Slovak Republic: Overview of the situation of Roma; state protection and assistance from Romani organizations
|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Publication Date||1 June 2009|
|Citation / Document Symbol||SVK102977.E|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Slovak Republic: Overview of the situation of Roma; state protection and assistance from Romani organizations, 1 June 2009, SVK102977.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e43aac02.html [accessed 28 January 2015]|
Officially there are 89,920 Roma people in the Slovak Republic (1.7 percent of the overall population of 5,379,455 people) according to the 2001 census (Roma Education Fund 2007, 14; see also Slovak Republic 2008), but their numbers are estimated to be somewhat higher, from 320,000 (The Slovak Spectator 31 Mar. 2008; COE 29 Mar. 2006, Para. 19, Roma Education Fund 2007, 14) to 500,000 people (AP 25 Oct. 2006; AFP 26 June 2007). There are Romani people living throughout the Slovak Republic, with particularly large concentrations in Koice, Preov and Banská Bystrica (DecadeWatch 2007, 42; Roma Education Fund 2007, 14).
In 2006, the Council of Europe (COE) reported that many Roma face "severe difficulties and discrimination" accessing adequate housing and employment and that they experience "segregation" in schools and health care facilities (COE 21 June 2006a, Para. 14, 17). Freedom House corroborates this information noting that "Roma continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in education, housing, employment, public services, and the criminal justice system" (Freedom House 2008a). Amnesty International (AI) similarly reports that Roma face "discrimination in access to education, housing, health care, and other services, as well as persistent prejudice and hostility" (AI 2008). Nearly 73 percent of Roma in the Slovak Republic rely on aid from social assistance, according to a 2005 survey conducted by the United Nations (UN) Development Programme (UNDP) of 720 Romani households (UN 2007, 18, 48). The survey also indicates that only 10.5 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women had full-time employment (UN 2007, 18, 71-72). Various sources reported that a disproportionate number of Romani children continue to be placed in special schools and classes for children with mental disabilities (DecadeWatch 2007, 42; AI 2008; OSI 2007, 400). According to a report published by the Open Society Institute (OSI), a private foundation promoting democratic governance, human rights and reform, Romani children in the Slovak Republic are 28 times more likely to be transferred to a special school than other children (OSI 2007, 400).
Human rights reports of 2008 note that many Roma live in isolated communities which lack clean water, sewage systems and/or other services (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; AI 2008). The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), an international public interest law organization that advocates on behalf of Roma (ERRC 10 Sept. 2007), estimates that over 120,000 Slovak Roma live in either under-developed rural settlements or segregated urban slums (ERRC 27 Feb. 2008). Without providing details, the ERRC noted that in 2007, large numbers of Roma were evicted from housing in urban areas in Tornala, Kezmarok, Koice, and Nové Zámky (ibid.). In the example of Nové Zámky, the Slovak Spectator reported that more than 200 Roma were evicted from two apartment buildings for not paying rent after the town sold the buildings to a private company for one crown (Slovak Spectator 24 Sep 2007).
There are no Romani representatives in the Slovak Parliament and Roma have disproportionately low representation in local and regional governments (Roma Education Fund 2007, 18; Freedom House 2008b, 554). However, the six political parties elected to the National Council in 2006 all included plans for addressing problems faced by Roma in their political platforms (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5).
In 1999, the Slovak Government established the Office of Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities (World Bank 7 Aug. 2006) as an advisory body that recommends action to assist in "the integration of Roma" (COE 29 Mar 2006, Para. 27; US 11 Mar 2008, Sec. 5). The role of the Plenipotentiary is to address issues of concern to Roma, such as education, employment, housing and healthcare, in coordination with other Slovak ministries (World Bank 7 Aug. 2006). In 2004, the office was expanded and provided with more funding to allow for five regional branches as well as increased staff (COE 29 Mar. 2006, Para. 27).
The Slovak government participates in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, an international initiative supported by eleven central and eastern European countries and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including the World Bank, the OSI, the UNDP, the Council of Europe (COE), and various Roma NGOs (Decade of Roma Inclusion 25 Sept. 2008). It was launched in February 2005 and its aims are "to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma within a regional framework" and to focus on improving education, housing, employment and health care (ibid.). The Slovak National Action Plan, which outlines the Slovak Republic's objectives, was designed by working groups representing the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Construction and Regional Development, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, the Ministry of Health, Statistical Office, NGOs and the Roma Youth Forum (Slovak Republic 2005). Representatives of NGOs and Roma rights groups report on the Slovak government's progress and implementation of the Roma Decade objectives in DecadeWatch reports (DecadeWatch 2007, 1, 7; MRGi 2008, 136).
