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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Hungary : Roma

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date February 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Hungary : Roma, February 2012, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
Comments Updated February 2012
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.

Updated: February 2012


The 2001 census recorded 190,046 Roma, although unofficial estimates variously put their number at between 250,000 and 800,000. Hungarian Roma are divided between Romungros or Gypsies who speak Hungarian, the Roms who speak Romani (Lovari) and the Beash who speak an archaic version of Romanian. Much of Hungary's Roma population has been linguistically assimilated and speak Hungarian.

Historical context

During the German occupation, tens of thousands Roma were subjected to violence and deported from Hungary to Nazi concentration camps from where only a very few returned.

After 1945 the socialist system dealt with the Roma question as a social problem. Socialist industrialization and full employment ensured work for many Roma. The majority of Roma were employed in areas of a temporary seasonal nature offering job opportunities for those with limited skills and qualifications.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the communist authorities in Hungary embarked upon a policy of supporting Roma activities and culture which was quite exceptional at the time in Central and Eastern Europe.

Once the socialist economy started to decline in the 1980s and major state investments and construction projects were halted, factories started dismissing workers. Roma were hardest hit by this recession.

Despite the democratic transformation and establishment of a constitutional state after 1989, the marginalization of the Roma population increased. Roma were among those most affected by Hungary's difficult transition period from socialism to a market-based economy and many lost their employment following economic decline and privatization of state industries.

The EyrU (EU)* has emphasized the importance of addressing the situation of the Roma during the accession process leading to Hungary's membership in the EU in 2004. Following the accession criteria defined at a meeting of the EU Council in Copenhagen in 1993, Hungary was required to 'improve the integration of the Roma minority [ . . . ] through more efficient implementation and impact assessment of the medium-term Roma action programme, with particular emphasis on promoting access to mainstream education, fighting discrimination in society (including within the police services), fostering employment, and improving the housing situation'.

In order to meet the accession criteria, EU funding was made available for Roma-related projects, especially in the education sector. However, as the 2004 EU evaluation report on EU financial assistance to Roma minorities states, due to the complex application and selection process and strict deadlines, there were difficulties in utilizing funds, in particular at the local levels.

In 1994, a Roma secondary school was opened in Pecs with the aim of educating a future Roma elite. Roma organizations reported continued discrimination in employment, racial attacks and police harassment, however.

In 1999 the government formed a comprehensive strategy to improve the living conditions and social position of the Roma, focusing particularly on education, culture, health care, housing and the fight against discrimination. This package of measures is regularly reviewed and supplemented wherever necessary, as was the case in 2001. Despite these measures, severe problems remain as was reported by the EU, which stated that even though Hungary met the accession criteria and despite of the government's efforts, Roma continue to struggle with serious problems.


With the coming into office of a new Hungarian government in 2006, issues connected to the duties and powers of the former Ministry of Youth, Family and Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities responsible for financing infrastructural development in poor Roma communities were taken over by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour.

Following a 2006 government decision, a new body named the Council of Roma Integration, led by the Minister for Social Affairs and Labour, replaced two earlier bodies: the Inter-ministerial Committee on Roma Issues and the Roma Council. The mandate of the Council of Roma Integration includes expressing opinions on current issues, consultation rights, and the preparation of decision-making. The Council is composed of delegates from the government, the president of the Roma National Self-government and seven representatives of the Roma community. The minister appoints these members of the Council. The Minority Affairs Ombudsman and the Head of the Authority of Equal Opportunities are invited to all sessions of the Council.

The Minority Affairs Ombudsman plays an active role in the examination of allegations of discrimination against the Roma community and promotes a uniform anti-discrimination law. The Ministry of Justice also funds a Roma anti-discrimination legal service network, which provides free legal aid to Roma in cases where they have been discriminated against based on their ethnicity.

An international initiative called the Decade of Roma Inclusion running from 2005 to 2015 was launched in 2005 in nine Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European countries, including Hungary, with the financial support of, among others, the World Bank and the UN Development Programme. Its aim is to improve the economic status and social integration of the Roma population by developing appropriate policies to achieve these objectives and by monitoring performance. In Hungary, a working group was set up at prime ministerial level under the leadership of the Hungarian Prime Minister with the aim of coordinating Roma integration activities and combating discrimination during the decade. In June 2007, the Parliament approved a resolution on the Decade of Roma Inclusion Programme Strategic Plan, setting a framework for action in a series of fields where Roma experience discrimination and disadvantage in daily life. This resolution complements a large number of measures that have been taken in recent years that may serve to improve the situation of Roma in fields such as education and employment.

