ECRI report on Austria & Czech Republic

by Yasmin Hegazy, ERIO on October 26th, 2015

ECRI’s latest report on Austria: Steps Forward by the Austrian Government

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) released its fifth report on Austria on the 13th of October 2015. ECRI is an independent Human Rights body of the Council of Europe and it monitors main trends in racism and discrimination issues in the Council’s member states. The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) presents a summary of ECRI’s analysis and recommendations related to the Roma population in Austria.

In Austria the Roma population today is between 35,000 to 50,000 people. Many of the Roma currently residing in Austria immigrated from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1960s. Today they are part of the Austrian population and efforts have been taken to further their ability to exercise their rights. These efforts have been formulated in the Roma-Strategy in 2012. In Austria’s 2013 progress report, the projects and steps it has taken were presented. Furthermore, a dialogue platform has been formed to monitor the implementation of the strategy. During a country visit by ECRI’s delegation, Roma organizations showed that they are running projects in the fields of employment and education with positive results. (p. 29, art. 71)

ECRI finds that Austria faces some difficulties in implementing measures to further the work being done on the integration of the Roma. The incentive of the Dialogue platform has been set up. It is currently in the stock-taking and data collection phase. The platform has shown to be ineffective with ambiguous goals.  This has been shown by it completing one out of three commissioned studies in 2014. Moreover, there are problems when it comes to funding. There is no national budget present and the EU funds arrive late. The organization does not have the financial means to pre-finance the projects until the EU funding is sent. The need to find other financing sources creates great difficulties. (p. 29, art 72)

Evidence of a clear commitment is shown by the Austrian government to further the efforts taken to fulfil the goals of the Austrian National Roma Strategy. The Roma-Strategy’s update is scheduled for 2016. Also, the call for empowerment of Roma in the labor market was published in April 2015. Furthermore, ECRI was informed that on the 28th November 2014, the Austrian ESF operational program was approved by the European Commission. The authorities have stated that they will provide pre-financing for the projects dealing with the Roma community. (p. 29, art. 72)

Moreover, the Austrian government has introduced in 2012 an integrated set of policies, as a part of a broader social inclusion framework. The purpose of these policies is to eradicate the marginalization of the Roma and other groups that are socially disadvantaged. This would be in effect through general and Roma targeted integration measures. The measures have been publicized on the National Roma Contact point website. Representatives of the Roma community, administrative authorities at federal, regional and local level and also academia are present. The aim is for them to discuss and monitor the implementation of the measures aimed at promoting Roma integration. These meetings discussing education, employment, healthcare, housing and anti-discrimination contribute to mainstreaming Roma integration policies in the wider framework of the Austrian social inclusion polices. (p. 63)

Furthermore, the National Roma Contact Point collects relevant data on social and economic effects of the integration measures as recommended by the European Council; to evaluate the degree of success of the integration measures from the Austrian framework of Roma integration. There have been three qualitative studies conducted in cooperation with relevant ministries. (p. 63)

Along with the previous mentioned bodies that have been set up to further the progress on Roma rights, employment has also been specifically targeted by the Austrian government. Through the European Social fund, 1 million euros are allocated annually to support employment measures targeting the Roma. Published on April 2015 was the first call for submissions of projects. Their aim is to develop tools to improve labour market measures, precisely focusing on consultation and qualification measures. The goal is the preparation of a one year curriculum for key players that further the efforts taken to empower the Roma. When it came to the selection process, the applications for the Roma had preferential ranking. The selection was finalized on 20 September 2015 and projects could potentially start on 1st November 2015. (p. 63)

ECRI recommends that apart from the authorities’ efforts when it comes to integration measures and data collection; the authorities should give focus to implement the programs and (pre)-finance the programs at a faster pace to achieve their objectives in the Roma-Strategy. Moreover, through positive measures the Roma communities and organizations should be empowered. Efforts such as including a percentage of staff of Roma decent or that speaks the Romani language could be a step forward. (p. 29, art. 73)

Moreover, ECRI also proposes for the government to combat discrimination that the Roma are facing through strengthening the civil society to have a stronger voice in the integration of the Roma and also through improving the education system. (p. 29, art. 71)
See the link below for the full report:
ECRI’s latest report on the Czech Republic: On-going Discrimination and Ineffective Official Measures

The current situation in the Czech Republic is worrying. The Roma community is a recognized minority along with 13 others as of 2013. The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities stated that the Roma face negative attitudes and prejudices (p. 23, art. 73). In the media the Roma are heavily targeted. A study analysed a variety of media sources and found that most of the reporting about the Roma community shows Roma criminality, anti-Roma marches and growing anti-Gypsyism. Furthermore, Class 8A a TV series shows negative images of the Roma as being unambitious and difficult to educate. ECRI sees that this show reinforces the already existing stereotypes the society has about the Roma community (p. 17, art. 41-42).