According to the United States (US) Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008, the Slovak Republic committed to spending 8 billion koruna (approximately 381 million US dollars) of the funds it receives from the European Union (EU) towards projects that "specifically address the needs of the Romani community" (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5).
Amnesty International (AI) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), indicate that the Slovak government does not collect "ethnically disaggregated data," making it difficult to track the progress of anti-discrimination measures (AI 10 Nov. 2008; UN 10 July 2007, Para. 20).
According to the DecadeWatch 2006 report, the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities indicates that the Ministry of Construction funded the construction of 1,793 apartments in 68 municipalities from 2001-2006 (DecadeWatch 2006, 133). However, Roma rights activists have criticized the government for building substandard housing, which includes cold running water, but no bathrooms or heating, and for creating new Roma ghettos by locating such housing "as far away from the majority population as possible" (ibid.). A 2006 study on forced evictions in Slovakia, conducted by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), the Milan ime?ka Foundation and ERRC, found that there was a pattern of municipalities moving Roma from housing in central locations to segregated low-quality buildings on the outskirts of towns (COHRE 2006). A Poverty and Social Inclusion officer of the UNDP similarly stated in the English-language newspaper The Slovak Spectator that new housing projects, aimed at integrating Roma and funded by the European Social Fund, are being constructed far from town limits and are perpetuating segregation (The Slovak Spectator, 25 July 2008). The DecadeWatch 2007 report indicates that the Ministry of Construction and Regional Development continued to build "low-standard" apartments in isolated areas in 2007; Roma were often the only tenants of such projects (DecadeWatch 2007, 43).
DecadeWatch 2007 reports that the Slovak government has initiated some programs to help improve education for Roma including a project co-funded by the Roma Education Fund to train primary school teachers to work with Roma in mainstream schools (DecadeWatch 2007, 42). In addition, the government offers scholarships to Romani students for secondary and higher education and provides career guidance for students with special education needs (ibid.). In May 2008, the Slovak Parliament passed the "Act on Upbringing and Education (the Schools Act)" which prohibits segregation and "'all forms of discrimination'" (AI 10 Nov 2008; Slovak Republic 11 Nov. 2008, Sec. 5). AI criticizes the legislation for not including "concrete, targeted and effective measures to eliminate the discrimination faced by Roma" and for not removing the category "'socially disadvantaged children'" from the list of those eligible for special education, which in practice, segregates Romani children in special schools (AI 10 Nov. 2008).
The Slovak Republic officially recognized Romani, the Roma language, as a standardized European language on 29 June 2008, which would allow the language to be preserved and taught in schools (The Slovak Spectator, 7 July 2008; Slovak Republic 11 Nov. 2008, Sec. 2). According to a survey conducted by the UNDP, more than half of the Slovak Republic's Roma population speaks Romani as their primary language (UN 2007, 28).
The Slovak Government has initiated programs to train healthcare assistants to work with the Romani population, but DecadeWatch notes there are fewer workers than what is needed (DecadeWatch 2007, 43). Several NGOs have carried out health education programs and vaccinations (DecadeWatch 2007, 43).
Human rights organizations indicate that the Slovak government has failed to conduct thorough investigations into cases where Romani women were allegedly coerced into being sterilized (AI 10 Nov 2008; IHF 2007, 157). AI's 10 November 2008 report notes that no Romani women have received compensation for "coercive sterilization" and that in February 2008 the Koi?e Regional Prosecutor's office halted prosecution of a case concerning the illegal sterilization of Romani women that was sent back by the Constitutional Court (AI 10 Nov. 2008). According to the Contemporary Review, an Oxford-based journal, there are at least 100 cases of forced sterilization of Roma in the Slovak Republic (Contemporary Review 22 Mar. 2008).
According to a 2006 report from the COE Commissioner of Human Rights, "[the] legislative framework for minority protection and combating discrimination has been improved considerably in recent years and is now generally in line with European norms in this area" (COE 29 Mar 2006, Para. 16). The National Council of the Slovak Republic instituted the first Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) in March 2002; the office has nine regional branches and employs 38 staff (ibid., Para. 4).
