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Hungary: Situation of Roma, including education, employment, housing, health, and political participation (2006 - Sept. 2009)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 16 October 2009
Citation / Document Symbol HUN103267.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Hungary: Situation of Roma, including education, employment, housing, health, and political participation (2006 - Sept. 2009), 16 October 2009, HUN103267.E, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
p class="refinfo-body">Human rights reports state that Roma continue to face discrimination in education, employment, housing, and access to social services (EU 2009b, 5; AI 2009; UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 45-47; US 25 Feb. 2009, Intr.). In addition, Roma reportedly experience discrimination in accessing public places such as bars and restaurants (ibid., Sec. 5; Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 137); the Equal Treatment Authority (ETA), an independent organization established by the Hungarian government that is tasked with investigating complaints of discrimination (Council of Europe n.d.), notes that denial of service in commercial establishments "is…almost exclusively experienced by [the Roma]" (ibid.).

According to Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI),

[a]cts or failures to act by local authorities, and in particular, failures in implementing centrally enacted legislation in conformity with the prohibition on discrimination, continue to lie at the heart of much of the discrimination experienced by Roma in daily life. It emphasizes again that the autonomy granted to local authorities can never justify violations of the prohibition on discrimination, and is concerned that such violations reveal continuing high levels of prejudice and negative stereotypes amongst local government officials against Roma. (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 141)


ECRI notes that despite efforts by the government to improve Romani access to education and reduce discrimination in schools, progress has been slow (ibid., Para. 75-76). Referring to a 2002 study by the World Bank, Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) states that over 80 percent of Romani children completed primary school, but only one third continued on to the secondary level (compared to 90 percent among the general population) (MRGI 2009), from which only 5 percent of Romani students graduate (AFP 1 Mar. 2009; Christian Science Monitor 13 Feb. 2008). Less than 1 percent of Roma have a higher education certificate (OSI 2006; UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 59) and Roma are 50 times less likely to receive a post-secondary diploma than non-Roma (ibid.).

Various sources of 2007 and 2009 state that the segregation of Romani children in schools remains a major problem (Autonómia Alapítvány 22 Aug. 2009; MTI 8 Apr. 2009; Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, 8; OSI 2007, 187). The Director of the Hungarian Foundation for Self Reliance (Autonómia Alapítvány) - an independent private foundation established in 1990 to support local civic initiatives related to the Romani community - stated that "segregation among and within schools as far as low status and Roma children are concerned is stronger than ever" (Autonómia Alapítvány 22 Aug. 2009), while other sources state that the segregation of Romani children has increased in recent years (OSI 2007, 187; Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 92). The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities estimates that the majority of Hungary's Romani pupils study in segregated classes (MTI 8 Apr. 2009). According to ECRI, the segregation of Romani children in schools "has a devastating impact on education outcomes for these children and leaves them with correspondingly limited future life choices and employment prospects" (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, 8).

Following a November 2008 decision by the Supreme Court, which upheld a previous ruling on the illegality of segregation in two primary schools in the municipality of Hajdúhadháza (Hungary 4 June 2009, 28-29; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5), the Ministry of Education and Culture issued a statement expressing its agreement with the ruling (Hungary 4 June 2009, 28-29). The case was brought to court by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF), which also had similar cases pending at the end of 2008 (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). Nevertheless, according to Decade Watch, there were some 170 municipalities that continued to operate "de facto segregated Roma-only schools" (AI 2009).

According to the Open Society Institute (OSI), the disproportionate placement of Romani children schools for children with learning disabilities is explained partly by "flaws in assessment procedures" (OSI 2007, 187). When the Hungarian government implemented a program to determine how many Romani students were being unfairly placed in special schools, it found that over 10 percent of 2,100 students who were re-examined were eligible for normal schools (EU 2007, 104).

The Hungarian government has taken measures to reduce Romani segregation in education (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 61; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec 5; MRGI 2009), such as regulating the way local authorities may divide classes within schools and introducing new diagnostic tests that "take better account of cultural differences and socio-economic disadvantage in testing children's development" (ibid.). According to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), "[s]chool desegregation efforts by the national government in Hungary have been amongst the strongest in the Central European region" (2007, 57).

