Bulgaria: Situation of Roma, including access to employment, housing, health care, and education; state efforts to improve the conditions of Roma (2009-September 2012)
|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Publication Date||19 October 2012|
|Citation / Document Symbol||BGR104200.E|
|Related Document||Bulgarie : information sur la situation des Roms, y compris l'accès à l'emploi, au logement, aux services de santé et à l'éducation; les efforts déployés par l'État afin d'améliorer les conditions des Roms (2009-septembre 2012)|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Bulgaria: Situation of Roma, including access to employment, housing, health care, and education; state efforts to improve the conditions of Roma (2009-September 2012), 19 October 2012, BGR104200.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50a9eea32.html [accessed 5 July 2015]|
Bulgaria's 2011 census indicates that around 325,000 people identified as Roma, accounting for 4.9 percent of the population (Bulgaria , 3). This places the Roma as the third largest ethnic group in Bulgaria, behind ethnic Bulgarians and Turks (ibid.). However, several sources estimate that the actual number of Roma is higher (ENAR Mar. 2012, 12; UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 11; Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2). Some sources claim that Roma account for as many as 10 percent of the overall population (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 11; BIRN 18 Apr. 2011). According to the census, approximately 55 percent of Roma live in cities, compared to around 78 percent of ethnic Bulgarians (Bulgaria , 3). In terms of regional dispersion, census data shows that Roma live dispersed in all regions of Bulgaria, but the districts with the largest concentrations are Montana, Sliven, Dobrich, and Yambol (ibid.).
Sources indicate that the Roma in Bulgaria are not a homogeneous group, but represent groups with varied cultures, religions and languages (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 12; MRG n.d.). According to the 2011 census, 85 percent of Roma indicated that they speak the Romani language as their first language, while 7.5 percent speak Bulgarian as their first language, and 6.7 percent speak Turkish (Bulgaria , 4). The census also indicates that 36.6 percent of Roma are East-Orthodox, 18.3 percent are Muslim, 10.1 percent are Protestant, while the remainder did not state their religion or indicated that they did not have a religion (ibid., 27).
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a network of European NGOs that combats racism and promotes anti-racist policy development in the European Union (EU) (ENAR n.d.), describes Roma as the group most discriminated against in Bulgaria (ENAR Mar. 2012, 12). ENAR also notes that the Roma's "access to basic human rights, social inclusion, and personal development, is hindered by long-lasting stigmatisation, poverty, and a hostile public climate" (ENAR Mar. 2012, 12). Similarly, the UN Human Rights Council's independent expert on minority issues, who visited Bulgaria from 4 to 11 July 2011, stated that "[s]everal NGO and community representatives, social researchers and journalists highlighted that discrimination, strongly negative attitudes and hostility towards Roma persist in Bulgarian society" (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 13).
According to a report published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the UNDP based on a 2011 survey by the EU FRA and another 2011 survey by the UNDP, World Bank and European Commission, of 1,863 Roma households in Bulgaria (totalling 7,748 people both surveys combined), approximately 35 percent of respondents over the age of 16 said they had experienced discrimination because of their Roma ethnicity within the past 12 months (EU and UN 2012, 26, 30). The EU Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS) found that, of 500 Roma respondents surveyed in Bulgaria in 2008, 26 percent said they had experienced at least one form of discrimination based on their ethnicity within the past 12 months (EU 2009, 4). Specifically:
- 15 percent when looking for work or at work;
- 11 percent by healthcare personnel;
- 10 percent by social service personnel;
- 7 percent in private services, such as cafés, restaurants, bars, shops or banks;
- 2 percent by school personnel;
- 0 percent by a housing agency or landlord; (ibid., 4-5).
The EU-MIDIS survey notes that Roma in Bulgaria reported lower levels of discrimination than Roma groups in other European countries (ibid., 12). However, the authors attribute this to the fact that Roma in Bulgaria "are more isolated from mainstream society, and effectively operate in a 'parallel society' with infrequent contacts with the outside world" (ibid.).
