The EU has been urged to tackle the factors that “trap” the Roma population in a “vicious circle” of ill-health.
A coalition of four organisations have sent the demand to EU commissioner Vĕra Jourová, who is responsible both for Roma integration and anti-discrimination policies.
The issue was debated at a Brussels conference on Roma integration in Europe.
The event heard that policy-makers, together with the Roma community, “need to design effective programmes” to make sure that Roma people across Europe “do not have to endure” discrimination in education, employment, housing and health.
The European Platform for Roma Inclusion, the umbrella body for the four groups, calls for support to help Roma people become “healthier and more productive members of society.”
The estimated 10-12 million Roma people in the EU are said to be one of the most disadvantaged communities in Europe.
The conference heard that many face discrimination and lack access to employment and to social services like education or health care where governments fail to provide a basic level of protection or good conditions for healthy lives.
Many Roma, it is said, live in informal settlements with poor sanitation conditions that do not support good health.
The result is that the Roma “suffer worse health and a lower life expectancy than the rest of the population.”
Commissioner Jourová , who attended the conference, was urged to work with ministers in member states to reach agreement on the stalled EU Anti-discrimination Directive.
Proposed in 2008, this is seen as a crucial piece of legislation indispensable to ensure gender equality and equal treatment of persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
The draft law would ban discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in all areas of life within EU competence (including education, housing, and access to goods and services).
Hoever, EU member states have failed to reach an agreement on the directive.
Discrimination and obstacles to accessing health services are said to have a disproportionate impact on Roma women, leading to untreated health problems and further increasing social exclusion.
Peggy Maguire, President of the European Public Health Alliance and Director General of the European Institute of Women’s Health, said, “Roma communities across Europe face enormous obstacles to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
“If you happen to be a Roma woman, these hurdles multiply exponentially. The gender element in tackling Roma marginalisation has to be strengthened in EU and member states’ Roma programmes.”
Further comment came from Bernadett Varga, chair of the Hungarian Roma Health Fund, who said, “To put an end to the exclusion of Roma communities in Europe from appropriate health care services, policy-makers must pay closer attention to prevention and protection, and provide health-care professionals with the right skills to better understand the Roma and their culture.”
Her comments are echoed by Magdaléna Rothová, Director of the Association for Culture, Education and Communication, who said, “After an uphill struggle, most of the countries blocking the EU Anti-Discrimination Directive seem to have now lifted their reservations to approve it.
“It is now the turn of the current trio EU presidency countries -Latvia followed by Luxembourg- to persuade the remaining EU member states still opposing the passing of this directive.”
By Martin Banks