By Peter Tase
Hundreds of Roma families in Albania will not be eligible to have a decent home or benefit from social services and other initiatives provided by the government because they are unable to complete all the paperwork required or follow up on their individual needs with the Albanian Ministry of Social Services, Welfare and Labor. Meanwhile, discrimination against Roma communities across Albania persists. Roma continue to live marginalized by the general population in precarious shelters made out of cardboard, broken shingles, wood panels, and twisted and rusty sheet metal.
According to the Minority Rights Group International, “The Roma communities are among the most politically, economically and socially neglected groups in the country. In addition to widespread societal discrimination, these groups generally suffered from high illiteracy, particularly among children; poor health conditions; lack of education; and marked economic disadvantages.” The size of the Roma community is estimated to be between 80,000 and 150,000 people. The Albanian government has yet to implement a strategy to improve their living conditions.
Over 95 percent of Albanians support their country’s admittance to the European Union. However, one of the challenges faced by the current government and Prime Minister Edi Rama is to provide better living conditions, free education and health care so as to allow the Roma community members to set aside a precarious living style based on recycling metal and tin cans from trash landfills outside of the capital and other Albanian cities. These measures will help Albania accomplish its integration requirements set forth by the Council of the European Union which drafted a set of recommendations on the Roma Minority issues in December, 2013. Additionally, the EU has brought to the attention of previous Albanian governments to seriously consider and improve the living standards and social integration of Roma and Egyptian minorities. The adopted recommendations on effective Roma integration action plan in all its member states is the first legal instrument of the EU on Roma inclusion. This is part of the framework of chapter 23 focused on judiciary and fundamental rights, which has become tremendously relevant for all countries that are in the process of EU enlargement, including Albania and its pre-accession negotiations.
The European Union has assisted the government of Albania, with financial resources as well as through the tools of a Pre-accession Assistance Plan and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights projects since 2007. However improvement of the living conditions, social inclusion and full integration of the Roma and Egyptian communities in Albania, has been fully neglected in the last twenty three years. A minority group with over fifteen thousand members, scattered across Albania, are discriminated, unemployed and treated as a second class citizens. Unless tangible progress is made towards the present situation of the Roma community, Albania’s candidacy status will be refused again by the Council of European Union in early June, 2014.
Roma communities have repeatedly been evicted from their barracks, by real estate developers in Tirana and supposedly by fake land owners of some in the most privileged areas in various cities.
With the new government coming to power, a high level of responsibility was announced by its Prime Minister Edi Rama, in one of his recent statements, he was committed to increase support towards the Roma community and engage all his cabinet members to implement an action plan under the framework of the “Roma Inclusion Facility Program” financed by the EU and encouraged the civil society and all stakeholders to monitor the Albanian government’s progress on this initiative.
Currently there are hundreds of students belonging to the Roma community who have abandoned their education for a variety of reasons, including the lack of resources, high level of poverty and a limited cultural integration.
Only last month, after a long time of persuasion done by the local federation of teachers and parents, forty students have re-joined their friends in the “Dino Ismaili” elementary school, located in the city of Levan, 30 percent of this students from this school belong to the Roma community.
According to a report from Deutsche Welle, the major concern and obstacle for the Roma community is unemployment. As a result of a high level of poverty and their total discrimination from Albania’s labor market, they decide to work in the informal sector, recycling paper and metal waist as well as begging in the streets.
Under the leadership of Eglantina Gjermeni, Minister of Urban Development and Tourism, the current Albanian government officeshave proposed a bill of the national housing strategy to the National Assembly and have initiated an action plan that will alleviate the current marginalization of Roma community by providing free health care and decent living conditions to most of them, located in many cities.
Unfortunately, Albania has never had an action plan that has addressed the pressing needs of this minority group, even the government of Kosovo provides a better treatment to its four minority groups that Albania does.
However, Minister Gjermeni is confident that in the next few months the Roma community will ripe the fruits of “a real action plan that will solve their housing needs as well as provide all basic services for a decent life style. Currently the Albanian government is identifying certain regions across the nation in order to implement sustainable community housing projects for the Roma families.
One of the first community housing projects is taking place in the city of Lushnje where the 20 new homes are being built for members of the Roma community. However, overall the living conditions of this community remain a burden on the current government, which has been in office for only six months and aspires to bring Albania closer to the gates of EU integration. On the other hand, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is reducing the red tape in order to make social welfare coverage more inclusive and easily accessible by the Roma community.
The reforms related to the improvement of a socio economic state of the Roma community is a fundamental pillar to the current government which aims at fighting poverty and reducing bureaucratic procedures. Through the new practices every family may declare its level of poverty and this will make them eligible to receive government assistance, the Roma and Gypsy communities are included.
In the last two decades many sustainable development projects in favor of the Roma community have gone in vain. Tirana’s attitude has been characterized by a practice of preferential treatment, on one hand the greek minority study Greek language and attend schools in southern Albania with specially crafted academic programs, whereas Roma community has been abandoned for as long as Albania has been implementing its long lasting democratic reforms and has shivered in a dreary transition.