During the time of political campaigning anti-Gypsyism discourse takes place. Dawn of Direct Democracy has expressed anti-Roma sentiments and told the Roma to leave the Czech Republic and return to India. Also, on the eve of Roma Genocide Remembrance Day in 2014, Dawn’s leader made controversial comments about a concentration camp where the Roma where killed and tortured. He denied the historical events and this caused Roma activists and NGOs to file complains (p. 15, art. 30-31).

The main target of violence in the Czech Republic is the Roma community (p. 21, art. 61). On the 24th of August a protest took place by far-right groups that was described as the most violent riot. Around 2000 individuals were involved in the protests in eight towns. ECRI equates the event’s occurrences to one of a race war (p. 21, art. 64). A study showed that 32% of Roma have faced hate speech and violence. These acts often are under reported due to fear of revenge and discrimination by the law enforcement authorities (p. 21, art. 62). ECRI sees that the discriminatory actions are a part of prejudices towards the Roma and thus the authorities should combat hostility against their community instead of treating the protests as events against the system in itself (p. 23, art. 70).

There have been efforts taken by the civil society to decrease the aggressive anti-Roma actions. A coalition called “Let’s Block the Marches!” uses tools such as the “human field” tactic and peaceful counter demonstrations. Moreover, the organizations in charge of these efforts have provided traumatized victims of the anti-Roma demonstrations with support ranging from psychologists to priests. ECRI sees these initiatives as a positive step forward to create an integrated society (p. 22, art. 66).

ECRI recommends that the use of the term “inadaptable” in reference to vulnerable group including the Roma to not be used. It has been employed officially at a public meeting on safety, coexistence and housing. This term is seen as one that promotes intolerance and prejudice (p. 16, art. 34).

Political actions:

The authorities have a good understand of right-wing extremism and their Report on Extremism in the Territory published annually provides an analysis of the situation (p. 22, art. 67). To combat extremism in 2013 and in efforts to decrease the anti-Roma violence, the government has taken a step to include police officers in the criminal police specialized in extremism in every regional police department. Training is in force to train officers to identify actions that could potentially turn into dangerous behaviour. Moreover, a Roma police assistance group is helping solve local issues. The efforts conducted by the police have been acknowledged by many NGOs for their improved responses; as it could be a key factor in the decrease of violence in 2014 (p. 22, art. 69).

A Campaign against Racism and Hate Violence targeting young people between the ages of 15-26 is scheduled to take place in 2016. ECRI sees this as a positive step forward by the Czech government. The efforts have taken place due to the average age of offenders being 18 years old. It will focus on vulnerable minority communities and the message of “no hate” will be spread throughout the internet, social media, television and radio. There will also be education measures for the police, teachers and employees of municipalities and public administration. ECRI sees that this campaign should have the Roma issue as its primary focus, and it should involve Roma organizations and Roma citizens in the different phases of the campaign (p. 23, art. 71-72).

The integration policy of the Czech Republic consists of the Concept for Roma Integration 2010-2013 and the Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion 2011-2015. Under preparation is the updated National Roma Integration Strategy 2014-2020. The strategy aims to integrate the Roma into the Czech society and also eliminate the harassment and discrimination they face (p. 23, art. 74).

The concept for Roma Integration was adopted in 2009. The key objective is to create co-existence between the Roma and non-Roma communities. The four main issues of employment, education, healthcare and housing are targeted. Also, there is a focus on indebtedness, security and the Roma culture and language. In the concept there is an implementation plan present with tasks for ministries and recommendations for key people and organizations (p. 23, art. 75). The European Commission assessed the concept and found that it lacks timelines, budget locations, clear measures and a monitoring and evaluation system. There was also a lack in the setting of targets on the integration in education, integration in the labour market and access to housing. Moreover, it has been criticized on being unable to provide an account of the situation of the Roma community. For example, neither specific data was present nor was the number or geographic locations of the Roma community’s distribution. Furthermore, it did not deal with improving the challenges the Roma are facing (p. 24, art. 76).

The Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion 2011-2015 has 71 measures targeting people who have been affected by social exclusion. It is accessed as the best political plan that could improve the situation of the Roma in the Czech Republic. It contains clear target dates, financial requirements and designation of administrators for individual measures. In the field of housing, there are shortcomings as the analysis does not speak about the segregation in the housing policies in the municipalities. Also, there is no discussion on the discrimination in the labour market, when dealing with the issue of employment (p. 24, art. 77).