In May 2004, the Slovak Republic adopted "A Law on Equal Treatment in Some Fields and on Protection against Discrimination (Anti-Discrimination Law)" in accordance with an EU anti-discrimination directive (ibid., Para. 10). The Slovak National Centre for Human Rights collects and monitors complaints of discrimination and provides legal assistance to victims (ibid., Para. 11; Slovak National Centre for Human Rights 25 Apr. 2008, Art. 7, Art. 9). There were 1,440 complaints of discrimination filed in 2007 (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5) and 760 complaints from January to August 2008 (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5). Country Reports 2007 indicates that the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights notes that the anti-discrimination law has not been implemented consistently due to insufficient training of judges (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 5). According to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), an international NGO, the law has not been effective in preventing discrimination against the Roma (IHF 2007, 158).
Multiple sources report that Roma are often the target of racially motivated crimes (COE 21 June 2006b; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; Freedom House 2008a). Media sources reported on incidents where Roma were attacked by neo-Nazis and skinheads in 2007 (AFP 1 Jan. 2008; CTK 12 Jan. 2008). According to Minority Rights Group International (MRGi), an international NGO supporting minority and indigenous people (MRGi n.d.), racial violence has increased in the Slovak Republic since 2000, with a 55 percent increase from 2005 to 2006 (MRGi 2008, 136). According to The Slovak Spectator, the Interior Ministry reported 188 hate crimes in 2006 (The Slovak Spectator 10 Sept. 2007).
In one example, media sources reported on a Romani family who had a dispute with the local mayor and suffered repeated attacks from 2003 to 2007, including having their house set on fire (AFP 30 May 2007; CTK 30 May 2007). After family members were beaten in the middle of the night in May 2007, the human rights lawyer representing the family criticized the police and suggested they might have to turn to the European Parliament and to other EU nations for help (ibid.; AFP 30 May 2007).
Country Reports 2008 and COE report that Slovak police sometimes mistreat Roma (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; COE 21 June 2006b) and do not always properly investigate crimes against Roma (Freedom House 2008a; The Slovak Spectator 10 Sept. 2007). According to a March 2006 report by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the COE, police response to racially motivated crimes has improved although it continues to face challenges (COE 29 Mar. 2006, Para. 54). The COE credits this improvement to the Slovak Republic's establishment of a Commission for Co-ordinating Actions to Eliminate Racially Motivated Crime, which is tasked with sharing information on racially motivated crime and eliminating racial discrimination, including police mistreatment (ibid.). The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in a report dated 10 July 2007, notes that stricter sanctions have been imposed for racially motivated crime since 2001, but observes that "police brutality" against Roma remains a concern (UN 10 July 2007, Para. 34). The Minister of the Interior has also introduced "police specialists for Roma communities", but there are few Romani officers in the police force (COE 29 Mar. 2006, Para. 56).
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
According to Freedom House's Nations in Transition report for Slovakia, the Ministry of Interior listed 23,064 NGOs in 2007 (Freedom House 2008b, 554). There are a number of NGOs active in the Slovak Republic that work to improve human rights and living conditions of the Roma, although the number of Roma organizations is lower than the number of mainstream and ethnic Hungarian organizations (ibid.).
The Roma Education Fund, a foundation that funds programs to improve education in accordance with the framework of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, lists the following NGOs as active in projects to address the social inclusion of Roma in the Slovak Republic: the New Roma Generation; Phralipe - Bratstvo - Testveriseg; Spolu (community development foundation); Skola dokoran; Club of Romani women of Slovakia; KARI; League of Human Rights Advocates; Multicultural Generation; Association of Young Roma; Center for Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK); Institute for Economic and Social Reform (INEKO); Institute for Public Affairs (IVO); Open Society Foundation (OSF); People Against Racism; Nadacia Milana Simecku; and Children of Slovakia (Roma Education Fund 2007, 21).
ERRC has been active throughout central and eastern Europe in seeking justice for Romani victims of racially motivated violent crime and coercive sterilization, campaigning for school desegregation and adequate housing, and encouraging governments to implement anti-discrimination laws (ERRC 10 Sept. 2007).
Spolu, one NGO active in community development projects for Roma, states that Roma organizations are not well developed and that most funding for Roma is channelled through the national government, spent on programmes for Roma that are initiated by non-Roma NGOs and seldom reaches the Romani community (Spolu n.d.).
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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_____. 2007. UN Development Programme (UNDP). Report on the Living Conditions of Roma in Slovakia.
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Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sources, including: European Country of Origin Information Network (ecci.net), Human Rights Watch (HRW), League of Human Rights Advocates