Roma Life Today

Article excerpt

Since the mid-1970s and early 1980s, Roma activists and groups such as the International Romani Union and Roma National Congress have worked to transform the scattered Roma into a cohesive political force. Nevertheless, the Roma remain fragmented and continue to face social exclusion, extreme poverty and discrimination. In 2005, the human rights organization Open Society Institute (OSI) teamed up with the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and other groups to launch the Decade of Roma Inclusion, encouraging national governments and international organizations to come together to create a comprehensive approach to Roma integration. Since 2007, the European Commission (EC), the executive body of the 27-state European Union, has set aside $37 billion for Roma programs. To receive the money, however, countries are required to submit a detailed program to the commission aimed at helping Roma in four areas: education, job creation, health care and housing.

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Much of the EC money is unspent, with a few notable exceptions including Bulgaria, which has a successful work training program for the Roma, and the United Kingdom, which runs support services for the Roma. "What has really been preventing major progress is lack of political will," says Matthew Newman, an EC spokesman. "Many people like to talk about how nothing is being done, but then when it comes to coming up with actual programs, they are less enthusiastic." Bernard Rorke, of Open Society Roma Initiatives, says the situation is more complicated. "At a local level, I do see political will," says Rorke. He believes that politicians are daunted by the application process.

International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits, often in conjunction with OSI, have also stepped in to aid the Roma. The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, a law-oriented version of Doctors Without Borders, launched its Roma Rights Program in 2010 to bring hands-on, pro-bono law services to neglected Roma communities. Through grassroots outreach and in tandem with local Roma leaders and NGOs, the group helps Roma secure identification cards and other important documents and dispenses legal advice. The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative also creates opportunities for Roma leaders from across the Balkans to come together and build transnational networks. …