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Bulgaria: State efforts to improve the living conditions, security situation and freedom from discrimination of Roma (2006 - September 2008)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 8 October 2008
Citation / Document Symbol BGR102950.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Bulgaria: State efforts to improve the living conditions, security situation and freedom from discrimination of Roma (2006 - September 2008), 8 October 2008, BGR102950.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/492ac7c528.html [accessed 21 October 2014]
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.

In 2005, governments from nine Central European countries, including Bulgaria, launched the Decade of Roma Inclusion program, which was aimed at reducing discrimination against Roma by 2015 (Decade Watch 2007, 13). In 2007, Decade Watch, an initiative of Romani activists and researchers that is supported by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the World Bank, reported on the progress made by Bulgaria in implementing the program (ibid.). Decade Watch notes that Bulgaria has been successful in using European Union (EU) structural funding programs related to education and employment to secure financial security for Roma integration activities, but Decade priorities relating to healthcare and housing remain "underfunded and a systematic approach in these areas has not been achieved" (ibid., 24). The Roma Education Fund (REF), a multinational fund devoted to fostering equal educational opportunities for Roma in Central and Eastern Europe (REF n.d.), further indicates that as of 2007, Bulgaria had yet to create an effective body to implement its Decade priorities or to allocate funds from the national budget (ibid. 2007, 47).

Anti-discrimination

In January 2007, the government approved the National Plan for Protection Against Discrimination (NPAD), addressing all areas of discrimination already acknowledged by Bulgarian legislation (AI 2008). Decade Watch reports that anti-discrimination legislation has existed since 2003 and that the number of complaints lodged by Roma and non-Roma before the Anti-Discrimination Commission, which endeavours to rectify unfair treatment, increased from 389 in 2006 (Bulgaria 13 Feb. 2008, 25; Decade Watch 2007, 25) to 649 in 2007 (ibid.).

Article 19 of the Law on the Ombudsman describes the powers of Bulgaria's Parliamentary Ombudsman, including the power to "receive and consider complaints and signals regarding violations of rights and freedoms by the state and municipal authorities and their administrations as well as by persons assigned with the provision of public services" (Bulgaria 23 May 2003, Art. 19). However, Decade Watch notes that "the national Ombudsman is largely passive and still not recognized as a public advocate" (Decade Watch 2007, 25). Further information on the activities of the Ombudsman relating to any complaints by Roma could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Education

The Bulgarian government has provided funds (along with EU structural funds) for educational integration programs, which Decade Watch calls "the most significant financial commitment from the government for school desegregation projects implemented by Romani NGOs in the last eight years" (Decade Watch 2007, 24). For example, 2,000 children from Romani "ghettoized neighborhoods" are bused to mixed-ethnicity schools (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5). Other desegregation initiatives have been co-funded by government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (ibid.; Decade Watch 2007, 24). In addition, hundreds of teachers have received training to work with children from various ethnic backgrounds (ibid., 24). However, a report on Romani education in Bulgaria produced by the Open Society Institute's (OSI) European Union Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP) indicates that despite various national government efforts to improve Romani education, there exists "very little evidence of impact or implementation on the local level" (OSI 2007, 51).

Employment

Approximately 238 employment agents in Sofia and Montana have received training to work with Romani clients (Decade Watch 2007, 25). Decade Watch cites figures from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy indicating that in 2007, approximately 22,000 Roma participated in various training programs to enhance their ability to enter the job market; however, Decade Watch also states that statistics on the number of Roma who found employment as a result of this training are unavailable (ibid., 24). Of the 900 participants who attended four government-sponsored job fairs for Roma, 338 reportedly found jobs (ibid., 24-25). At the same time, Decade Watch notes that the number of these fairs has declined from ten in 2006 to four in 2007 (ibid., 25). According to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), a network of six non-profit regional media organizations, which are independent members that report on "relevant local" projects (BIRN n.d.), job fairs held in Bulgaria have had a "negligible" impact on Romani employment levels, although one Labour Ministry official was cited as estimating that government-sponsored actions have provided jobs for some 4,000 Roma since 2005 (ibid. 15 Nov. 2007).

Health

Decade Watch reports that "there has been little progress" in improving medical care for Roma (Decade Watch 2007, 25). While the Ministry of Health introduced two regulations in 2007, one providing hospital care for those without income and the other providing obstetrical care for women lacking health insurance, the implementation of these regulations has been limited due to the bureaucratic complexity required for Roma to qualify for such free healthcare (ibid.). Despite government efforts to rectify the situation, the exclusion of "a large number of Roma" from health insurance coverage persists (ibid.). On 5 February 2008, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) – the body that monitors the compliance of states party to the European Social Charter, a Council of Europe (COE) treaty that sets out the various rights and freedoms of people in their daily lives (including health, housing and education, for instance) (COE n.d.) – admitted a complaint by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) alleging

that legislation excludes a large number of Roma persons from health insurance coverage, that government policies do not adequately address the specific health risks affecting Romani communities, and that there are widespread discriminatory practices on the part of health care practitioners against Roma in the provision of health services (COE 6 Oct. 2008a).