The Ministry of Education and Culture subsidizes schools that integrate Roma and non-Roma in the same classroom or "reintegrate Roma inappropriately placed in remedial programs" (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 66; OSI 2007, 188; ERRC 8 Aug. 2006), though there have been reports of occasional misuse of these funds (ibid.). Furthermore, amendments to the Education Act in 2005 require all schools to accept disadvantaged children in order to prevent non-Romani parents from withdrawing their children from certain schools (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 63). Moreover, the Hungarian government runs a scholarship program for young Roma (Hungary 4 June 2009, 11; UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 72; EU 2009a, 50-51). In 2007-2008 there were 11,352 recipients who received an average of 24,209 forints each [approximately 139 Canadian dollars (Canada 2 Sept. 2009)] (Hungary 4 June 2009, 42).


In the labour market, Roma continue to face both high rates of unemployment and discrimination (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, 8; UN 4 Jan. 2007, 2). A 2007 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated the unemployment rate among Roma to be about 40 percent (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; see also UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para 73-74). Other sources estimate the unemployment rate among Roma to be closer to 70 percent, some 10 times the national average (MRGI 2009; AFP 1 Mar. 2009). In some regions of the country, the Romani rate of unemployment may reach 90 to 100 percent (ibid.; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). At the same time, Reuters reports that fewer than one in four Hungarian Roma have "legal" jobs (13 Aug. 2009). Of working Romani men, an estimated 70 percent are unskilled workers, 22 percent are skilled workers and 8 percent have white-collar jobs (AFP 1 Mar. 2009).

According to the Director of the Autonómia Alapítvány, the employment situation of Roma has not improved in the past decade and has even deteriorated since the recent economic crisis (Autonómia Alapítvány 22 Aug. 2009). While there are many explanations for the poor employment prospects for Roma, including a lack of education, unmarketable skills and geographic isolation, the Director stated that "researchers have proved that there is a residual difference between the labour market opportunities of Roma and non-Roma which can only be attributed to labour market discrimination" (ibid.). According to ECRI, "many employers [are] not afraid to admit to openly discriminatory attitudes, saying clearly that they have refused to hire a Roma solely because of their ethnic origin" (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 114). An undated study cited by the European Union (EU) revealed that over half of the private companies surveyed in Hungary engaged in some form of discrimination against Roma, who were either employees or job seekers (EU 2007, 56). TÁRKI, an independent social research centre, has conducted tests among employers to measure racial discrimination and found that "Roma applicants rated lower than the others for no other reason than their ethnic identity" (ibid., 58).

The Hungarian government runs a number of programs to improve the employment prospects of Roma, that: assist Roma in finding employment; offer training sessions to help them develop marketable skills; provide financial incentives to employers who hire minorities, including the "long-term unemployed"; and provide Roma desk officers in every labour exchange centre and employment office (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 116). However, ECRI criticizes these government programs, claiming that "these measures are often short-term and can only help a small number of Roma at a time" (ibid., 8).

The Hungarian government runs a vocational training program primarily aimed at Roma entitled One Step Forward; in 2007-2008, the program had a budget of 10.6 billion forints [approximately 60.7 million Canadian dollars (Canada 2 Sept. 2009)] and led to the employment of 14,700 people in 2009 (Hungary 9 June 2009, 3). According to the Hungarian government, labour programs helped between 15,000 and 19,000 Roma find jobs every year from 2004 to 2006 (ibid. 4 June 2009, 32).

The Director of the Autonómia Alapítvány explained that even after Roma follow the foundation's labour market programs, earning skills, certifications and experience, they may have difficulty finding legitimate jobs and may be forced to work on the black market (Autonómia Alapítvány 22 Aug. 2009). Even here, they may face discrimination; for instance, carpenters who were trained by the Autonómia Alapítvány "and [who] had a good reputation, were refused because the client did not want Roma people around his house" (ibid.).

The ETA publishes a list of employers fined for acting in contravention to the principle of equal treatment (EU 2007, 41; Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 115), thereby disqualifying them from state aid for two years (ibid.). For instance, in 2008 a company was fined for refusing to hire Roma as cleaners on account of their ethnicity (EU 2009a, 35).


Roma are concentrated in economically disadvantaged areas in rural communities or urban slums (Autonómia Alapítvány 22 Aug. 2009; Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 123). The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour estimates that approximately 100,000 people, most of whom are Roma, live in 500 settlements that lack basic infrastructure and are frequently found on the outskirts of cities (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). According to the United Nations (UN), "[t]housands of Roma live without running water, electricity and other basic services" (UN 4 Jan. 2007, 2). While the 2001 census revealed that 17 percent of Roma lived in areas lacking in basic amenities (EU 2007, 89), in 2008 the UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that 46 percent of Romani households lack these services (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 79).