3. Employment and Socio-Economic Conditions
Sources indicate that unemployment is high among the Roma population in Bulgaria (ENAR Mar. 2012, 15; UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 34; BIRN 18 Apr. 2011). According to the EU and UNDP report, approximately 52 percent of the Roma respondents between the ages of 20 and 64 described themselves as unemployed, as compared to approximately 15 percent of the non-Roma respondents living in the same area and sharing the same social and economic infrastructure (EU and UN 2012, 10, 17). The surveys also show that around 35 percent of Roma respondents in the same age range had paid employment, excluding self-employment, as compared to approximately 55 percent of the non-Roma respondents (ibid., 16). Citing requested information from the National Statistical Institute 2011 census, ENAR reports that the unemployment rate among Roma is 49.9 percent, three times higher than the national rate (Mar. 2012, 15). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, citing an unnamed 2010 NGO survey, states that 12.8 percent of Roma had permanent jobs and 13 percent had occasional or seasonal work (US 24 May 2012, 22). The World Bank reports that 41 percent of Roma are employed in either the formal or informal sector, compared to 70 percent of non-Roma (World Bank Apr. 2011).
In addition, sources report that working Roma earn less than non-Roma (World Bank Apr. 2011; UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 35). The UN Human Rights Council's independent expert on minority issues stated that the wage gap between non-Roma and Roma is approximately 33 percent (ibid.), while the World Bank indicates that it is 31 percent (World Bank Apr. 2011).
According to the EU FRA and UNDP report, approximately 35 percent of Roma respondents over the age of 16 claimed that they experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity when looking for work within the past 5 years (EU and UN 2012, 19). ENAR reports that Roma experience discrimination in the workplace in a variety of ways, including: reluctance of employers to hire Roma; reluctance of other employees to accept Roma; and "hidden discrimination" towards Roma based on bias and stereotypes (ENAR Mar. 2012, 16).
Sources indicate that many Roma live in poverty (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 15; BIRN 18 Apr. 2011; ENAR Mar. 2012, 12). According to the EU FRA and UNDP report, approximately 88 percent of Roma in Bulgaria are at risk of poverty, meaning that they have an income below 60 percent of the national median equivalised disposable income (EU and UN 2012, 24-25). In comparison, approximately 51 percent of non-Roma are at risk of poverty (ibid.). The survey also indicates that approximately 42 percent of Roma households had a member go to bed hungry at least once in the preceding month, compared to approximately 6 percent of the non-Roma households (ibid., 24).
Sources indicate that the majority of Roma in Bulgaria live in Roma-concentrated areas that are isolated from the general population (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2; EU 2009, 14; ENAR Mar. 2012, 19), which some sources refer to as "ghettos" (ibid.; UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 46). According to the EU-MIDIS report, 72 percent of Roma in Bulgaria live in areas that are predominantly inhabited by other Roma; this was the highest rate of spatial segregation of Roma among EU member states surveyed by EU-MIDIS (EU 2009, 12, 14). According to a Government of Bulgaria's report on the National Roma Integration Strategy, Roma isolation has increased in the past fifteen years in both urban and rural areas, resulting in deteriorating living conditions, poor maintenance of infrastructure, poor hygiene, and difficulties accessing transportation and services (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2). The UN independent expert and ENAR corroborate the lack of access to public transportation (ENAR Mar. 2012, 19) and of infrastructure maintenance experienced by residents in these segregated areas (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 46, 47).
Sources describe the living conditions of Roma as "appalling" (US 24 May 2012, 21) and "dire" (ENAR Mar. 2012, 19). ENAR states that most Roma have "very limited access to basic infrastructure, security of tenure or essential services, such as public transport, emergency medical aid, garbage collection, policing and, for some, even without [access to] electricity and water supply" (ibid.). According to the EU FRA and UNDP report, approximately 77 percent of the Roma surveyed in Bulgaria lacked one of the following basic housing amenities: indoor kitchen; indoor toilet; indoor shower or bath; or electricity (EU and UN 2012, 23). In comparison, approximately 33 percent of the non-Roma surveyed lacked one of the same amenities (ibid.). Similar findings are cited in Bulgaria's National Roma Integration Strategy, which outlines the government's plans to improve conditions for Roma between 2012 and 2020 (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2). According to the Strategy, 40 percent of Roma live in housing without running water, 60 percent of dwellings are not connected to a central sewage system, and 80 percent have no indoor bathroom (ibid.). Reporting specifically on housing conditions in Sofia, MRG states that 70 percent of Roma do not have access to "basic infrastructure such as running water, sewerage, paved streets, waste collection or street lights" (2012, 180).
