The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority, representing 10-12 million people. They are also the most impoverished and excluded minority in Europe, with roughly 90% of Roma having an income below the national poverty level in their country, and less than one in three Roma being in paid employment in 2011.

Roma have faced persecution in Europe since the Middle Ages, and still experience widespread discrimination today. In 2005, a group of 12 European countries (from both inside and outside the European Union) launched an initiative called the ‘Decade of Roma Inclusion‘ in an effort to improve the situation. 2015 is the last year of the initiative, and it’s difficult to say that the decade has been a success.

To give you a better idea about the scale of Roma exclusion, we’ve put together some facts and figures about Roma, unemployment and social exclusion in the EU in an infographic below (click for a larger image).

We had a comment sent in by Ruth, arguing that the decade of Roma inclusion has failed in its overall aim to achieve inclusion of Roma. Why did it fail?

To get an answer, we talked to Andrey Ivanov, Head of Sector responsible for Roma and migrant integration at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). What would he say?

IvanovI don’t think failure is the correct word. The decade achieved a lot. What I think was the problem was over-ambitiousness. It was over-ambitious at the start, and it generated a lot of expectations, and not all of those expectations could be met.

I think one of the biggest achievements of the decade was to put Roma inclusion firmly on government agendas. For the first time, governments made pledges to achieve tangible improvements of the situation of Roma, and it triggered a lot of other processes which are important and will bear fruit in the long-run. So, I would say that the momentum which was established by the decade will continue and hopefully will have much more tangible results in the years to come…

To get another perspective, we spoke to Astrid Thors, the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). What would she say to Ruth?

astrid-thorsI think most experts agree on Ruth’s assessment that the decade did not reach its objectives. Maybe because they were not reaching out to local authorities, to the workplace, and there was also… let us say ‘counter-propaganda’ against Roma inclusion. The general atmosphere in Europe has been a challenge. However, I would say that we have seen positive results when it comes to the education of young Roma. And I think we need to take a long-term perspective, like some countries in Europe have been doing. Here we could highlight Sweden with their 20-year action plan on Roma inclusion, for example.

Next, we had a comment sent in by Raluca, who pointed out that Roma often meet additional difficulties and discrimination when trying to find jobs. What does Andrey Ivanov think should be done to overcome this discrimination?

IvanovI would say the more Roma and non-Roma engage in group activities, working together in solving their common shared challenges, particularly at local level, the easier it would be to overcome prejudice, which is basically the starting point of discriminatory behaviour in the labour market.

I think the focus at the local level is critical in this regard, because there are a lot of policies and interventions at EU Member State level or regional level, but the real challenges and problems are happening at local and community level. So, interactions between people, between communities, are the key element of this inclusion chain. And the more we help this interaction be productive and bring people together in achieving common goals, the better.

We put the same question to Astrid Thors. How would she respond to Raluca?

astrid-thorsI think there needs to be leadership. In so many areas, when you want to have societal change, and when we’re talking about attitudes, it must start at the top of an organisation, showing clearly that discrimination is not allowed and we give people equal chances. In the same way, we need also to practice equality in other areas; for example, through anonymous job interviews giving people an equal chance. Because I think that, as soon as you see a person face-to-face, your prejudices starts to vanish. And it’s important to give people equal education, equal opportunities, and equal chances.

Finally, we had a comment sent in from Milen, wanting to know what would be the economic benefits of improving Roma participation in the European labour market. Milen argued that Europe’s Roma populations are often seen as a burden, but it seems to him that they could represent a potential source of growth, particularly as Europe has an ageing population and the Roma constitute a young workforce.

How would Andrey Ivanov respond?

IvanovYes, this is very clearly the case, given the demographic characteristics of both the Roma and non-Roma population. One might easily see that employing Roma and helping them enter the labour market will benefit society as a whole.

What is very important to bear in mind is that including Roma in the lives of their society is not just for the benefit of the Roma. It’s not even primarily for the benefit of the Roma! It is for the benefit of societies in general. So, yes, the obvious answer is that yes, societies would benefit from a younger, more dynamic labour force.