The Agency for Social Inclusion began working as a coordinating body for Roma integration at the local level in 2008. It had a project dealing with the promotion of social inclusion in Roma localities. To do so it combined efforts with bodies such as NGOs, schools and the police and municipality leaders. The project has a three-year cycle and has been extended until the end of 2015 (p. 24, art. 78).

In the field of employment, discrimination continues being a key factor in labour market segregation. There have been no measures taken in that regard to ECRI’s knowledge. Therefore, ECRI advises the government to take quicker measures to raise awareness among employers to overcome their prejudice against the Roma (p. 25, art 84).
Moreover, ECRI urges authorities to develop and implement a system of social housing that is sustainable. These measures should prevent the recreation of segregated communities and decrease the already existing ones. These issues related to housing contribute to the life expectancy among the Roma community. The Roma life expectancy is 10-15 years less than the majority and the gap for women is greater with about 17 years less (p. 25, art. 85).
ECRI recommends for there to be a clear definition of the concept of social housing and a clear criteria that would apply to the people in need. The number of excluded localities has increased to 400. Moreover, discrimination in the housing market is still present when it comes to vulnerable groups such as the Roma community. Housing vacancies state “No Roma” and it creates difficulties for them to rent housing in the real estate market. These actions led the Roma to rent accommodation in hostels and dormitories at very high prices. The Czech government has prepared a bill on social housing in the second half of 2015, which will be in force in 2017. The plan is to renovate 500,000 vacant flats. ECRI urges the authorities to also take action against the ongoing exploitation of the Roma’s disadvantaged position when it comes to finding housing (p. 30, art. 111-113).
ECRI advised various measures in the issue of education. The segregation of the Roma is present between the Roma in special schools for children with mental disabilities and in mainstream schools. In Roma-only schools about 90% of children are of Roma ethnicity. Perpetuating this segregation are the Roma parents that fear that their children will face bullying if they attend mixed schools. The schools Roma do attend have a reduced curriculum and lower quality education. The cycle of Roma poverty is preserved by the system as a low quality education leads to a decrease in the probability of their employment. To close the gap between Roma and non-Roma children, ECRI welcomes the educational efforts to make the last year of preschool compulsory for all children so that the Roma children do not face challenges when they enrol in primary school education (p. 25, art. 81-83).
ECRI acknowledges that the authorities have taken action. They have submitted several action plans to the Committee of Minsters of the Council of Europe; including the Revised Action Plan in February 2015. The plan has eight points to guarantee that no discrimination takes place based on the ethnicity and social background of the children. ECRI recognizes that the measures have been carried out to a certain extent. Moreover, Article 16 of the Schools Act was amended and enacted on 19 March 2015. The amended act, included measures to support children with special needs individually in mainstream schools. However, the numbers of the segregation still remains disproportionately high as stated by the Committee of Ministers (p. 28, art. 101-107).
Additionally, it must be taken into account that no specific measurable objectives have been set to transfer the Roma children from practical to ordinary education. There is no tracking of ethnicity and so no evidence is present of how many Roma children have been transferred. From all sources, including official governmental sources, it is unlikely that any transfers were carried out (p28, section 5, point 103). There is support for the idea that the Roma children will not be able to integrate from some politicians, the Deputy Public Defender of Rights and special teachers of the Roma schools. The argument they hold is it being difficult for Roma children that have a reduced curriculum to follow the standard curriculum in Czech schools. ECRI does not see this as a valid point as future generations of Roma children should not be enrolled in schools for children with mental disabilities as it would perpetuate the cycle of discrimination and low employment. The situation of the Roma children has not changed since ECRI’s fourth report, and thus ECRI strongly recommends for the Czech authorities to find new ways to integrate Roma pupils in mainstream education following re-diagnosis using updated methods (p. 29, art. 105-109)
In relation to the issues of discrimination, in Lety a Roma Holocaust site is situated that is recognized by the government. ECRI recommends for the government to hear the call of the Roma community to remove the pig farm found beside the site so that the Roma community can have a dignified memorial site for their Holocaust victims (p. 31, art. 119-120).
To move forward ECRI recommends for the Czech authorizes to evaluate the challenges of the Concept for Roma Integration and the Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion. Once the challenges and short comings are analysed, steps to change the status quo should take place. Also, the opinions of the Roma should be taken into account when formulating the new National Roma Integration Strategy (p. 26, art. 88).
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