Sources indicate that Roma accommodations are more crowded than others in Bulgaria (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2; EU and UN 2012, 22). According to the EU FRA and UNDP report, Roma families have approximately 1.8 occupants per room (excluding kitchens, hallways, toilets and bathrooms), while non-Roma have approximately 0.8 occupants per room (ibid.). Similarly, Bulgaria's 2011 census indicated that Roma occupied a housing area of 10.6 square meters per person on average, while ethnic Bulgarians occupied 23.2 square meters per person on average (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2).
NGOs reportedly estimate that 50 to 70 percent of Roma live in illegal housing (US 24 May 2012, 21; UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 46). The UN independent expert on minority issues expressed concern that Roma who live in illegal housing, including settlements that have existed for decades, face a perpetual threat of eviction (ibid., para. 50).
Roma have reportedly been subject to forced evictions (ENAR Mar. 2012, 19; BIRN 18 Apr. 2011; UN 19 Aug. 2011, para. 24). Between 2009 and 2011, forced evictions of Roma settlements have reportedly occurred in:
- Burgas (Council of Europe Feb. 2012, 148; COHRE and Equal Opportunities Initiative 3 Oct. 2010, 4; BHC 29 July 2010, 2),
- Yambol (ENAR Mar. 2012, 19; BIRN 18 Apr. 2011),
- Petrich (US 24 May 2012, 21),
- Sofia (BHC 29 July 2010, 2; UN 19 Aug. 2011, para. 24).
For example, in 2009 in Burgas, municipal authorities evicted around 50 Roma households and demolished their homes (ERRC Aug. 2010, Sec. 4.5; Council of Europe Feb. 2012, 148-149; COHRE and Equal Opportunities Initiative 3 Oct. 2010, 4-5). The evictees were not offered alternative housing and were rendered homeless (ibid., 5; Council of Europe Feb. 2012, 149; ERRC Aug. 2010, Sec. 4.5). In one of the communities, the local police assisted with the eviction, and beat some of the evictees (COHRE and Equal Opportunities Initiative 3 Oct. 2010, 4; AI Apr. 2010, 2). In another example, sources report that a housing block accommodating Roma in the city of Yambol was demolished in September 2010 (ENAR Mar. 2012, 19; BIRN 18 Apr. 2011). According to Balkan Insight it affected over 200 Roma who had lived there for more than 20 years (BIRN 18 Apr. 2011). Following the eviction, approximately 100 Roma continue to live near the site in tents and makeshift shelters (ibid.; ENAR Mar. 2012, 20).
According to the UN independent expert on minority issues, poverty and poor living conditions have negatively impacted the health of Roma (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 42). The same source notes that the life expectancy rate for Roma is 10 years less than that of ethnic Bulgarians (ibid. para. 40).
ENAR, which states that there has been a "substantial decrease in the general level of health among the Roma in the past few years," cites several factors as contributing to this, including: a "dysfunctional" health care system; poor access of Roma to doctors; a lack of public health knowledge; and "institutional discrimination" towards the Roma (ENAR Mar. 2012, 28). The same source notes that some doctors are not willing to treat Roma patients (ibid.). The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a Sofia-based NGO promoting human rights, explained that even though the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe found, in December of 2008, that authorities discriminated against Roma by not addressing their exclusion, marginalization, exposure to environmental hazards, and lack of access to health care, noted that no improvements were made by 2010 in these areas (BHC 29 July 2010, 2). The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights described discrimination against Roma in health care services as a "serious problem" and notes that Roma women are segregated from other women in hospital maternity wards, with the Roma sections being less hygienic and receiving less attention from medical staff (Council of Europe Feb. 2012, 170). The Commissioner also stated that approximately 55 percent of Roma in Bulgaria cannot access health care due to the isolation of their communities and lack of transportation (ibid., 173).
Sources indicate that many Roma lack health insurance (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2; ENAR Mar. 2012, 28; EU and UN 2012, 20). According to the EU FRA and UNDP report, approximately 45 percent of Roma over 18 years of age surveyed have health insurance, compared to over 85 percent of the non-Roma population (ibid.).
