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

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 8 March 2011
Citation / Document Symbol ZZZ103676.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Estonia/European Union: Migration of Roma throughout the European Union; whether Roma individuals can relocate to Estonia and seek employment; treatment of Roma individuals who relocate and then live in Estonia (2009 - January 2011), 8 March 2011, ZZZ103676.E, available at: [accessed 28 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.

Migration of Roma in the European Union

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" (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, notes 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 (27 Jan. 2011). Similarly, a complementary report on Roma migration 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 mentions 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 move to other EU countries in search of a life free of the discrimination and racism experienced in some EU member 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.). Similarly, notes the FRA,

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)

To address what it calls "the vicious cycle of social exclusion and marginalization" experienced by the Roma, the FRA recommends EU countries develop information about "rights and remedies, as well support organizations" in the Romani language (EU 2010). As the FRA explains, while Roma are "aware of their right under EU law to move to and settle in another EU Member State, they [are] less aware of the specific and complex array of conditions concerning the right of residence in another Member State" (EU 2010, emphasis in original).

Migration to Estonia

The Canadian ambassador in Riga, Latvia, in 16 February 2011 correspondence with the Research Directorate, noted that "Estonia does not restrict the movement of labour from any EU country," although he pointed out that, given "the current era of high unemployment [in Estonia], those with limited education and lacking a knowledge of the state language will struggle."

A study undertaken to determine Estonia's compliance with the EU directive on the right of citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within EU countries, which was carried out in 2008 by Milieu Ltd. in cooperation with the Europa Institute and the University of Edinburgh, reported that, when it comes to the administrative courts where decisions taken concerning the free movement of EU citizens can be contested, "[t]here are no cases of imposition of sanctions or expulsion. It seems that there are also no refusals of issuance of documents or refusal of right of residence" (Milieu Ltd. et al. 2008, 6-7). However, the study also noted that Estonian law has not adopted any "protection against expulsion" (ibid., 7).

The Romani studies researcher notes that in the past, Estonia has refused entry to migrating Roma EU citizens from other EU countries (27 Jan. 2011). He added that,

whilst there have been no recent cases similar to the 2001 incident where 47 Latvian Roma were refused entry to Estonia, on the grounds that a great deal of crime was committed by Roma and keeping order on the streets of Tallinn and other Estonian cities was contingent upon keeping Roma out of Estonia, such a perspective continues to inform public and political perceptions. (Researcher 27 Jan. 2011)

Right of Residence in Estonia

According to the study on Estonia's compliance with the EU directive on free movement, Estonian law stipulates that "Union citizens do not have to meet any conditions to reside for more than 3 months other than being Union citizens" and that "the EU citizen 'acquires' right of residence by registering his or her place of residence in the population register" where they are automatically issued an Identity Card (Milieu Ltd. et al. 2008, 8). The national police and border service (Politsei - ja Piirivalveamet) website similarly indicates that EU citizens "have the right to stay in Estonia on the basis of a valid travel document or identity card for the period of up to three months" (Estonia n.d.).

To obtain temporary residence, which is granted for five years, the police website indicates that EU citizens must register their place of residence with the local government within three months of their arrival in the country; permanent residence shall be obtained after the EU citizen has resided permanently in Estonia for five years (ibid.). The Canadian ambassador indicates that EU citizens are allowed to reside in Estonia for a maximum of 90 days without having to register or obtain an entry permit; corroborating the police website, he reports that after this time period, the EU citizen must apply for a "right of residence," which is granted for five years (Canada 16 Feb. 2011). However, he specifies that the decision to grant the five-year residency permit is based on factors such as legal income; a longer term residence permit takes into account factors such as language knowledge and income (ibid.).

The Milieu Ltd. study noted that

only those non-nationals who have the right of temporary or permanent residence are equated with Estonian citizens …. Accordingly, those EU citizens who have not yet acquired the right of temporary residence (during the first three months of stay) are not covered by the clause of equal treatment. This … practice primarily relates to Health insurance and Family Benefit. (Milieu Ltd. et al. 2008, 8)

Policies on Protection of Rights of Roma

The Romani studies researcher mentions that, as an EU "accession" country (i.e., a country that has recently joined the EU), Estonia had faced pressure during the pre-accession process to recognize Roma rights by meeting aspects of the Copenhagen Criteria (27 Jan. 2011), which requires candidate countries to have, among other things, stable institutions guaranteeing protection of minorities (EU 30 Oct. 2010). However, such pressure reportedly "failed to deliver any real results" and once Estonia had become an official EU member, the ability to further pressure for the recognition of Roma rights became limited (Researcher 27 Jan. 2011). An academic article published in In-Spire, a multidisciplinary social sciences journal based at Keele University in the United Kingdom (In-Spire n.d.), also notes that, with regards to Roma, Central and Eastern European accession countries achieved only a "superficial level of implementation" of the "minority protection" conditions established by the Copenhagen Criteria (Bunescu June 2007, 1). The author of the article, a PhD candidate at the Graduate School for Social Research in Poland, questioned the "sustainability" of the policies developed by the accession countries because the EU lacked "clear evaluation criteria" and a "common standard" for measuring their implementation (Bunescu June 2007).