As reported by the 2008 country report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance wide-ranging measures have been taken in the field of education, with steps taken to address segregation through facilitating the access of multiply disadvantaged children to kindergarten, introducing stricter requirements on how local authorities draw the boundaries between catchment areas or may organize the composition of classes within schools, and the drawing up of new cognitive tests designed to take better account of cultural differences and socio-economic disadvantage in testing children's development.

Some landmark decisions of courts in this field have also been handed down, including on the basis of the provisions of the 2003 Equal Treatment Act (see Hungary entry). A number of measures have also been taken to increase the number of Roma employed in the police force.

Current issues

Living conditions for Roma communities continue to be significantly worse than for the general population. Roma are significantly less educated and have below average income and life expectancy. The unemployment rate for Roma is estimated at 70 per cent, more than 10 times the national average, and most Roma live in extreme poverty.

According to a 2002 study by the World Bank, slightly more than 80 per cent of Roma children completed primary education, but only one-third continued studies into the intermediate (secondary) level. This is far lower than the more than 90 per cent proportion of children of non-Roma families who continued studies at an intermediate level. The report highlights that a large proportion of young Roma are qualified in subjects that provide them only limited chances for employment and their low status on the job market and higher unemployment rates cause poverty, widespread social problems and crime.

Widespread discrimination against Roma continues in education, housing, penal institutions, employment and access to public institutions, such as restaurants and pubs. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its 2006 Concluding Observations, noted that despite legislative advances by way of the Act on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities adopted in 2003 and several measures and programmes aiming at the elimination of discrimination, discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes, in particular towards the Roma population, remain prevalent and that especially Roma children suffer from stigmatization, exclusion and socio-economic disparities, notably related to housing, unemployment, access to health services, adoption and educational facilities because of their ethnic status.

NGOs report racial discrimination in adoption and high rates of removal of children from Roma families by child protective services. NGOs claim that city councils have threatened to remove children from Roma families in order to more easily evict those families for non-payment of public utilities.

Roma face discrimination in housing - according to the Roma Civil Rights Foundation (RCRF), many municipalities employ a variety of techniques to prevent Roma from living in the more desirable neighbourhoods of their cities. Such techniques include the misappropriation by local governments of social housing designated for the poor by auctioning it off to the highest bidder, as well as the eviction of Roma from areas slated for renovation without providing enough financial compensation for them to move back once renovations were completed. The RCRF also reported that district councils threatened to take children away from Roma families to expedite evictions. On 2 May 2005, the Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights formally requested that the Minister of Interior open a countrywide investigation into racial discrimination against Roma in the allotment of social housing.

Allegations of police brutality against Roma continued. In the first half of 2005 34 police officers were charged with assault and 6 others were charged with 'forced interrogations'. NGOs estimated that approximately half of these police abuse cases involved Roma victims. In its 2007 Report the UN Committee against Torture was concerned at reports of a disproportionately high number of Roma in prisons and ill-treatment of and discrimination against the Roma by law enforcement officials, especially the police.

The Committee for the Rights of the Child in 2006 recognized certain efforts made by the state to reduce segregated education in Hungary, but was concerned that many Roma children are still arbitrarily placed in special institutions or classes and that the quality of schools suffers from regional disparities; also, access to pre-schools is reportedly limited in regions where poverty is high and the Roma population is dominant.

In her report on the mission to Hungary presented at the 4th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in January 2007, the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues highlighted the severe discrimination, exclusion and poverty faced by Roma communities in Hungary. She expressed immediate concerns that current moves by the newly re-elected government to restructure its previous institutional focus on Roma issues, in favour of a broad-based policy to address 'disadvantaged groups', will lead to an erosion of progress on Roma issues. She highlighted concern over the situation of Roma in the fields of education, employment, health, housing, and criminal justice, as well as the need to comprehensively address societal discrimination and anti-Roma prejudice.

The Independent Expert was particularly concerned about the situation of multiple discrimination faced by Roma women and recommended that the full and effective participation of Roma women should be an essential component of government and civil society efforts to address gender issues.