Of course, there would be all the related economic benefits, like greater tax income and so on, but I would say that – in my personal view – the biggest benefits are not even the economic ones. The biggest benefits are healing sometimes fractured societies and communities, overcoming the massive deposits of prejudice. I would say the integration of Roma in the labour market will bring tremendous positive effects in terms of the opportunities for exercising their fundamental rights in other areas. In areas of education, in areas of access to health, political rights, and so on.

So, we often tend to put a price tag, both on the resources invested and on the benefits. The price tag is usually in monetary terms. But, I would suggest going beyond that. Yes, the benefits from including the Roma in the labour market are obvious and very large. But, there is much more than that. Let’s not forget that there’s more than that.

And, to get another perspective, what would Astrid Thors say to Milen?

astrid-thorsI would say that Milen is very, very correct. Europe is a greying area, with many countries facing huge demographic challenges. These challenges, which are already impacting the Nordic countries and some more affluent countries, will come sooner-or-later also to countries that have joined the EU recently, or are EU partners.

There are many, many estimates that the greater the part of the population that is in the active workforce, the greater economic growth there will be, the easier it will become to also have what we believe are ‘European values’, that is the state taking care of everybody and giving chances to everybody. And there are further benefits, such as having a society where everybody feels safe, has the possibility to work, and then you can also decrease other costs for society, like social security structures, unemployment benefits, and so on…

How can we tackle unemployment among Europe’s Roma? How can we overcome the discrimination Roma face when trying to find a job? And what would be the economic and social benefits of Roma inclusion? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Fede Racchi

55 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    James McManama

    Given the current political atmosphere surrounding minorities, I would say it’s going to be a massive challenge.

  2. avatar

    We could start by not building walls – literal WALLS like..Belgium, France, Slovakia ( the worst offender ) and even Hungary and Romania.
    These people have been discriminated for CENTURIES and it has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    “roma steal, don’t help them with our tax money !”
    As a result they have no way to prosper so…they steal.

    “Roma are lazy, they are uneducated, don’t want to work!”
    As a result they have no way to get into education and/or jobs because people discriminate against them.
    Hell , even I who KNOW this is messed up often catch myself being more careful around them and hold tighter to my wallet.

    This mentality needs to change.

    • avatar

      The Romani culture generally doesn’t see the benefit of general education, and in many cases, sees it as a detriment to the otherwise insular nature of the Romani community. This is why some 75% of Romani girls are fully illiterate (Roma are very patriarchal, and more emphasis is on keeping girls from mixing with “outsiders” in schools).

      This apathetic attitude towards childhood education is what is screwing these communities more than anything. By making your kids illiterate, you ensure they will be basically unemployable at any but the absolute most menial tasks. The adults are already in this situation, as their own parents held these same hindering views.

      The Roma, despite being in the extreme minority almost everywhere they travel, consider everyone ELSE to be the “outsiders”, who are not to be trusted. You aren’t going to crack that cultural wall the Roma have erected around themselves with simple opportunities like free education, free healthcare, and such, because they have a cultural resistance to those concepts in the first place. As much as it sounds appalling, if we truly want to fix this problem, we’re going to have to get very serious about mandatory education for all children, including Roma, with severe penalties for those parents who pull their kids out of school for “cultural” reasons. We’ll get nowhere if the adults are permitted to perpetuate their own root cause of poverty by crippling their children.

    • avatar

      Who pays for roads, healthcare, school and all public services if “taxation is violence” ?

  3. avatar
    Michel Percan

    Through higher education and better visibility in media. As hungarian president recentley stated: Roma people can be our needed workforce if we can push them our of social welfare programs. So our dependence on immigrants could be far less then it is today. Coming from the right-party leader this does sound as a surprisingly advanced way of thinking.

  4. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Given the mess Europe is in it can only be done at the expense of none Roma people, obviously.

    • avatar

      Would you rather be robbed and attacked by desperate roma who are shunned completely thanks to people like you simply for their ethnicity?

    • avatar
      Stephen Pockley

      Be robbed wow,maybe we should ease our gun laws in UK.