In 2007, the UN reported that the Hungarian government was financing housing renovations in nine Romani localities, "dramatically improving living conditions for some families" (ibid., Para. 82). Under the current government policy, Romani families with two children receive a grant of 2,400,000 forints [about 14,000 Canadian dollars (Canada 4 Jan. 2008)], or double this amount if they have four children (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 83).

Various sources report that Romani residential segregation is increasing (Autonómia Alapítvány 22 Aug. 2009; OSI 2007, 187; Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 92). ECRI and the UN report that this is partly due to a decline in Romani access to affordable housing following the privatization of social housing (ibid., Para. 124; UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 80). Access to the remaining public housing units is often contingent upon proof of financial resources that many Roma do not possess (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 124); the lack of affordable housing has led some Roma to resort to squatting (ibid., Para. 125).

In the absence of concrete data on Romani housing, the Director of the Autonómia Alapítvány refers to sociological surveys that describe "a process of ghettoisation [that] is going on both in the rural and in the urban areas" (22 Aug. 2009). Furthermore, the Director claimed that "Roma tenant households are threatened by eviction in the cities because of arrears" (22 Aug. 2009). One study found that 55 percent of evictions or threatened evictions reported in the media involved Roma (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 122). The NGO Roma Civil Rights Foundation (RCRF) also accuses some municipalities of using a variety of methods to prevent Roma from moving to "more desirable neighbourhoods" such as auctioning off social housing units to the highest bidder, or evicting Roma from housing under renovation and providing inadequate compensation (MRGI 2009; EU 2007, 80). Some NGOs have claimed that municipalities have used child protection agencies to threaten to remove children from Romani families "in order to more easily evict those families for non-payment of public utilities" (MRGI 2009). In such cases, Roma are often unaware of the judicial redress available to them (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 47). While local authorities have been able to evict tenants without official papers since 2000 (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 122), in 2009, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) cited a ruling by the Budapest Court which fined the 2nd district of Budapest about 400 Euros per capita for having evicted 40 Roma, half of whom were children, from housing that they were occupying without entitlement (EU 2009a, 43).

While there is a lack of specific legislation or special programs to deal with the Romani housing problem, there are anti-segregation measures that involve the Roma minority self governments (Autonómia Alapítvány 22 Aug. 2009). Furthermore, since 2007, only those settlements which have integrated an anti-segregation plan into their urban development strategy may receive access to EU development funds (ibid.; Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 123). However, the Autonómia Alapítvány noted that it was still too early to determine the effectiveness of this new rule (22 Aug. 2009).


In Hungary, the average life expectancy of Roma is reported by some sources to be ten years shorter than that of non-Roma (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 132; UN 4 Jan. 2007, 2; AFP 1 Mar. 2009). A 2002 study found that 42 percent of Roma between the ages of 19 and 34 "suffered some kind of illness, usually tuberculosis" (ibid.).

ECRI writes

Though nation-wide statistics are lacking, empirical studies show that Roma continue to suffer difficulties in receiving treatment in hospitals. Emergency assistance is reportedly slow, or even denied altogether, and the isolation of Roma communities in rural areas in particular means that access to a general practitioner is often more difficult. (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 132)

In addition, the UN's Independent Expert on Minority Issues reported on "[a]llegations of widespread discrimination" in the healthcare sector, which in some cases may discourage Roma from seeking medical attention (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 47). She also observed that there was a shortage of 126 general practitioners in Romani areas and that outside Budapest, nearly 20 percent of Roma lived in communities without a local doctor (ibid., Para. 53). The Hungarian government has made efforts to improve the health situation of Roma (Council of Europe 24 Feb 2009, Para. 132; EU 2009a, 56). In 2007, the Hungarian government announced a 25-year Action Plan to improve the health and social care of Romani children in segregated communities (ibid.). In 2008-2009, the government implemented a program to increase the proportion of Roma working in the medical field to between 3 and 5 percent (Council of Europe 24 Feb. 2009, Para. 131).

