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Spain/European Union: Migration of Roma throughout the European Union; whether Roma can relocate to Spain and seek employment; treatment of Roma individuals who relocate and then live in Spain (2009 - January 2011)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 8 March 2011
Citation / Document Symbol ZZZ103623.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Spain/European Union: Migration of Roma throughout the European Union; whether Roma can relocate to Spain and seek employment; treatment of Roma individuals who relocate and then live in Spain (2009 - January 2011), 8 March 2011, ZZZ103623.E, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
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A report on initiatives to integrate migrating Roma by the European Union's (EU) Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) mentions that EU citizenship enables Roma EU citizens to "move more freely and more positively than when they had other statuses -- such as refugee or migrant worker" (Nov. 2009b, 4). However, a University of Greenwich Romani studies researcher, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, says that "there are significant differences in the treatment of Romani EU citizens [compared to non-Romani], when it comes to the ability to exercise their rights of freedom of movement within the EU" (27 Jan. 2011). The researcher, who is also a consultant to the Council of Europe's Roma and Traveller's Division, as well as the European Commission, noted that Romani people face different treatment [than non-Romani] when crossing EU borders because of their "perceived ethnic identities," which can lead to rejection by border officials or demands for bribes (ibid.). Similarly, a complementary report on Roma migration to EU member states by the FRA mentions that, when crossing EU borders, Roma "were more likely to experience problems, including demands for bribes by corrupt officials when leaving or returning to their own countries" (EU Nov. 2009a, 6).

Treatment of Roma migrants by host countries

The FRA report indicates that "research has shown that Roma EU citizens continue to face social exclusion, discrimination and racism in host Member States" (EU Nov. 2009b, 4). The Executive Director of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO) reportedly told a 2009 ERIO-hosted conference on Roma migration in Europe that, since "Roma permanents and Roma migrants are discriminated [against] in the same way," it is not their migration into other countries that leads to discrimination of Roma so much as their ethnic identity (ERIO 27 May 2009).

Barriers to integration of Roma in host countries

According to the FRA, when Roma try to find a life free of the discrimination and racism experienced in some EU member countries by moving to other EU countries, "the labour market has little use for the mainly unskilled labour those Roma can usually offer" (EU 2010). To survive, some turn to "informal economic activities, including begging, or even petty crime" (ibid.). As the FRA explains,

Roma are particularly affected by lack of appropriate skills due largely to the legacy of structural discrimination and inequality in their home countries. Combined with racial discrimination in the destination country this makes it particularly difficult for them to break into the formal labour market. (EU Nov. 2009a, 48)

Policies on Migration and Integration of Roma in Spain

The Federación Maranatha de Asociaciones Gitanas, a Roma non-governmental organization (NGO) in Spain, noted in correspondence with the Research Directorate that there are not any [translation] "real obstacles to mobility" in Spain since the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon (14 Jan. 2011), which set the rules governing the EU and democratized its institutions since coming into force on 1 December 2009 (EU n.d.). More specifically, an academic from the Bulgarian Academy of Science who specializes in Roma studies notes that instead of a "special migration policy toward the incoming gypsies from Bulgaria," Spain's policy towards them is the same as it is for all immigrants; that is, it is "directed at legalization of their stay and successful integration" (Slavkova 15 Jan. 2010, 214).

The FRA report on Roma migration similarly notes that, in Spain, Roma from other EU countries fall under "general policies on immigrants [and] social services" (EU Nov. 2009a, 67). The report also indicates that "specific policies on Spanish citizen Roma … are starting to incorporate the Roma from other EU Member States" (ibid.). Accordingly, although "in its very early stages," the Spanish government is moving "towards developing a specific policy reference for Roma from other Member States within general Roma policy" (ibid.).