  5. avatar
    Borislav Valkov

    Nothing is simple. There are a lot more bad examples of roma than good ones. That plus the believe amongst the majority(at leat in my state) they have more rights with no obligations thanks to the NGO’s. Prejudice can’t be tackled by any roma program because (in)equality is often shown in courts: “(S)He is a roma therefore discriminated and has no job(money) and that is why (s)he did that crime”.

    • avatar

      That is bull and you know it.
      NO court ever says something like that.
      At best they take into account discrimination in civil cases but in the case of a CRIME there is no lenience.

  6. avatar
    Vesselin Alexiev

    Education, and massive changes in the educational ciricilum! If one could thrive on social systems, we would all be doing it ;)

  7. avatar
    Niko Kosev


    • avatar

      No, that will force them to STEAL.

  8. avatar
    Gabriel Henriques

    Education is important but the main obstacle is Roma culture and habits. Thus, talk about discrimination is a nonsense, because they freely discriminate themselves.
    When Roma people really wants jobs most of the problem is solved. The rest will vanish as soon as companies confirm they are willing to work.

  9. avatar
    Ionita Marian

    The question we have to answer first is if they want to be included. And, if it’s so, they must stress themselves much more in order to get in the society. I’m very sceptical. For them it is better to live outside than inside comunity.

    • avatar

      Truly there’s always the problem of life style. If they like the way of their life and want to preserve it at the cost of exclusion, then so be it. There should be places like the indian reservations in USA for them to stay.

  10. avatar
    Juraj Vravko

    This is pure bullshit I have NEVER saw someone refusing to hire someone who is Roma for no reason. If he he stinks or he cant even write properly thats a diferent think, but still you can find some construction work for these people. So pure bullshit

    • avatar

      You need to get out more then in the real world…

  11. avatar

    How can we tackle unemployment among Europe’s Roma?

    Good luck, roma ethic group is non integrable by western standards of understanding integration.

  12. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    ridando a tutti gli Stati la capacità di essere STATO . Disoccupazione è sinonimo di cattiva politica

  13. avatar
    Ívаn Lązóv

    Discrimination? What the f#*k?! In poor Bulgaria (minimum MONTHLY wage 170€) a gipsy mom gets social payments around 500€/month..

  14. avatar
    Vicente Silva Tavares

    Come on, they do not look for jobs. They beg, they steal, the best ones sell chinese clothes or ever, they have social housing, children benefits, social benefits, so why to work? And follow rules?

    • avatar
      Jim Young

      You are correct to a point, but as in other societies, there are both good and bad and this applies in Britain, we have thousands of lazy British who refuse to work; living now on only £23,000 a year tax free, that sum is more than most working British earn, again a government totally out of touch, is it no wonder that Britain is the land of milk and honey and it seems everyone is heading our way.

  15. avatar
    Pedro Vicente

    parabéns pela generalização, é sempre bom ver um português a escrever este tipo de coisas, no lugar de procurar soluções.

  16. avatar
    Eva Benko Zoltan

    The first problem that there is no work for anyone. We are following a wrong econmik formuka, the austerity, which is destroing jobs. We have to apply first Keynesian methods to get a moderate inflation , rise sallaries and moove the motor of the economy. The Eurogroup is doing exactly the opposite , which is leading the poor to didastre.

    • avatar

      +1 to this

    • avatar
      Monica Rossi

      +1 for me too

  17. avatar
    Ade Adelina

    Europeans are actually Indo-Europeans.. We are coming from Asia, and we are the first wave of indo-europeans on this territory. Roma people are by now the second wave of indo-europeans on the European territory and they are not yet full integrated between us! .They need some more time for change themselves, and clever people will understand this process. They are by now europeans, but not full integrated!. The discrimination is our big fault and maybe their little fault because they should intensity their process of integration.

    • avatar
      Maia Alexandrova

      No, you are wrong, their ethnicity is not European. They just migrated from India. Roma people are pure Indians – genetically and culturally. They are not an indigenous European population like some falsely present them to be.

