Member States have recently released their national recovery and resilience plans detailing the projects and infrastructure they intend to target in the utilisation of funds that have been mobilised because of the pandemic. The aim of the recovery and resilience facility, comprised of 672.5 billion in loans and grants for Member States, is to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the pandemic and make Europe more resilient and sustainable in line with the green and digital transitions.

Member States were encouraged to include Roma in their national recovery and resilience plans, which were due for submission by the end of April 2021, within the framework of the new Roma Strategic Framework on equality, inclusion, and participation. Furthermore, countries for which a CSR (country specific recommendation) included mentions to Roma are required to include Roma on the topics outlined in the CSR. Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria all have recent CSRs that recommend increasing Roma access to education, tackling the issue of early school leaving, and putting an end to educational segregation.

Roma have disproportionately suffered from the pandemic and the effects of lockdown restrictions. Our members report that Roma have been highly affected by lack of access to education and employment during the closure of schools and job loss. Many Roma children do not have access to the digital resources required for them to continue their studies and have also suffered from the loss of school meals. The Fundamental Rights Agency reported in their bulletin on the impact of COVID on Roma and Traveller communities that as many Roma work in irregular and precarious employment, the loss of jobs has not been mitigated by social protection. Furthermore, many Roma living in segregated settlements lack access to adequate sanitation, safe housing, and basic public infrastructure. Perhaps most disturbingly, in many cases Roma have been perceived as a public health threat by local authorities and communities and have been scapegoated and subjected to anti-Roma rhetoric and violence.

Our initial examination of the national recovery and resilience plans reveals that the inclusion of Roma in the recovery and resilience plans is limited, and where mentioned is primarily within the area of education for countries that have Roma mentioned in their CSRs.

For example, in the plans released by Bulgaria, Roma are mentioned as making up a large percentage of early school leavers. However, there is no mention of the high level of educational segregation, the resulting inequalities in educational outcome for Roma children, and plans to target this ongoing issue. While the country specific recommendation for Bulgaria requests that the country “improve the quality labour market relevance and inclusiveness of education and training, in particular for Roma and other disadvantaged groups,” Roma are not mentioned as target groups in the plans for improving employment and social services.

In Slovakia’s country plan, educational segregation is mentioned, as are plans to pilot desegregation projects and amend anti-discrimination legislation, but Roma are not mentioned under any other topic.

Hungary’s plan includes a welcome mention of digital education in the context of Roma and other vulnerable groups as well as intentions to address the high percentage of early school leavers and educational segregation. The plan also commits to reduce regional segregation and address the poor housing, lack of access to healthcare, and poverty faced by Roma by improving public services. Regretfully, Hungary’s plans also qualify that ending educational segregation fully is not feasible and suggests the continuation of harmful practices, such as having multiple grades in one classroom for schools that are small and located in rural, segregated areas.

In most country recommendations, Roma are either not mentioned or are insufficiently mentioned in key areas, including access to employment, housing, healthcare, and social services. The exclusion of Roma from strategic investments in these areas is troubling due to available statistics from the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) on how Roma have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and accompanying restrictions. Furthermore, countries with requests to improve Roma access to education in their CSRs continue to show a lack of willingness to tackle issues at the heart of Roma inclusion by failing to mainstream Roma inclusion into all policy areas and improving the participation and anti-discrimination of Roma in society. This can be most clearly seen in how Roma were treated in many countries as a public health risk during the first wave of COVID, facing increased segregation, lack of access to healthcare and basic services, and heightened economic precarity. Instead of being recognised as a vulnerable group for whom healthcare and emergency services were prioritised, Roma people were scapegoated and excluded from education, social services, healthcare, and employment.

While many of the national plans include ambitious goals of combatting education inequality, lack of access to healthcare and social services, and increasing training and access to employment, it will be far too easy to leave behind the most vulnerable in these plans. In leaving out dedicated commitments to aid Roma in national recovery plans, Roma people will continue to be left behind, coping with the social and economic fallout of the crisis with limited resources and assistance.

Eurodiaconia therefore calls on the Commission to include in their comments on national recovery and resilience plans requests to target Roma and their inclusion in access to employment, ending educational segregation, access to healthcare, access to social and basic services, and adequate housing. Furthermore, Eurodiaconia calls on member states to take the initiative to increase the targeting of Roma in national recovery policies through active consultation with Roma communities and civil society. Meaningful and effective Roma inclusion is essential to ensure that no-one is left behind in re-building a strong, inclusive, and resilient Europe.

Country plans can be found here:

Photo credit: Salvation Army Europe