As for the integration of the non-Spanish Roma, the University of Greenwich Romani studies researcher states that "migrant Romani populations can benefit" in countries such as Spain because they have "a national policy or series of policies that seek to integrate Romani communities with the majority population" (27 Jan. 2011, emphasis in original). In February 2011 correspondence with the Research Directorate, a counsellor from the Embassy of Canada in Madrid noted that Spain's Roma integration policy does not greatly differ between Spanish Roma and those from, for example, Romania, which is where most non-Spanish Roma are from (17 Feb. 2011).

Policy on Right of Residence in Spain

A study undertaken to determine Spain's compliance with the EU's directive on the right to citizen movement and residence in EU countries, which was prepared by Milieu Limited, the Europa Institute and the University of Edinburgh, states that the Spanish legislation

establishes an unconditional right of residence for Union citizens. Although the obligation to register exists, Union citizens have only to prove their identity and nationality. No other conditions (being employed, self-employed, economically independent, or a student) have to be met. … As a consequence, the Union citizen does not need to show that he/she has sufficient resources for himself/herself and his/her family members and that they cannot become an unreasonable burden to the social assistance system in Spain. The only grounds on which freedom of movement can be restricted are public policy, public security and public health. (Milieu Ltd et al. 2008, 6)

However, the FRA pointed out in 2010 that although Roma were aware of their right under EU law to move to and settle in another EU Member State, they were less aware of the specific and complex array of conditions concerning the right of residence in another Member State. (EU 2010)

Process for applying for residence in Spain

According to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, EU citizens who wish to reside in Spain for more than three months must personally apply to the Foreigner Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) in the province where they wish to reside or, if there is no such office, to the police station, in order to be registered in the Central Register of Foreigners (Registro Central de Extranjeros) (Spain n.d.). Once registered, the EU citizens are bound by the [translation] "same obligations as Spanish citizens" to find employment and pay taxes and social security fees to the authorities, under whose responsibility their residence falls (ibid.).

Treatment of Roma in Spain

In the report on the ERIO conference on Roma migration in Europe, the Director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) is noted as stressing that although Roma primarily migrate to Spain, Italy and France, "they are often greeted with persecution and violence by police and gangs" (ERIO 27 May 2009). According to the Federación Maranatha, however, discrimination against Roma in Spain is social, not political, and the kind of anti-Roma violence present in places such as Hungary and the Czech Republic is not present in the country (14 Jan. 2011).

Nevertheless, it is the Federación Maranatha's opinion that although social services and the administration are doing important work for the Roma, difficulties finding employment, accessing housing and [translation] "social rejection" continue to make the lives of Roma "truly difficult" (14 Jan. 2011). The ENAR director who spoke at the ERIO conference also said that Roma migrants "lack civil rights and have poor healthcare and education" (ERIO 27 May 2009). A member of the European Commission's Directorate General for Regional Policy for Spain stated in correspondence with the Research Directorate that, in his opinion, there is indeed a "gap between Spanish and foreign Roma …. [and that] Roma newcomers, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, are more marginalised and live in poorer conditions than the Spanish". Their social background in their country of origin was particularly low, they are often involved in criminal activities, and their economic, health and social perspectives are far worse. (Member 10 Feb. 2011).

The Romani studies researcher also says that in Spanish society, Roma face "widespread social exclusion, prejudice and discrimination"; however, he adds that the Spanish government continues to develop administrative measures in an attempt to improve the situation (27 Jan. 2011). The researcher reports that the challenges still faced by Roma in Spain include unemployment rates that are higher than the rest of the population and problems accessing justice (Researcher 27 Jan 2011). He notes that prisons contain a higher percentage of Roma, particularly women, which, in his opinion, "suggest[s] that the prejudice towards 'Gypsies' as criminal still holds true for many law enforcement officers" (ibid.). The Bulgarian Science Academy academic reports the challenges faced by Roma migrants as including an "unfamiliar environment," foreign language, no place to stay, lack of papers and the need to find a job (Slavkova 15 Jan. 2010, 212).