  18. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    I favor better morking conditions for European workers and the end of discrimination of people in Europe

  19. avatar
    Giorgos Hatzidakis

    What “discrimination”??? In my poor country (Greece) the HORDES of Gypsies (not roma, they originated in India so Gypsies from Gupta) STEAL, Sacrilege, smuggle drugs and live outside any law… And the police is totally unable to restrain them!!! They even occupy illegally properties and then we are obliged to pay the owners!!! In a country with 500.000 empty houses!!! They are here for 500 years, they got heavily subsidized and still they REFUSE to become loyal citizens, it is not discrimination, they like their criminal way of life!!!

  20. avatar

    The result will be always the same regardless the angle of approaching gypsies aka Roma ethnic group. They will always self segregate themselves from the host nation and end up as a peculiar social problem.

  21. avatar

    A lot of “justification” for discrimination going on in these comments.
    Replace gypsies/roma with “blacks” or “jews” and i DARE you to say that again and not cringe.

    Discrimination is invisible to those who do not feel it.

  22. avatar

    My English teacher was a roma, born along with 2 other brothers, he worked his butt off to get an education, he kept getting refused for jobs and worked as a semi-slave to PAY for a college degree and finally get a job at a high-school.
    So i know from his experience first hand how discrimination works, spare me your “justifications” and excuses.

    • avatar

      How many Gypsy teachers do you know besides the English Language one ? “Success” stories are not uncommon among Roma ethnic group, unfortunately they are very few and seen only from host nation perspective. The ratio of felonies/population are always working against Gypsy minority ethnic group. How come ? The “political correctness” thing doesn’t work in their case.

    • avatar
      Limbidis Adrian

      Even one “success” story shows these people are salvageable.

    • avatar

      Then you are one of the lucky people who met one roma family who did things differently. I have met a lot of roma people and from the hundreds only 2 families worked and sent their children to school. 85% of roma people just don’t want to work. Why would they when they get more money from the government then my mother who works 12 hours in hard labour, and gets 120 Euro in a month.

  23. avatar
    Ionita Marian

    Everyone, but you,on this site, Mr Adrian, is visible. Why ? If this is a realy debate, all of us ought to show who we are, isn’t it ?!

    • avatar
      Limbidis Adrian

      What do you mean “visible” ?

  24. avatar
    Ionita Marian

    It means more information about you if you point on your name.

    • avatar
      Adrian Limbidis

      I was posting from a different computer, now it should appear correctly as i am home.
      I don’t see the relevancy of seeing my full name, but if it pleases you, here you go :)

  25. avatar
    Maia Alexandrova

    The first and most immediate step to integrate the Roma is to make sure they observe the laws of the country they live in. They are socially excluded because many of them break European laws simply by following their cultural traditions, even those who are not poor. There are many rich Roma.

    For example, the main reason for which they leave school is early marriage and pregnancy. This is not a result of discrimination. Roma have preserved their Indian identity and traditions and continue to marry and have children at a very early age, between 12 and 15, especially girls. This means not following the laws regarding peadephilia and compulsory education.

    Another Roma tradition is teaching children from a very young age how to pickpocket – all the techniques up to a master level. The better skills a woman has in stealing from handbags, the more her future husband will pay to her father in order to marry her.

    Violence and exploitation of children for begging or pickpocketing is a big problem in Roma community which is not adequately addressed by the authorities and is definitely not a result of discrimination.

    If there was political will to enforce law among Roma, then probably they would not have been so excluded. Many of them are also racist towards other ethnicities, they do not respect the culture and values of their European host societies. Racial attacks on non-Roma are very common. As long as the police and authorities are not persecuting those criminals, there will be a hostile attitude against the Roma and social exclusion. It is a two-way process.

    So the answer to your question is: enforcing European law and values among Roma communities.

    • avatar
      Ionita Marian

      Realy good presentation. I suscribe, Maia. This is the reality.

  26. avatar
    Niko Rergo

    I’m Rrom, teacher, lawyer. I had been observing the laws of my country. And what? The country didn’t and doesn’t observe my rights and didn’t and doesn’t make me possible to still observe the laws… By the way, Georgios, is your country poor because of 500-years presence of Roms or because of the majority population doesn’t want to work?

