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By Mihai Calin Bica

Non-discrimination and equality are fundamental to the exercise and enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Mihai Calin Bica of Roma Support Group reflects on the discrimination faced by Roma communities.

The Roma Support Group (RSG) is a Roma-led registered charity working with Eastern European Roma refugees and migrants since 1998. The RSG’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Roma refugees and migrants by helping them to overcome prejudice, isolation and vulnerability. RSG also aims to make the public aware of Roma culture, heritage and the current situation of Roma people in the UK. @RomaSupport

For most people it is hard to conceive something like that is it possible. I am glad and happy for all those who don’t have to experience discrimination in their lives. And I hope that this will be the case for more and more of us in the future. But for some, it is not the case yet. Too many of us experience discrimination from birth throughout their whole life. And I am not talking about decades ago. I am talking about now, about 2021, in societies of the present day. A lifetime of discrimination? Read more and I’ll let you draw the conclusions.

The genocide of Roma people during the Second World War, known as the Forgotten Holocaust, aimed for the eradication of Roma people. At least 200,000 died by Nazi hands purely on ethnic grounds. But the process of “controlling” the numbers of Roma has continued long after that.

Forced sterilisation of Roma women was a practice in various European countries that continued well after the Second World War. Sweden is believed to have sterilised about 60,000 Roma women between 1935 and  1976. But in some places, the practice continued until very recently. The last known and documented case comes from the Czech Republic  in 2007. Even before Roma children are born, they experience discrimination.

When giving birth, in most East European countries Roma women often receive poor quality support.

Then, when a Roma child is growing up, they are faced with many challenges. Worrying numbers of Roma children are experiencing school segregation, with as many as 45% of schools segregated in some countries, with Roma receiving an inferior form of education.This results in high rates of illiteracy and low levels of education amongst Roma.  According to the Fundamental Rights Agency, in 2014, 20% of Roma self-declared as not being able to read or write while the EU average was 1%.

This has a huge impact on the lives of Roma and their futures, including the likelihood of finding employment in a hugely competitive market. By 2014, in the EU,  less than one in three Roma were in paid employment. Not long ago, a Roma lady told me: “I have tried everything to get a job:  I went to interviews, and I thought, is it because of my scarf and dress? So I had trousers and left the scarf behind but still I was refused the job. I just want a job like everyone else”.

 Life beyond that is not easy. This experience is the same for the adult Roma population living in the UK. The vast majority do not understand what hate crime is, but they say they have experienced it once the definition is explained to them. This happens to us in all areas of life: education, health, employment, access to services, etc.

At least 200,000 Roma have made the UK their home since the fall of the Communist Bloc.  As it does for many, the UK offers better opportunities for Roma as well. While adults can gain jobs better and are able to provide for their families, children have access to quality education.  Our parents still carry the experience of discrimination with them and many of our young adults share similar experiences from their childhood. But the younger generation of Roma children in the UK is the hope for our communities. They need to be encouraged, supported to build confidence, to raise their aspirations and to be proud of their ethnicity. This is how they will become successful Roma adults.

On Zero Discrimination Day we must pledge for no discrimination in UK society for the benefit of us all.