Sources indicate that Roma communities are more susceptible to contagious illnesses such as hepatitis (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 2; ENAR Mar. 2012, 28-29), tuberculosis (ibid.; Bulgaria June 2011, 6), and measles (ENAR Mar. 2012, 29). Media sources report of a measles outbreak in Bulgaria in 2009 and 2010 that affected around 17,000 (BNA 14 May 2010) or 18,000 people (AFP 11 May 2010). Sources indicate that the affected Roma children had not been vaccinated (Dnes.bg 7 Apr. 2010; AFP 11 May 2010). However, government authorities reportedly initiated a campaign to immunize Roma children in reaction to the measles epidemic (Bulgaria June 2011, 8; Dnes.bg 7 Apr. 2010; BNA 14 May 2010). According to the Bulgarian News Agency, by April 2011, 188,000 Roma children received measles shots (8 Apr. 2011).
Roma in Bulgaria reportedly have low levels of education (ENAR Mar. 2012, 24; EU and UN 2012, 15). Census data from 2011 indicates that 11.8 percent of Roma in Bulgaria are illiterate, which is more than 20 times than the percentage of ethnic Bulgarians (Bulgaria , 31). According to the EU FRA and UNDP report, less than 20 percent of Roma respondents aged 20 to 24 had completed at least general or vocational upper-secondary education, compared to more than 70 percent of non-Roma respondents (EU and UN 2012, 15). The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), an international public interest law organization that has consultative status with the UN and the Council of Europe, indicates that 46 percent of Roma have completed primary education (ERRC 9 Sept. 2011).
Some sources expressed concern regarding the low level of school enrolment rates among Roma children (Council of Europe 26 Feb. 2010, para. 40; ENAR Mar. 2012, 5). The EU and UNDP report indicated that approximately 16 percent of Roma aged 7 to 15 were not in school, compared to approximately 4 percent of the non-Roma population (EU and UN 2012, 14). According to the 2011 census, 23.2 percent of Roma children between the ages of 7 and 15 were not attending school as of 1 February 2011, compared to 5.6 percent of ethnic Bulgarians (Bulgaria , 31).
Sources also report that many Roma attend de facto segregated schools (BHC 29 July 2010, 2; UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 24; ENAR Mar. 2012, 24). The UN independent expert on minority issues notes that the Public Education Act allows parents to choose their child's school, but that several problems persist, such as: the refusal of some schools to register Roma children; lack of transportation to and from segregated areas; fear of discrimination by non-Roma; and failure of authorities to enforce desegregation policies (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 29). ENAR notes a 2010 incident in which 24 parents at a school in Pazardjik withdrew their first graders from the school because there were 12 Roma children in the class (ibid., 24-25). Sources indicate that Roma children account for more than half the student body at schools for children with developmental disabilities (BHC 29 July 2010, 2), despite the fact that many do not have cognitive problems (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 33).
7. State Efforts
Sources indicate that the Bulgarian government has developed several plans for improving the conditions of Roma in housing, education, employment and health (UN 3 Jan. 2012, Summary; BIRN 18 Apr. 2011; Amalipe Feb. 2012).
Bulgaria is a participant in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, an international initiative of 12 European countries to improve the socio-economic conditions of Roma in partnership with NGOs and intergovernmental agencies including, among others, the World Bank, the Open Society Foundations, the UNDP and the Council of Europe (Decade of Roma Inclusion n.d.). Bulgaria's 2010 Progress Report for the Decade lists several initiatives in the areas of education, health, housing, and employment, resulting in, among others:
- the employment of 106 health mediators of Roma origin in 57 municipalities who initiated public health seminars and immunization campaigns, among other activities (Bulgaria June 2011, 8);
- various programmes and employment measures resulted in jobs for 12,159 Roma; 91 labour mediators of Roma origin in local labour offices, who registered 10,098 unemployed Roma as job seekers (ibid., 9);
- scholarship programmes, through the Roma Education Fund, for Roma students to obtain bachelor, master and doctoral degrees (ibid., 6);
- in 2010, funding of 7,600 BGN [C$4,960 (XE 4 Oct. 2012)] was provided to improve infrastructures, including sewage networks and repair water mains in Roma areas (ibid., 9).
