukraine, a nomadic Indo-Aryan group of people, because they lack access to state social assistance programs. Low-skilled laborers, as well as children in state-run orphanages, are targets for traffickers as well. This is because they are poor and powerless in the eyes of the country.

Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking in Ukraine

Ukraine is taking huge strides in its governmental policies to combat human trafficking. The International Organization for Migration Ukraine Counter-Trafficking Program aims to support efforts to combat trafficking in Ukraine. It also provides access for victims to receive “assistance and justice.” The IOM program identified and was able to help around 600 victims of human trafficking from January to June 2019, with about 16,000 victims having received assistance throughout 19 years of the program’s existence. Without the help of the IOM, efforts towards tracking down victims and traffickers would not be as prominent.

Governmental Progress in Fighting Human Trafficking in Ukraine

Ukraine’s government has made huge strides in law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking in the country. This includes increasing the number of investigated offenses and apprehensions from previous years. The government has increased financial assistance to victims of human trafficking. It has also been providing shelter through government housing, psychological assistance and medical care. The Ministry for Social Policy has continually made attempts at anti-trafficking efforts by creating Child Protection Day and World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

Looking Ahead

The issue of human trafficking in Ukraine is on an upswing. This is because there is more governmental recognition of the way it is impacting Ukrainian citizens. With the efforts of organizations like IOM, there are more forces garnering action towards fighting human trafficking in Ukraine.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bulgaria
Today, human trafficking in Bulgaria exploits both foreigners and Bulgarian citizens in an ongoing trade for sex, free labor and forced begging. This small Eastern European country is one of the main sources of human trafficking in the entire E.U. Traffickers transport people, mostly women, from Bulgaria to Sweden, France and other countries in Western Europe.

The Status of Human Trafficking in Bulgaria

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons tracks countries’ efforts to eradicate this form of “modern slavery,” and sets worldwide standards to follow. A 2020 report noted that while Bulgaria does not yet meet the minimum international standards to eliminate trafficking, the country is making immense progress. As a result, Bulgaria has a Tier 2 standing.

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the tier system comprises of three tiers:

  • Tier 1: A government complies fully with the minimum requirements to eliminate severe forms of human trafficking.
  • Tier 2: A government does not comply fully with minimum requirements, but is making significant efforts to do so.
  • Tier 3: A government does not comply and is not making efforts to do so.

The People’s Struggle

The majority of victims of human trafficking in Bulgaria are from marginalized communities, most often Bulgarians of Turkish and Romani descent. These communities are more vulnerable than other groups because of their minority status, prolific poverty and history of discrimination in the country.

Even now, many European countries discriminate against Roma in particular. Reliable numbers of Roma and other marginalized communities are difficult to find, as these populations are often disincentivized from self-identifying. Estimates put the current percentage of Roma in Bulgaria anywhere from 5% to 21%. However, Bulgaria has one the largest populations of Roma in the world.

Despite this exposure to the culture, anti-Roma attitudes are prevalent and widely accepted. The prejudice against them exacerbates poverty and restricts access to health care and education, leading to higher rates of incarceration and greater vulnerability to crimes such as human trafficking.

Fighting for Human Rights

While the Bulgarian government struggles to initiate policies that ensure due process for human traffickers, accountability for corrupt law enforcement and proper victim identification, other contenders do their best to pick up the slack. NGOs and nonprofit organizations across Europe recognize the human rights crisis in Bulgaria and are stepping up to the plate.

In 1994, two women founded the Animus Association to support women who survive traumatic and violent events. Today, it organizes projects aimed at successful communication and gender equality in Bulgaria.

In a recent project dubbed TOLERANT, the Animus Association partnered with programs in Greece, Romania, Italy and Austria to promote employment opportunities for women who experienced sex trafficking. This project, though set back with the emergence of COVID-19, inspired the installation of a permanent program called the National Program for Prevention and Counteraction to Human Trafficking and Protection of Victims.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgaria’s largest human rights group, runs a variety of projects and campaigns prioritizing respect, the protection of vulnerable populations and informing the public on important issues. In some cases, the committee provides free legal aid to victims of human rights violations. In 2019 alone, the committee represented people in 64 different cases. One of these was a case representing a minor victim of gang rape. It also closely monitors human rights violations in the country for documentation and research.