Like the Romani studies researcher, the Federación Maranatha states that although the government protects the rights of Spanish and non-Spanish Roma, [translation] "[a]ll gypsies, Spanish and foreign, face the same difficulties in society just because they are gypsies" (Federación Maranatha (14 Jan. 2011). Furthermore, in Spain, deeply rooted stereotypes about Roma that are passed on to other generations associate them with [translation] "delinquency, drugs and the inability to hold a job like other people" (ibid.). As example of the kind of racial discrimination that "impacts specifically and directly on Roma EU citizens," the FRA cites an interview with the Spanish NGO Córdoba Acoge, in which the group, which helps integrate immigrants into society (Córdoba Acoge n.d.), reports being told by people looking for housekeeping help that "'Romanian Gypsies'" are not wanted (EU Nov. 2009a, 46).

The Counsellor from the Canadian embassy in Madrid informed the Research Directorate that a survey on equality that had been carried out in Madrid found that 20 percent of Roma respondents complained of "being discriminated against for race or ethnicity" (Canada 17 Feb. 2011). Two consecutive annual studies on discrimination against the Roma community in Spain by the Gypsy Secretariat Foundation (Fundación Secretariado Gitano, FSG) report that in 2009 there were 131 recorded cases of discrimination and racism (FSG 2010, 70) compared to 111 in 2008 (FSG 2009, 65). The following table compares the number and percentage of discrimination cases according to type of discrimination for the two years:

Type of Discrimination 2008 2009
Communication mediums 34 (30%) 48 (37%)
Housing 10 (9%) 16 (12%)
Access to services 12 (11%) 15 (11%)
Employment 28 (25%) 14 (11%)
Education 8 (7%) 8 (6%)
Health 2 (2%) 2 (1%)
Police 3 (3%) 6 (5%)
Administration 4 (4%) 2 (2%)
Acts of racism 10 (9%) 10 (8%)
Racist violence N/A 2 (1%)
Other N/A 8 (6%)

Note: 2008 (FSG 2009, 65); 2009 (FSG 2010, 102)

An ERIO policy officer, speaking at the 2009 conference, informed participants that Romanian Roma immigrants reported that the discrimination they experience in Spain is not nearly as bad as what happens in Romania (ERIO 27 May 2009).


The economic crisis has made employment for Roma in Spain even more difficult, according to Federación Maranatha, since their work usually revolves around [translation] "peddling," a job already difficult due to stereotypes and social discrimination (14 Jan. 2011). The FRA report also notes that because Roma EU citizens are economically marginalized, they are "particularly vulnerable to both economic downturn and unfair working practices," such as low wages and no right to take a vacation without being replaced (EU Nov. 2009a, 47-48). Moreover, the report suggests that, although Spain has integration programs to assist Roma, it is difficult for them to find legal work in the formal economy (EU Nov. 2009a, 46-48). Still, the Canadian embassy counsellor noted that "at least 75 per cent [of Roma in Spain] are believed to have some sort of steady income" (Canada 17 Feb. 2011).

Health Care Access

The FRA report notes that in the Valencia and Catalonia regions of Spain, there are "administrative norms [that] request EU citizens not enrolled in the social security system to provide a certificate of medical coverage from their home country" (EU Nov. 2009a, 55). Furthermore, in addition to Catalonia and Valencia, some regions reportedly require people from new EU member countries to "prove" that they are registered with "their home national insurance system in order to access the Spanish insurance system" (ibid., 56). However, the required proof cannot be obtained through a consulate so they must return to their home country to get it (ibid.).

In terms of accessing health care, the FRA report notes that Roma living in shantytowns have difficulty obtaining a health card because "they must be registered in the municipality," and without the health card they must pay for the care (ibid., 57). The ERIO report on the Roma migration conference also cites an FSG representative as noting that "the Roma population is very vulnerable, especially the women and children when it comes to taking advantage of the basic resources that they are entitled to in Spain as EU citizens such as health care and other fundamental rights" (ERIO 27 May 2009). However, the Canadian embassy counsellor suggested that "[j]ust about all Roma in Spain have access to health care" (Canada 17 Feb. 2011).

