JNN 08 April 2011 : Millions of Roma — the largest European minority group — are being denied equal access to healthcare and other basic living conditions because of discrimination practices from the EU.
“The reason is poverty … and the fact that they have been, for a very long period, out of the labor market. Actually, they are excluded from our society and from all social spheres. They have difficulties enabling everyday living of their family, not well-being but just living,” said Ilona Tomova from the Bulgarian Center for Population Studies.
A European-wide survey has exposed the poor healthcare status of Roma, as well as the problems they encounter in educational services, labor and social segregation, and even discrimination which affects around 12 million people, a Press TV correspondent reported.
“We are reforming our welfare system and want to ensure all citizens have equal access to quality medical treatment, but they have to pay their health insurance first; otherwise, we won’t have money for modern treatment and our doctors will continue to flee West,” said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
However, a vast majority of Roma still live in segregated quarters and many, if not most of them are jobless leaving insurance on the bottom of their list of priorities, concludes Spasov.
“Even if I go to the doctor, I don’t have the money to buy medicine afterwards. They are not enough even for food, and I have children and grandchildren to support. So I rely on luck for my health, as I have more urgent expenses,” said Boyka, a woman suffering from diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart condition and asthma.
The solution has been inferred from a study which urges governments to spend a greater portion of their GDP on healthcare, and especially disease-prevention for minorities.
The Roma, the EU’s biggest ethnic minority, scattered across a dozen countries, are Europe’s pariah people. Thanks to Nicolas Sarkozy, they are a lot less forgotten and ignored than they were a fortnight ago.
The outrage stirred by France’s policy of getting EU citizens to sign papers, give them 300 euros, have police escort them on to planes back to Bucharest and Sofia, and call them volunteers has shone a spotlight on the fate of the estimated 12 million Roma in the EU, the vast majority of them in the Balkans and central Europe.
In the democratic revolutions that released that region from Soviet domination 20 years ago, the Roma were the big losers. For most people, democracy brought new liberties, higher living standards and integration with the west. It also brought populist Gypsy-bashing, scapegoating, ghettoes, forced sterilisation, and the sending of their offspring to schools for children with learning difficulties.
With Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic all in the EU and all home to large Roma populations, the Gypsies are now EU citizens, too, and have the right to go wherever they like.
Now eastern Europe’s crisis is morphing into western Europe’s Gypsy dilemma, increasing the chances of something being done about it. France is hardly alone. The Austrians, the Danes, the Swedes and the Italians have been expelling European Roma immigrants. The Germans are preparing to kick out 12,000.
But much more quietly, not seeking to make political capital the way Sarkozy, his Rottweiler Europe minister, Pierre Lellouche, and others have been successfully stealing votes from the extreme right and improving their ratings by explicitly blaming the Roma for prostitution, begging, child trafficking, pickpocketing and violence.
It is inconceivable that in modern Europe, mainstream politicians could make similar blanket accusations against blacks, Arabs, or Jews.
The Roma are fair game – politically disorganised and lacking a strong lobby, needing a US civil rights-style movement of the 1950s and 1960s to better their lot, they are an easy target. This dispute has put the issue on Europe’s political agenda as never before. Pots of money will be thrown at the problem. Integration and education programmes, conferences, seminars, activism, NGO campaigns will acquire new vigour.
George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, has been campaigning for years on the issue across central Europe. He has been a pioneer.