These organizations, along with many others, are the people’s tools for abolishing human rights crises like human trafficking in Bulgaria and all of Europe. Similar to the ACLU or NAACP of the U.S., programs that begin as small grassroots movements can grow to influence governments on a national and even international scale.

Power to Heal

While some organizations focus directly on the issues at hand, others take a more nuanced and preventative approach. Programs like the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC) support disadvantaged communities by giving them a voice. ERIAC regularly provides opportunities for jobs and access to symposiums and events specifically for Roma. Through the celebration of art, history and culture, individuals become empowered to affect change and positive development in their own communities.

As communities begin to heal from the generational and ongoing trauma, the hope is to continue that healing outwards. ERIAC founders believe that exposure to art, personal narratives and examples of success will decrease prejudice and ignorance by educating the wider population. In addition to providing a platform for artists, all membership fees go directly to the winner of the Tajsa Prize. ERIAC awards this prize annually to an emerging artist who embodies the aspirations of ERIAC, using their art to lift up their communities.

There is a long way to go before Bulgaria eradicates human trafficking, but in the meantime, Bulgarian citizens are finding their own ways to combat this violence. Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations are emerging to do the work that needs doing, advocating for the country’s citizens in a myriad of ways. Healing can happen even in the midst of adversity, and the amplification of the voices and culture of survivors is an essential part of this process.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Greek RomaIn Greece, tensions remain high between citizens of Greek descent and the Greek Roma. The Romani people, a historically disadvantaged and impoverished community, are spread throughout Europe and the world. Originating from India, the Roma migrated to Europe around the ninth century C.E. They have since built homes and lives for generations in countries such as Greece, but nevertheless, continue to face ostracism and persecution.

History of Problems

In Greece specifically, tensions have risen between the Romani and non-Romani Greeks since the economic crisis in 2009. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Taso Lagos, professor at the University of Washington School of International Studies and researcher of the conditions of the Roma in Greece, said that for non-Romani Greeks, the unemployment rate at the time was “as high as 30%,” but for the Roma, “went up to 60%.”

Ten years after the crisis, the Romani people in Greece still face extreme poverty. A recent eye-opening report showed that while approximately 20% of the general Greek population is at risk of poverty, the same is true for nearly 100% of the Greek Roma.

According to Professor Lagos, there are 351 Roma settlements throughout Greece. In these settlements, many Roma “live in tents where [they] have no running water, no central heating” and “no indoor plumbing.” Some also live in permanent housing such as caravans, but conditions there are also commonly bleak.

In the early 2000s, the Greek government set out with a plan to improve conditions for the Roma, but many say that these efforts were unsuccessful and that most communities are in the same conditions as before.

Causes of Poverty

There is an ongoing debate over what causes this vicious cycle of poverty affecting the Roma. Many people attribute it to a problem of widespread lack of education. More than 90% of Roma children in Greece do not attend preschool or kindergarten. In fact, slightly less than 50% of Roma children will never receive any formal schooling.

In the case of Romani girls especially, education is a primary concern. Many enter marriages as teenagers and are expected to run the household. Therefore, these girls are unable to finish high school. Others exit the school system early due to perceived dangers and stereotypes Romani people hold about the general Greek community. Professor Lagos explains that many Roma girls do not finish high school because “their parents regard Greek schools as denizens of vice and licentiousness.”

Further, the Romani children who do attend school are frequent victims of bullying. Sometimes the early recipients of prejudice, these children endure stereotypes that Romani people are either dirty, drug users or thieves. These perceptions and stereotypes run deep in both communities and continue to add to the problems affecting the well-being of all people.

In one instance, police removed a young girl from her Roma family when her caretakers were accused of kidnapping her. This proved to be false through DNA evidence. But, many Roma continued to receive backlash and criticism from the general population following the event.