Social Assistance and Housing

According to the Canadian embassy counsellor, "Spain's Roma have access to public housing and financial aid on the condition they send their children to school" (Canada 17 Feb. 2011). He adds that "[i]n Spain, only 5 per cent of Roma live in makeshift camps and about half of Roma are homeowners" (ibid.).

However, the Federación Maranatha notes that housing is a serious problem for the Roma population, since they cannot afford buying or have difficulty renting, forcing them to live on the street or in the houses of relatives; even if a Roma has no financial problems, the organization states that [translation] "no one wants to rent an apartment to a gypsy" (14 Jan. 2011). The FRA report notes that there are reports of Roma moving into rented accommodations -- without being asked to sign a contract -- paying rent and then being evicted; there are also reports of newly arrived Roma EU citizens being charged very high rent (EU Nov. 2009a, 53).

In Córdoba, Spain, a local authority is quoted by the FRA report as saying that the municipality provides family allowances but that some Romanian Roma have difficulties accessing them because they do not meet the requirement to "'live in normal housing'"; and they can only access the "social salary" to which they are also entitled after being registered for two years (EU Nov. 2009a, 60). Several sources quoted in the report also noted that there are difficulties in obtaining the social assistance for which they qualify and that these include "'a lot of red tape'" (ibid.).

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.


Canada. 17 February 2011. Embassy of Canada in Madrid. Correspondence with a counsellor.

Córdoba Acoge. N.d. "Objetivos." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2011]

European Roma Information Office (ERIO). 27 May 2009. Conference Report. Roma Migration: A European Challenge. [Accessed 27 Jan. 2011]

European Union (EU). 2010. Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Addressing the Roma Issue in the EU. Background Note. [Accessed 7 Jan. 2011]

_____. November 2009a. Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The Situation of Roma EU Citizens Moving to and Settling in Other EU Member States. [Accessed 27 Jan. 2011]

_____. November 2009b. Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The Situation of Roma EU Citizens Moving to and Settling in Other EU Member States: Selected Positive Initiatives. [Accessed 27 Jan. 2011]

_____. N.d. Europa. "Treaty of Lisbon: Taking Europe into the 21st Century." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2011]

Federación Maranatha de Asociaciones Gitanas. 14 January 2011. Correspondence with a representative of the organization.

Fundación Secretariado Gitano (FSG). 2010. Informe Annual FSG 2010: Discriminación y Comunidad Gitana. [Accessed 31 Jan. 2011]

_____. 2009. Informe Annual FSG 2009: Discriminacion y Comunidad Gitana. [Accessed 23 Jan. 2011]

Member of the Directorate General for Regional Policy, European Commission, European Union (EU). 10 February 2011. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Milieu Limited, Europa Institute, and University of Edinburgh. 2008. Conformity Study for Spain Directive 2004/38/EC on the Right of Citizens of the Union and Their Family Members to Move and Reside Freely Within the Territory of the Member States. . (European Commission) [Accessed 6 Jan. 2011]

Researcher in Romani Studies, University of Greenwich, London, United Kingdom. January 2011. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Slavkova, Magdalena. 15 January 2010. "Romani Migrations from Bulgaria to Spain: Challenges and Perspectives." Paper presented at the International Conference - Romani Mobilities in Europe: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 14-15 January 2010, at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

Spain. N.d. Ministerio del Interior. "Estancia y residencia." [Accessed 18 Feb. 2011]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: The Mission of Canada to the European Union; the Head of the Roma and Travellers Division, Council of Europe; the Executive Director of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO); a representative from the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Fundación Privada Pere Closa; and a lawyer from LexNova did not reply within the time constraints of this Response.

Internet sites, including: Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015; European Network Against Racism (ENAR); European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network; European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC); Minority Rights Group International (MRG); Open Society Institute (OSI); Spain - Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Ministerio del Interior.

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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