UN expert urges Bulgaria to turn Roma policies into concrete action

11 July 2011

The independent United Nations expert on minority issues today called on Bulgaria to turn its policies on Roma integration into concrete action by dedicating the financial resources necessary to improve the living conditions of this group that she said remained in desperate circumstances and totally marginalized.

“Current Government initiatives and financial commitments are having little more than superficial impact and are failing to address the entrenched discrimination, exclusion, and poverty faced by many Roma,” said Gay McDougall, who wrapped up a week-long visit to Bulgaria today.

“Many policies seem to remain largely only rhetorical undertakings aimed at external audiences – official commitments that are not fulfilled in practice,” she added. “Concrete actions on the ground and adequate financial commitment are essential.”

Her visit was intended to assess the situation of minorities, particularly the Roma, Turkish and other Muslim minorities, and to consult on Bulgaria’s legislation, policy and practice relevant to minority rights, non-discrimination and equality, according to a news release.

Ms. McDougall found that in such key areas as housing, employment, education and health care, “all the evidence demonstrates that Roma remain in desperate circumstances at the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder,” stated the news release.

In addition, the Roma “experience discrimination in all walks of life that leaves them totally marginalized and in persistent poverty.”

Ms. McDougall emphasized that the Government’s obligation to guarantee equal access to quality education to Roma children remains “overwhelmingly unfulfilled.”

“While Bulgaria was among the first European countries to acknowledge the need for desegregation of Roma children in education, the vast majority of Roma children are in sub-standard de facto segregated schools in Roma neighbourhoods,” she said.

“The small, inconsistent pilot project-based approach that has been undertaken to date will never reach the transformative tipping point necessary to confront the vast socio-economic challenges faced by the Roma,” stated Ms. McDougall, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in an unpaid capacity.

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