The Bulgarian government has responded by stating that Bulgarian legislation "provides sufficient guarantees for prevention of discrimination" and for equal access to medical care, in addition to promoting a number of measures with a special focus on improving the health of Roma (Bulgaria 19 May 2008, 25).

Housing

Several sources report that the government has failed to improve housing conditions for Roma (IHF 2007, 40; ERRC 2 Apr. 2007; Decade Watch 2007, 25). In 2007, both the national and local governments adopted development plans to improve the living conditions of Roma, with the Bulgarian government approving the financing of Romani residential infrastructure projects in 35 municipalities (ibid.). The government and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development co-funded the building of new apartment units in Sofia for Roma, but some NGOs accused the national and local governments of misspending the funds for "private commercial gain" (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5). Decade Watch describes budget allocations for social housing in Romani communities as "insufficient" and reports that as of 2007, "the government [had] not made any progress in implementing the National Program for Improving the Living Conditions of Roma" (Decade Watch 2007, 25). In 2007, the ECSR ruled that Bulgaria violated the European Social Charter (COE 5 Sept. 2007, 16) by "systematically denying the rights of Roma to adequate housing" (ERRC 2 Apr. 2007; AI 2008). The Bulgarian government responded by proposing new legislation that among other measures is intended to support the construction of social housing (ibid.).

Judiciary

In June 2007, the Sofia City Court confirmed a decision by a lower court that "ruled against the Bulgarian Prosecutor's Office for racial discrimination against a Roma demonstrated by a prosecutor in the performance of his magistrate duties" (BHC April 2008, 3). In November 2007, the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCoC) ruled against a number of establishments "such as cafeterias, restaurants and swimming pools" which had reportedly denied Roma access to their services (ibid.).

Legislation

Decade Watch expresses concern that an amendment to the Social Assistance Act limiting monthly social assistance payments to a temporary period of 18 months would "have a marked impact on Roma" (Decade Watch 2007, 25; see also COE 6 Oct. 2008b). Beginning in January 2008, monthly social assistance payments would be discontinued for recipients who had received such payments since the Act was introduced in June 2006 (Decade Watch 2007, 25). The government has countered that these changes would not apply to people "in [the] most disadvantaged situation and in the biggest need" who would continue to be "protected by law" (Bulgaria 30 July 2008, 19). In June 2008, Bulgaria's Parliament approved a further amendment to limit the term for receiving unemployment benefits to a maximum of one year (ibid. 19 June 2008).

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.

References

Amnesty International (AI). 2008. "Bulgaria." Amnesty International Report. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2008]

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). 15 November 2007. Nikoleta Popkostadinova. "Jobs Boom in Bulgaria Leaves Roma Behind." [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. N.d. "About BIRN." [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]

Bulgaria. 30 July 2008. Council of Europe (COE), European Committee of Social Rights. European Roma Rights Centre v. Bulgaria – Complaint No. 48/2008: Written Submissions from the Government on the Merits (English Only). [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. 19 June 2008. National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria. "Parliament Fixes the Term for Unemployment Benefits to 1 Year, as of July 1st 2008." [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. 19 May 2008. Council of Europe (COE), European Committee of Social Rights. European Roma Rights Centre v. Bulgaria – Complaint No. 46/2007: Observations from the Government on the Merits. [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. 13 February 2008. Council of Europe (COE). 6th Report on the Implementation of the Revised European Social Charter Submitted by the Government of Bulgaria (for the period 1st January 2005 – 31st December 2006). [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. 23 May 2003. Law on the Ombudsman. (Ombudsman Information Network). [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC). April 2008. Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2007. [Accessed 23 Sept. 2008]

Council of Europe (COE). 6 October 2008a. "List of Complaints and State of Procedure." [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. 6 October 2008b. "List of Complaints and State of Procedure." [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. 5 September 2007. Decision on the Merits – 18 October 2008: European Roma Rights Centre v. Bulgaria – Complaint No. 31/2005. [Accessed 6 Oct. 2008]
_____. N.d. "European Social Charter." [Accessed 23 Sept. 2008]

Decade Watch. 2007. "Bulgaria." DecadeWatch: Roma Activists Assess the Progress of the Decade of Roma Inclusion – 2007 Update. [Accessed 14 Aug. 2008]

European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). 2 April 2007. "European Committee of Social Rights Issues Landmark Ruling Against Bulgaria for Violating Rights of Roma to Adequate Housing." [Accessed 10 Apr. 2007]

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). 2007. "Bulgaria." Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America. [Accessed 23 Sept. 2008]

Open Society Institue (OSI). 2007. European Union Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP). Equal Access to Quality Education for Roma: Bulgaria. [Accessed 23 Sept. 2008]

Roma Education Fund (REF). 2007. Advancing Education of Roma in Bulgaria. [Accessed 23 Sept. 2008]
_____. N.d. "REF in One Page." [Accessed 23 Sept. 2008]

United States (US). 11 March 2008. Department of State. "Bulgaria." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007. [Accessed 18 Sept. 2008]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Council of Europe (COE), Courrier des Balkans, European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Factiva, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Sofia Echo, Sofia News Agency.

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 http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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