Roma inclusion in today's Europe

Roma Kindergarten
Roma kindergarten in Fier, Albania. Photo: UNDP Albania

With an estimated population of 10 to 12 million, Roma are the biggest ethnic minority in Europe. Spread throughout the continent but highly concentrated in Central and Eastern Europe, they have been part of the European culture for centuries and are integral to its society and economy. Still, they face prejudices, discrimination and social exclusion while living at the margins of poverty. According to the survey conducted in 2011 by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and UNDP in 11 Member States of the EU, about a half of the Roma interviewed said that they have experienced discrimination in the previous 12 months because of their ethnic background.

Rising Awareness

For the past 10 years, the European Union and UNDP are highly engaged towards full Roma inclusion in European societies. Building on the momentum of the 2003 conference “Roma in an Expanding Europe: Challenges for the Future, the years 2005-2015 have been declared the Decade for Roma Inclusion, a unique initiative focusing on Roma integration and promoting dialogue among Roma, governments and international actors.

Promoting new Strategies

In 2011, following the proposal from the European Commission, the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies has been adopted by EU Member States in order to develop both a new comprehensive European approach as well as nation specific strategies to address the problem of social and economic exclusion experienced by Roma. The EU Framework identifies four main areas of action: education; health; employment; and access to decent housing and essential services.

UNDP-EU joint support to Roma integration

The Roma Pilot Project

A key reference point for the formulation of National Roma Integration Strategies has been the UNDP/World Bank/EC Regional Roma Survey 2011 which provided data for closer monitoring and evaluation of the policy outcomes of the Roma inclusion interventions. This survey has been developed in the framework of the still on-going second phase of the Roma Inclusion Pilot Project started in March 2011.

The lack of data and, consequently, the inadequacy of evaluation and monitoring tools, have been a serious obstacle in designing and implementing policies explicitly targeting the marginalised Roma. For this reason, the European Parliament assigned €5 million funds and the implementation of the project to the European Commission Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO).

The first phase, started in 2010, brought together three major stakeholders – the EU, the Word Bank and UNDP – and launched activities in four different strands: education, with focus on early childhood education and care; employment, with particular attention on self-employment through microfinance; awareness rising among Roma and non-Roma population; and data collection and evaluation methods in order to carry out evidence-based policy development.

Supporting Social Inclusion of Roma and Egyptian Communities in Albania

Improving Roma inclusion and life conditions requires close cooperation and continuous dialogue both with regional and local authorities as well as civil society. This participatory approach has been developed in Albania through the EU-UNDP project “Supporting Social Inclusion of Roma and Egyptian Communities” (SSIREC). The project aims to socially, economically and politically empower Roma and Egyptian marginalized communities (R&E) in the regions of Korca, Berat and Vlora. It backs the Government of Albania in its efforts to achieve the objectives set forth in the Decade of Roma Inclusion, while promoting respect for human rights and appreciation for cultural diversity, as prerequisites for the country’s EU accession.

The feeling of community belonging and the value of volunteering to support community priorities is one of the major achievements of the programme which helped R&E to become conscious of their needs and rights. R&E CSOs and NGOs are highly involved in the project initiatives through active participation and representation in local development planning and decision-making processes. Through the establishment of Roma and Egyptian Community Counselling Forums, the delivery of training and coaching assistance, infrastructure development (kindergarten, health centres, information offices and internal roads), and the enhancement of entrepreneurial skills, the project successfully supports Roma and Egyptian communities in their long path to social and economic integration.

Anti-discrimination initiatives in Serbia

The EU-UNDP partnership has also achieved successful results in fighting Roma discrimination in Serbia. At the beginning of the new millennium, the ethnic marginalisation of Roma was grave, with 16.7% of people averse to having Roma neighbours, and 61 % not willing to accept a Roma as a family member.

In 2006, UNDP initiated anti-discrimination programmes, aimed at increasing acceptance of the Roma in Serbian society. At the time no comprehensive anti-discrimination laws existed, even though these were necessary for Serbia’s accession to the EU. For this reason, in 2009, the EU and UNDP supported the Government in adopting the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination. The Law introduced positive measures to counter discrimination, such as the reversed burden of proof in processing cases and the formation of a specialized and independent equality body – the Commissioner for Protection of Equality. Besides policy and institutional support the EU-UNDP partnership also focused on awareness raising, using innovative mechanisms such as entertainment-education and developing an entire TV-series with subliminal anti-discrimination messages, which achieved high viewership.

Today, discrimination is measurably decreasing in Serbia. The 2011 census recorded an unprecedented 40% increase of Roma registering, which suggests that Roma feel less fear and are more secure to express their ethnicity. Cultural distance towards Roma decreased by about 8 percentage points in comparison to the period before implementation of UNDP projects - evidence that Serbian society is transforming to become more accepting of the socio-economic integration of Roma.

Major challenges

Roma children have lower educational attainments and tend to be over-represented in special education and segregated schools. Only 42% of Roma children complete primary school, compared to an average of 97.5% for the general population across the EU.


Lower education levels have an important impact on work opportunities in the labour market (only one in three Roma is employed).


In health, life expectancy is estimated to be 10 years less than the European average, while child mortality rates are 2 or 6 time higher. Health issues are also related to the poor housing conditions usually held by Roma.

More on the project for social inclusion in Albania

Started in 2012, the “Supporting Social Inclusion of Roma and Egyptian Communities” Project has been implemented in Albania thanks to a EUR 1.5 million contribution from the EU. The project is divided in various components: (i) Developing participatory local planning and small scale infrastructures projects; (ii) Strengthening Civil Society capacity to combat discrimination; (iii) Job promotion for Roma and Egyptians communities; (iv) Providing support for the implementation of Roma Strategy and Decade Action Plan; and (v) Preparing and implementing the visibility and communication campaign.