    • avatar
      Maia Alexandrova

      Then you are integrated in the mainstream society and are experiencing the same difficulties as every other person in it. The problem is with the non-integrated Roma who refuse to follow the law. If most Roma were like you, then I am sure there would be no problem with this community.

  27. avatar
    Jim Young

    Recenly I watched a British TV program about the Romas, and frankly I felt so sorry for those portrayed; living in Romania, in poverty left on the heap by their government; one mad wanted to work, not work for him, he went to England to find a job to keep his family; he said he would take any work; how impressive is that, unfortunately he could not speak English and finally had to return, I felt so sorry for this grown man and his family, he put many British people to shame who refuse to work and live off benefits; I wish I cold have helped him. The proble it seems lies in Romania and many other Eastern European states who fail their own people. A sad case; a man who wanted to work; could not, no work for him in his own nation; what does that say about the Eurpean Union, nice for those in Brussels earning huge salaries and expense account while men like that man has not work; has no dignity; it is a crime that such people have to be in 2015.

    • avatar

      I live in Romania. And please believe me that the government and the NGO-s have made everything posible to help them. For example in the city where I live they ( the roma people) have made a large comunity with houses built without any autorization. They have electricity but they dont pay for it. They have water, but they dont pay for that either. Is that fair? They have min. 5 – 10 children. And they send them on the streets to beg. They dont send them to school. I spoke to one child about 12 years who I saw constantly on the route to home. I asked him if he goes to school or not, and he replied that no because he has to get every day a certain amount of money, if not he will be beaten. In which world is this normal? They have free places reserved in universities, but those places are rarely occupied because the parents dont value education. About the fact that the person didnt get a job in his home country and had to go to England, believe me that in Romania not only roma people cant get jobs, but most of the people cant. I lived in many cities from small to big, and the problem is the same everywhere. And about discrimination: I am also part of a minority that faces discrimination too, but that didnt stop me from going to school, finishing a university and getting a job.

  28. avatar
    Antonin Iorgovan

    Ca român pot depune mărturie pentru faptul că romii pot îmbunătăți doar situația lor în cazul în care ajunge la locul de muncă. Eu însumi nu am nici o problemă în angajarea romilor, atâta timp cât acestea pot citi scrie, muncesc pentru a se mai bine, și nu fura, o idee foarte simplă. Primul pas în procesul este pentru ei pentru a obține aceste palate monstru inspectate, începe de plată pentru utilități lor electrice și de apă, pentru a primi din bunăstării și curat actul lor. Până când se ia ca prim pas, putem avea dezbateri lungi și inutile cu nici o soluție în vedere

    Romas care merg în țările din Europa de Vest și să spună “eu sunt român”, oferindu-ne românii care muncesc din greu în fiecare zi un nume de rău. Motiv pentru care în mintea unui englez, a romilor și românii sunt același lucru (românii sunt foarte diferite de romi). Aceasta este o problemă reală pentru mine și familia mea, pentru că românii sunt discriminați atunci când vom vizita Italia sau Franța pentru că nu știu diferența dintre rromi (țigani este un termen mult mai brut), și noi românii adevărați

    As a Romanian I can testify to the fact that Romas can only improve their situation if get off their behinds and get to work. I myself do not have any problem in hiring Romas as long as they can read write, work hard to better themselves, and do not steal, a very simple idea. The first step in the process is for them to get those monster palaces inspected, start paying for their electric and water utilities, get out of welfare and clean up their act. Until that first step is taken, we can have long and fruitless debates with no solution in sight

    Romas who go to Western European countries and say “I’m Romanian”, giving us Romanians who work hard everyday a bad name. Which is why in a Englishman’s mind, Romas and Romanians are the same thing (Romanians are very different from Romas). This is a real problem for me and my family, because WE Romanians are discriminated when we visit Italy or France because they don’t know the difference between Romas (gypsy is a more crude term), and us true Romanians

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