Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 - Roma

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 24 September 2013
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 - Roma, 24 September 2013, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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.

Roma, Europe's largest minority group, continued to face widespread discrimination and grave human rights abuses, including violent assaults, during 2012. UNICEF estimates that almost 50 per cent of the Roma population in Europe are under 15 (out of an estimated 10-15 million Roma). Many Roma are reported to have a poorer health status and worse access to health services than majority populations in many European countries.

According to a 2011 Open Society Foundation (OSF) study, Roma are disproportionately unvaccinated, have poorer than average nutrition, experience higher rates of low birth weight, infant mortality and tuberculosis. Social and economic exclusion and discrimination, poor housing and lack of access to appropriate health care also contribute to poor health outcomes. Furthermore, as the OSF review states, Roma often cannot access health care because they lack identity cards or other documents required for health insurance. Roma are also disproportionately represented among the poor across Europe and often cannot afford to pay for medicine or transport to health facilities for example.

Experience of discrimination in health care settings deters some Roma from seeking medical help. In fact, between 11 and 23 per cent of Roma responding to a 2009 FRA EU-MIDIS survey reported that they had experienced discrimination in health services by health care personnel in the year prior to the survey.

These findings are echoed in the 2012 Council of Europe review, 'The human rights of Roma and Travellers in Europe' that, among other issues, discusses the right to health. The Council of Europe draws attention to the link between poor housing and health status. Segments of the Roma community live in slum housing, in close proximity to garbage dumps, and have no access to quality water and sanitation.

During his 2011 mission to Hungary, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Githu Muigai, visited Roma families living in public social housing in the north-east. Although housing projects have been established in Hungary and 160 anti-segregation plans were set up as part of the Decade of Roma Inclusion Programme, the UN Special Rapporteur found communities living in substandard housing without basic services and infrastructure, including running water and electricity. He also noted that, despite health care reforms in 2006, which included the setting up of a supervisory authority to receive complaints and training for medical staff, Roma still face discrimination and have a lower life expectancy rate.

During the extraordinarily cold winter of 2012 the number of fatalities among Roma across Eastern Europe was devastating. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) called on the governments of Albania and Lithuania to stop forced evictions during the harsh winter.

In Vilnius – at a time when temperatures had dropped to under minus 30 degrees in the municipality – the authorities gave written notice to four families with six children under 12, including a six-month-old baby, informing them of plans to demolish their houses. The ERRC urged the authorities to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing, to suspend the planned evictions, and to find sustainable housing solutions for all affected families.

The year 2012 saw a number of landmark rulings in the European Court of Human Rights. In May the Court ruled that evicting Roma from Batalova Vodenitsa, on the outskirts of Bulgaria's capital Sofia, would violate the right to private and family life. The Court ruled in favour of 23 Bulgarian nationals living in the settlement with about 250 other Roma. Following the ruling, Bulgarian authorities cannot proceed with the eviction without safeguards and special consideration for the vulnerable, such as the elderly and children.

The Court also ruled in cases of violence. In its judgment of 12 June the Court found that Slovakia had failed to carry out an effective investigation into a violent attack against 10 Roma individuals in the town of Ganovice-Filice (in the case of Koky and others v. Slovakia). The 10 applicants were awarded a total of €55,000 in damages. In October, a Bulgarian Roma woman, Yolanda Kirilova Yotova, who was gunned down and disabled outside her house by a youth, was awarded more than €15,000 by the Court. The Court also ruled against Hungary for violating Article 3 of the ECHR in a case of excessive police force against a Roma woman.

These rulings set timely precedents, as an alarming number of attacks against Roma continued across the region. According to the ERRC, in the first half of 2012 alone, at least 20 attacks were carried out in four Eastern European countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia) leading to 10 deaths of Roma people.

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