The Fundamental Rights Agency, the EU agency mandated to monitor racism and xenophobia across the Member States of the EU, has acknowledged that as a result of political populism minorities, migrants and other vulnerable groups have increasingly became targets of organized racist violence, which is also case in Hungary, where a right-wing radical paramilitary group was created with openly anti-Semitic and anti-Romani aims. On 23 February 2009 a Roma father and his five-year-old son were shot dead in an attack on a family home in Tatarszentgyorgy, a village 40 miles south-east of Budapest, and two children were injured when the house was set on fire. A crowd of 5,000 people, Roma and non-Roma, including politicians, Members of Parliament and of the European Parliament and civil rights activists gathered to show solidarity at the funeral of the boy and his father held on 3 March. According to media reports and information provided by the Hungarian Chief of Police and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Open Society Institute, since the beginning of 2008 there have been 15 incidents of Roma houses being firebombed with Molotov cocktails, and two attacks on Roma homes with hand grenades. During this time, at least five people of Roma origin have been murdered and more seriously injured in these and other incidents involving stabbings and beatings. On 28 February, in an interview for a Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag, Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom stated that the attacks were a wake-up call for Hungary, but said the relations between the Roma and majority society is a strategic problem for the future not just in Hungary but in Eastern Europe and the Balkans as well, in particular in light of the economic crisis. In a statement issued on the incident, the ERRC criticized the poor track record of law enforcement in identifying and prosecuting offenders and called on the authorities to characterize such crimes as hate crimes under the Hungarian Criminal Code and prosecute them as such.

In the 2010 parliamentary elections the radical nationalist and openly anti-Roma and anti-Semitic Jobbik or 'Movement for a Better Hungary' party entered the parliament for the first time. The Hungarian news agency MTI reported on Jobbik's attempts to fulfil their campaign pledges addressing 'Hungary's biggest domestic problem', which Jobbik allege is 'the coexistence of Roma and Hungarians no political force was ready to face in earnest', and 'Gypsy criminality'. In September Jobbik proposed the constitution of 'public order zones' in Roma-inhabited areas of the north-eastern city of Miskolc. The proposal, which was condemned by the Fidesz party as an 'outrageous proposition', foresaw the establishment of cordoned-off areas, where criminals would be kept under surveillance by local gendarmerie. Jobbik leader Gabor Vona also proposed educating Roma children in boarding schools, where 'segregation would be a more productive educational tool'.

Jobbik's racist proposals hit on a sensitive nerve in the country, which saw a series of killings of Roma in 2008 and 2009. A delegation of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) visited some 12 locations where fatal incidents took place and published a report in June 2010. The report identified challenges during the field assessment, including 'the relative frequency of extremist anti-Roma statements in the media and public/political discourse and the weakness of legal or political mechanisms to restrict or counter such extremist rhetoric', and 'the weakness of legislation specifically addressing hate crimes and limited capacity to investigate or prosecute such crimes'. Strong condemnation by mainstream public and political figures of any manifestations of hate speech, extremism and any physical violence is a key tool recommended by the report. On 23 November 2010 Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, Director of the OSCE ODIHR, offered support to the Hungarian authorities to combat hate crimes violence against Roma, including by developing a training programme on identifying and investigating hate crimes.

On the occasion of the UN Human Rights Council's meeting held in 2011 on Hungary's compliance with international human rights obligations, MRG and other human rights organizations urged the Human Rights Council to act firmly 'against flagrant human rights abuses of Roma' in a joint submission of November 2010. The joint submission gives a detailed account of the ongoing discrimination that Roma experience in the areas of employment, education, health care and housing. It raises grave concerns on the lack of adequate legal protection against the exploitation of Roma women in human trafficking, gender-based and domestic violence, and the over-representation of Roma children in the Hungarian child protection system. According to research conducted by the ERRC, gender-based violence is an acute problem for Roma women, who are reluctant to report incidents of violence because of experiencing further victimization and multiple discrimination when reporting to the police. The submission points out that there is no specific law on domestic violence against women, and existing measures cannot provide adequate protection.

The UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Githu Muigai, visited the country in May 2011. He drew attention to a number of crucial challenges yet to be overcome, as well as measures developed by the government to address the situation of Roma. He has commented that, despite efforts, their situation has not improved but rather worsened in the last years. 'If we do not act now, there may not be a tomorrow on this issue,' he said. 'There is a great urgency to reinvigorate the education of Roma with all the necessary resources of the Hungarian Government. Hungary will have succeeded when it removes Roma from poverty, lack of education and unemployment.'

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