Political participation

In 2007, the UN's Independent Expert on Minority Issues wrote "[t]he governing coalition has no Roma MPs and there is considered to be a general lack of political will to field Roma representatives as political candidates amongst all political parties" (UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 38). However, in 2006, three Roma representing the main opposition party were elected to the 386-member national Parliament (ibid.).

There are over 1,000 local Romani self-governments (Hungary 9 June 2009, 2; UN 4 Jan. 2007, Para. 41), which organize cultural and educational activities and represent Roma at local government meetings (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). According to Freedom House, however, these self-governments have no jurisdiction in local housing, education and health departments (Freedom House 2009). Following her 2006 visit to Hungary, the UN's Independent Expert on Minority Issues commended the system of minority self-governments as "a valuable contribution to efforts to enable cultural autonomy" but noted that due to the socio-economic challenges facing the Romani community, "the system has largely been diverted from its intended function to preserve Roma culture…" (UN 4 Jan. 2007, 2).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 1 March 2009. "Figures About the Roma Population in Hungary." (Factiva)

Amnesty International (AI). 2009. "Hungary." Amnesty International Report 2009. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2009]

Autonómia Alapítvány (Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance). 22 August 2009. Correspondence sent by the Director.

Canada. 2 September 2009. Bank of Canada. "Daily Currency Converter." [Accessed 3 Sept. 2009]

_____. 4 January 2008. Bank of Canada. "Currency Conversion Results." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2009]

Christian Science Monitor [Boston]. 13 February 2008. Colin Woodard. "Hungary's Anti-Roma Militia Grows." (Factiva)

Council of Europe. 24 February 2009. European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). ECRI Report on Hungary (Fourth Monitoring Cycle). [Accessed 16 Aug. 2009]

_____. N.d. "Equal Treatment Authority: Hungary." [Accessed 22 Oct. 2009]

European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). 2007. "Snapshots from Around Europe." Roma Rights, No. 4. [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

_____. 8 August 2006. Working Group on Minorities: Statement on Item 3 (a) of the twelfth session: Reviewing the promotion and practical realization of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. Presented at the 12th session of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, 8 August 2006, Geneva, Switzerland. ( [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

European Union (EU). 2009a. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Annual Report 2009. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2009]

_____. 2009b. European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey(EU-MIDIS). Data in Focus Report: The Roma. [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

_____. 2007. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Report on Racism and Xenophobia in the Member States of the EU. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2009]

Freedom House. 2009. "Hungary." Freedom in the World 2009. [Accessed 13 Aug. 2009]

Hungary. 9 June 2009. Statement for the Record by Ambassador Ferenc Somogyi, Ambassador of Hungary to the United States. (United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe) [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

_____. 4 June 2009. Third Report Submitted by Hungary Pursuant to Article 25, Paragraph 1 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. (Council of Europe) [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI). 8 April 2009. "Hungarian Roma Still in a Sad Plight, Says Ombudsman." (Factiva)

Minority Rights Group International (MRGI). 2009. "Hungary: Roma." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 12 Aug. 2009]

Open Society Institute (OSI). 2007. Equal Access to Quality Education for Roma: Hungary. [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

_____. 2006. Monitoring Education for Roma 2006: A Statistical Baseline for Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe. [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

Reuters. 13 August 2009. "As Crisis Deepends, Roma a Powderkeg in Hungary." (Factiva)

United Nations (UN). 4 January 2007. Human Rights Council. Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006 Entitled "Human Rights Council": Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues - Addendum: Mission to Hungary* (26 June-3 July 2006). (A/HRC/4/9/Add.2) [Accessed 16 Sept. 2009]

United States (US). 25 February 2009. Department of State. "Hungary." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008. [Accessed 13 Aug. 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Embassy of the Republic of Hungary in Ottawa; Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance; Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC); Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities; Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement; National Roma Self-Government; Office for National and Ethnic Minorities; Parliamentary Commissioner for the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities; Partners Hungary Foundation; Public Foundation for the National and Ethnic Minorities Living in Hungary; Public Foundation for the Roma Living in Hungary; Roma Community House.

Internet sites, including: Courrier international, Decade Watch, The Economist, European Country of Origin Information Network (, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Hungarian Foundation for Self-Defence, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), Legal Defence Bureau of National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement of Hungary, Office for National and Ethnic Minorities of Hungary, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Roma Education Fund,,, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Transitions Online.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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