According to Country Reports 2011, local authorities in Sofia initiated an EU-funded housing project for the construction of apartments in the city's largest Roma "ghetto"; similar housing projects in Burgas, Vidin, Devnya and Dupnitsa also received financing (US 24 May 2012, 21). The UN independent expert on minority issues also reported on government- and internationally funded apartment projects for Roma in Sofia and Plovdiv (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 49).
The National Roma Integration Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria 2012-2020 was adopted by the National Assembly on 1 March 2012 (Bulgaria 14 Mar. 2012). The Strategy states that it follows the EU framework for national Roma integration, and it is reportedly in keeping with the National Action Plan for the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 (Bulgaria n.d., Sec. 1). It addresses six priority areas: education; healthcare; housing conditions; employment; rule of law and non-discrimination; and culture and media (ibid., Sec. 5). The Amalipe Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance, an NGO that promotes Roma integration in Bulgarian society (n.d.), conducted an assessment of the Strategy (Amalipe Feb. 2012). Amalipe states that the document "further develops the strengths of the previous Roma integration documents," but also faults the document for not demonstrating sufficient funding and budgeting, noting that 71 of 120 activities in the Action Plan are not budgeted (Amalipe Feb. 2012). Similar findings were made by the Integro Association, a group of Roma organizations for community empowerment and development, who fault the Strategy for lacking a "timely budget" or a "well established monitoring and evaluation system" (Integro 14 Feb. 2012, 11-12).
Sources have expressed concern about the lack of financing and implementation of projects to improve the conditions of Roma in Bulgaria (BIRN 18 Apr. 2011; UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 22). Balkan Insight, using budget figures from the Ministry of Finance, found that the Bulgarian government spent 0.47 Euros per Roma per month between 2005 and 2010, which it contrasted with the 4.05 Euros per resident per month spent on garbage collection in Sofia in 2011 (BIRN 18 Apr. 2011). The UN independent expert on minority issues, who quoted Balkan Insight's figures in her report, stated that
[d]espite the numerous Government plans and initiatives, Roma representatives and NGOs consistently stated that implementation is limited and sporadic at best and that resource allocation is inadequate to meet the expectations and stated objectives. (UN 3 Jan. 2012, para. 22)
She further noted that some Roma rights activists expressed the opinion that Roma integration initiatives "largely remain on paper and respond to requirements of external and donor audiences, rather than internal realities" (ibid., para. 23), an opinion also expressed by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in 2010 (BHC 29 July 2010, 2). MRG similarly describes the Bulgarian government's efforts to address Roma inequality as "weak" (2012, 180).
For information on violence against Roma, including by extremist groups; state protection and treatment by police, please consult the Response to Information Request BGR104199.E of 16 October 2012.
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.
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Amnesty International (AI). April 2010. Stop Force Evictions of Roma in Europe.
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European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). 9 September 2011. "ERRC Submission to the Joint CEDAW-CRC General Recommendation/Comment on Harmful Practices: Child Marriage Among Roma."
_____. August 2010. NGO Information to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. For Consideration when Compiling the List of Issues on the Fifth Periodic Report of Bulgaria under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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Integro Association. 14 February 2012. "Review of the National Roma Strategy of Bulgaria."
Minority Rights Group International (MRG). 2012. "Bulgaria." By Katalin Halász in State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012: Events of 2011.
_____. N.d. "Bulgaria: Roma." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples.
United Nations (UN). 3 January 2012. Human Rights Council. Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues: Addendum. Mission to Bulgaria (4 to 11 July 2011). (A/HRC/19/56/Add.2)
_____. 19 August 2011. Human Rights Committee. Consideration of Reports Submitted by State Parties Under Article 40 of the Covenant. Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee. Bulgaria. (CCPR/C/BGR/CO/3)
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XE. 4 October 2012. "Currency Converter Widget."
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites, including: Bulgaria — Ombudsman; Bulgaria News Network; ecoi.net; European Roma Rights Network; Factiva; Freedom House; International Federation for Human Rights; Open Society Institute; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; United Nations — Refworld.