Signs of Progress

Years later, there remains ongoing misunderstanding and lack of communication between the two groups. However, some believe that there is hope for improving relations between non-Roma and Roma. This will improve other conditions for the Romani people.

Recent subjects inspiring calls to action for the Greek Roma include:

  • Health and COVID-19: As the virus continues to spread throughout Greece, the Roma are at a greater risk of infection, often lacking access to clean water and sanitation. Many cite the pandemic as a primary example of the need for better health care and living conditions for the Roma.
  • Education: Teacher training programs focusing on the education of Roma students with respect and understanding of their unique struggles and adversity have grown in popularity in Greece. These programs encourage the safety and well-being of children while in school and destigmatize Roma students.
  • Integration: The EU funded a program to last from 2014 to 2020 in which part of the proceeds would be designated to help integrate the Roma community into greater Greek society to combat social exclusion. As around half of Greek Romani people live on the margins of Greek society, this is especially important to influence all other aspects of improvement.

Another group that is effecting positive change for the Greek Roma is the Panhellenic Association of Greek Roma. This organization, which began in 2007, has afforded more than 50 Roma people grants. These grants help them establish businesses, connect community members with social and emotional support and provide legal support to those struggling with housing.

Professor Lagos spoke on the importance of communication between the Roma and non-Roma of Greece. He argued that it is critical “to institutionalize community dialogue between regular people.” This, he says, “would have a huge impact.”

Aradia Webb
Photo: Flickr

Combat Poverty in RomaniaIn an effort to combat the nation’s longstanding battle with poverty, the Romanian Government passed 47 measures in 2015/16 to combat poverty in Romania through to 2020.

Poverty in Romania

At the time these measures passed into law, 40.2% of Romanian people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Furthermore, absolute poverty in Romania increased from 23.4% in 2008 to 27.7% in 2012. Low educational attainment, intergenerational transmission of poverty and lack of inter-regional mobility all contribute to the integral causes of poverty in Romania.

However, the Romanian government set a substantial and significant new precedent on how the nation combats poverty by adopting The National Strategy and Strategic Action Plan on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction for 2015-2020. These measures hope to reduce the many causes of poverty in Romania.

Key Measures:

  • Increasing employment rate through labor market activation programs
  • Increasing financial support for low-income individuals
  • Improving social inclusion of marginalized communities
  • Improving the functionality of social services
  • Reducing school drop-out rates
  • Scaling-up of national health programs
  • Integrating social assistance benefits with social services, employment services and other public services.

These measures were an encouraging shift in political focus that revolved around social benefits and a more community-based and integrated approach that generated widespread support. The World Bank supports these measures, commenting that these measures will strongly contribute to narrowing poverty gaps in the country.

Impact of Poverty Reduction Strategy

Since the adoption of these measures, monthly income per person increased by 10% between 2016 and 2017 and by 16% between 2017 and 2018, in part due to the increases in public-sector wages and improved minimum wages and tax cuts. As a result, poverty rates fell from 28.4% in 2014 to 15.8% in 2017.

Currently, the employment rate at 68.8% is approaching the EU 2020 target and is just below the EU average of 72.2%. Additionally, the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU at 4.9%.

Implementation Delays Cause Concern

Although clear steps toward improving Romania’s struggle with poverty have emerged, these measures have received criticism as expectations have determined that many measures could have delayed or minimal results. These concerns were further exacerbated in 2017 when a change in government occurred. The political change delayed implementation and altered the original plan, putting full implementation in jeopardy.

In addition, more legislation is necessary to address the growing condition of the Roma minority group residing in Romania. A whole 78% of Roma are at risk of poverty compared to 35% for non-Roma citizens. Furthermore, 84% of Roma households do not have access to a water source, sewage or electricity. To successfully combat poverty in Romania, the Roma need to be prioritized.