Treatment of Roma

The Romani studies researcher states that the Roma in Estonia are treated with "widespread social exclusion, prejudice and discrimination" by the "general population" (27 Jan. 2011). A report by the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) notes that the Estonian media is "a vehicle for prejudices against Roma, associating them with various crimes and supporting their exclusion" (Council of Europe 2 Mar. 2010, 36). However, although "there are no measures specific to the Roma population seeking to address this discrimination," the researcher points out that their reported numbers do not reach the "necessary threshold of 3,000" required to be a "nationally recognized, culturally autonomous ethnic minority" (27 Jan. 2011).

For his part, the Canadian ambassador notes that

[t]here is no evidence that Roma are treated differently than other EU citizens in relocating in Estonia. The Estonian state treats them the same in granting them access to social services. It is anecdotal, but Roma in Estonia (542 persons) are said to have high rates of unemployment and the root cause can relate to their level of education and or lack of proficiency in Estonian. (Canada 16 Feb. 2011)

The Ambassador also notes that "[p]eople residing legally within Estonia, whether employed or registered as unemployed, can receive social services: health care, education and social assistance" (ibid.). In addition, he reported that the embassy was not aware of "reports of violence directed at the Roma" (ibid.).

Effects of discrimination

According to the ECRI report, Roma in Estonia are

particularly vulnerable to discrimination in employment and continue to be the subject of stereotypes and prejudice, sometimes carried [out] by the media, and Roma children continue to be placed in specialised schools for disabled children when they are not disabled. (Council of Europe 2 Mar. 2010, 8)

Similarly, the Roma studies researcher also states that when it comes to

health, housing and employment, significant and profound problems for Romani individuals are present, whilst in education the practice of segregation of Roma children into 'special needs' schools and classes perpetuates an impoverished, second-class education curriculum for these children. (27 Jan. 2010)

The difficulties facing Roma, reports the ECRI, were identified by the Estonian government in 2007 when it conducted a study on the Roma, in which it concluded that

"constant exclusion, opposition and attitudes based on stereotypes have forced the majority of Roma to live in a way where economic survival has become the main focus and their traditions and former values are becoming secondary. Lack of vocational education, low level of education and constant discrimination and disparagement have left Roma with less choice in how to deal with their lives." (Council of Europe Mar. 2010, 35)

As a result of the Roma's "lack of sufficient education" and existing social prejudices, notes the Romani studies researcher, the Roma are excluded from the labour market (27 Jan. 2011). He further adds that a small number are legally employed, and Roma are usually self-employed in, for example, street selling or petty trades (Researcher 27 Jan. 2011). He adds that the Roma community has been negatively affected by the 13 percent decrease in the Estonian economy over the past two years (Researcher 27 Jan. 2011). He explains that another reason why Roma are "marginalised from the market and access to employment" is that they do not register their unemployment officially, which affects their "access to social security and employment assistance" as well as to "primary health care and elderly support (pensions)" (ibid.). However, those Roma who do register their unemployment status

lack the basic education at secondary and often, primary levels that would enable them to access either the labour market or the training courses for the unemployed that are available, further distancing them from the possibility to "break" the cycle of long term unemployment that the majority of them are caught in. (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.


Bunescu, Ioana. June 2007. "EU Eastern Enlargement 'Conditionality' of Minority Protection as a Political Opportunity for Romanian Roma." In-Spire. [Accessed 16 Feb. 2011]

Canada. 16 February 2011. Embassy of Canada in Riga, Latvia. Correspondence with the Ambassador.

Council of Europe. 2 March 2010. European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). ECRI Report on Estonia (Fourth Monitoring Cycle). (CRI(2010)3) [Accessed 7 Jan. 2011]

Estonia. N.d. Politsei - ja Piirivalveamet. "European Union Citizen's Right of Residence." [Accessed Jan. 2011]

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

European Union (EU). 30 October 2010. European Commission. "Accession Criteria." [Accessed 4 Mar. 2011]

_____. 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]

In-Spire [Staffordshire, United Kingdom]. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 16 Feb. 2011]

Milieu Ltd., Europa Institute, and University of Edinburgh. 2008. Conformity Study for Estonia. 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. [Accessed 6 Jan. 2011]

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

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: An academic from the Buckinghamshire New University in the United Kingdom, the Mission of Canada to the European Union, the Head of the Roma and Travellers Division of the Council of Europe, the Executive Director of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO), a representative form the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), and the Head of the North Estonian Roma Association did not respond within the time constraints of this Response. An academic in the Balkan Ethnology Department of the Bulgarian Academy of Science, an assistant professor in political science at Leiden University, a policy analyst for the European Commission, and a professor specializing in Roma mobility from the University of Montreal were unable to provide information for this Response.

Internet sites, including: Baltic Times [Riga]; Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015; The Economist [New York]; EIN News [Washington]; Estonia - Ministry of Education, Ministry of the Interior; Estonia Times [New York]; Estonian Free Press [Tallinn]; Estonian Human Rights Centre (EHRC); European Network Against Racism (ENAR); European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network; European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC); Factiva; Inside Europe [Bonn]; Minority Rights Group International (MRG); Open Society Institute (OSI); Topix [Palo Alto].

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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