Despite the existing legal basis at the national level that guarantees protection of Roma rights, these rights are subject to frequent and systematic violations. More than that the Roma community in Ukraine remains little integrated into the wider society. Their living conditions are often both the cause and the effect of such state of play. Representatives of authorities and Roma activists discuss ways and best practices to break this vicious circle.
Problematics of the Roma community
The official strategy for integration and protection of Roma was adopted four years ago (its official name is the Strategy for protection and integration of the Roma national minority group into the Ukrainian society by 2020), however it often does not transform into practice. Integration of Roma into the wider society is not advancing, many of them live in segregated communities, on the edge of poverty, with no due access to education and healthcare services. Citizens of other nationalities are often biased against them. It was stated by the Roma civil society activists and a representative of the Ombudsman office at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center on the occasion of the International Roma Day.
Roma civil society activists are concerned with the cases of violence against Roma that happened over the recent years including the incident of Roma eviction in Loshchynivka, Odesa region, the case of the burnt Roma camp in Kyiv’s Berezniaky district, police violence against Roma in Sholudkivka village, Kharkiv region as well as beating of Roma during a police raid to a Roma camp in Zakarpattia region.
Expert suggestions and best practices
The problem can be addressed only comprehensively, the experts emphasize. “We all need to understand the reasons behind Roma’s migration from Zakarpattia to Kyiv or to other regions. These reasons include impossibility to get officially employed or work as self-employed and to get quality medical services. It is also about certain segregation in education and housing,” noted Zemfira Kondur, deputy head of the interagency coordination group under the Cabinet of Ministers on Roma strategy.
Engage the Roma into advocacy
Activist suggests that local-level implementation plans for the Roma strategy need to be improved, the position of the Roma mediator is introduced – for it has already proved its efficiency. Information campaigns need to be organized that will help overcome biased attitude towards Roma. In order to achieve best results Roma civic activists need to be engaged.
Cooperate with local authorities
Coordination councils have proved to be an efficient mechanism judging from the experience of local authorities and non-governmental organizations. These councils include members of the city council, representatives of the specialized commission within the city council as well as Roma civic activists. Kharkiv-based coordination council has already drafted a project aimed at discovering young enthusiastic Roma and engaging them into civic activities, said Ivan Matiushenko, head of the national cultural Roma union “Romen”.
In Uzhhorod, Zakarpattia region, over the short period of time since the coordination council was established water supply and street lighting were introduced into the Roma compact settlement places. This year asphalt is to be paved there, said Yurii Mandych, member of the Uzhhorod city council. However problems that relate to legal registration of Roma houses, provision of land plots to Roma as well as to education of Roma children remain.
Run for elected posts at all levels
Active Roma need to run for elected posts as it gives them the widest opportunities to make a change, said Myroslav Horvat, member of the Uzhhorod city council. “At the last elections over 100 [Roma] became members of councils at different levels. Whether it is a lot or a little, it is already a victory,” he said. In his opinion the actual decision-making will start when Roma will become MPs.