Poverty Reduction Progress

While no single piece of legislation will be the end all be all to combat poverty in Romania, the anti-poverty measures passed in 2015/2016 have shown that a top-down, legislation-focused approach to fighting poverty can lead to progress, poverty reduction and improved social inclusion.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small country in the Balkan region of Southeastern Europe, has been at the forefront of many episodes of violence, most notably the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. Today, the country is more stable. However, the issue of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina is an issue for both Bosnian nationals and foreign citizens.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is an annual report that the U.S. has produced since 2000. It rates countries on their efforts to combat human trafficking. Tier 1 countries meet minimum international standards on the issue, Tier 2 do not but are making significant efforts to do so and Tier 3 are not making efforts to do so.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been on a watchlist between Tier 2 and Tier 3 for the past three years, meaning it does not meet minimum standards and is making significant efforts to improve the situation but has an increasing number of victims. Here are five facts about human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

  1. The Numbers – The government identified 61 potential victims of trafficking in 2020, up from 39 the previous year. Of these, 36 were children, 49 were female and 12 were male. Moreover, 19 of the victims were victims of sex trafficking. Most of the victims were domestic, although a few were foreign nationals.
  2. Legal System – The country, though united under one constitution, further divides into two entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (F BiH) and Republika Srpska (RS) as well as one self-governing administrative district in Brčko. Each has its own constitution and legislature. Additionally, the Federation includes 10 cantons, each with its own constitution (modeled after that of the Federation) as well as individual legislative and executive powers. Human trafficking is illegal across these governments. However, a lack of communication and cooperation between them hinders efforts at prosecuting cases across cantons or entities. Different governments mandate different things for victims: for example, the RS mandates access to therapy, but not in the Federation. Because of difficulties collaborating across regional governments, it is challenging for the government to have a unified approach toward human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  3. At the Border – Border police and other first responders lack the training, capacity and procedures necessary to screen large groups of migrants and refugees for victims of trafficking. When potential victims received identification and underwent interviews with law enforcement, the process was not transparent, and victims needed to cooperate with investigations to receive assistance. Additionally, police often lacked interpreters to effectively communicate with victims.
  4. Shelters and Funding – The government operates seven shelters and a mobile team for 160 street children in Sarajevo, who are at a higher risk. Government shelters lacked the funding for anything beyond the most basic services and could only provide short term accommodations. Government ministries allotted 130,000 convertible marks (roughly $70,000) per year to NGOs assisting victims in 2018 and 2019, however, the funding simply did not reach the NGOs in 2019 due to issues in the state budget. Separate funds emerged for domestic and international victims, and although domestic victims are the majority, they receive lower funding (70,00 marks in comparison to 60,000.) The funds are not combined, and any rollover of funds for foreign victims did not go toward domestic ones.
  5. Roma Minority – According to official statistics, the Roma people number around 25,000 to 50,000, but the official number is likely much higher due to stigma associated with the term. UNICEF describes the situation as one of “chronic, multidimensional poverty.” The Roma are especially susceptible to human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, victims of trafficking among Roma children received dismissal as “traditional cultural practices.” Moreover, those investigating accepted that the children had gone home to their families even when those families participated in the act. Government discussions on anti-trafficking measures did not include Romani communities, despite their status as having continuous victims.

Solutions to Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Although the problem persists, new efforts have emerged to fight human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These include:

  1. New National Strategy – In January 2020, the country adopted a new National Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Persons with representatives from all administrative entities. It incorporated suggestions by international monitoring agencies and aims to address these five issues: support, prevention, prosecution, victim support and partnership.
  2. Council of Europe – The government recently entered into joint action with the Council of Europe, which aims to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This involves seminars and awareness training which will enable better management and identification of trafficking victims and improving the legal system’s response to human trafficking.
  3. Administrative Reform – In 2018, there were just four Regional Coordinating Teams (RCTs) to manage human trafficking across administrative borders. The number increased to 18, and each received new training and technical assistance. This will go a long way to mitigating issues that competing levels of administration within the country causes.

Although human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been an ongoing issue, the current efforts will hopefully ensure a reduction in victims going forward. Through the country’s creation of a National Strategy to its work to raise awareness about the issue, human trafficking should hopefully become a part of the past for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

– Bradley Cisternino
Photo: Wikipedia Commons