The Roma Integration Award ceremony was held in Brussels on Oct. 1, part of the European Union (EU) decision to make Roma integration a priority in the interest of strengthening human rights. The awards are the first of their kind, drawing attention to the situation of the estimated 12 million Roma people mostly living in Western Balkans and Turkey, and supporting non-governmental organizations working on Roma issues.
The awards were organized by the European Commission and the Technical Assistance for Civil Society (TACSO) and financed by the EU. From seven countries, 21 non-governmental organizations were chosen for outstanding Roma community projects. Each winner received 14,000 euros.
Some of the winners were Roma Active from Albenia, Otaharin from Bosnia Herzegovina, Ambrela from Macedonia, Center for Roma Initiatives from Montenegro, Hands of Friendship from Serbia, Partnership Ideas from Kosovo, and Sulukule Association from Turkey.
A three-day workshop was also held before the award ceremony. Organizations discussed with officials of various governmental institutions the situation of Roma people in Europe and pre-accession countries and tried to find out ways to strengthen organizations working to address these problems. The discussions touched on the topics of accommodation, education, health, employment, and poverty. How to strengthen initiatives with EU funds was also discussed.
On the second day of the workshop, representatives of invited organizations got information about the structure and functioning of European Parliament. Also they came together with Soroya Post, a Roma female MEP from Sweden. They also visited the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights to get information advocacy procedures.
On the last day of the workshop, representatives visited the local non-governmental organizations of Brussels, which are working with Roma societies in Brussels. They obtained information about the on-site works of these centers and discussed the situations in their respective countries. Lastly, they visited the “Roma Dignity Center” and experienced the suffering Roma people faced as genocide threatened them during WWII.
Speech of Commissioner Stefan Füle on Roma Integration
Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle made a speech at the opening ceremony in which he described the aim of the award.
Füle said: “Let me explain why these awards are so important. First, across the Western Balkans and Turkey, the situation of Roma communities remains a matter of serious concern. Many Roma are victims of racism, discrimination, and social exclusion, and live in deep poverty. Roma communities often have inadequate access to health care, education, housing, and employment due to conversant and expensive procedures.”
Secondly, Füle said, a problem is the perception society has of Roma people. He said the European Commission, governments, and non-governmental organizations should speak as one voice by disseminating same message that Roma integration is a serious priority. This will not only benefit the Roma, Füle said, but all of society. He stressed the importance of efforts by every individual in society to reach this goal.
Thirdly, Füle expressed the wish of the EU to become an open and inclusive society respecting all citizens’ rights without discriminating on the basis of race, culture, or religion, and he said that integration of the Roma carries importance from this perspective. “This way we placed the issue a high importance on political agenda and this is why we increased the financial support to Roma through the Instrument of Pre-Accession (IPA) for the current period of 2014 to 2020,” Füle said.
Stating also the importance of non-governmental organizations’ role in this process, he identified them as the eyes and ears of the society building bridges between governments and Roma communities. Füle also emphasized their role in making known the frustrations and condition of Roma societies.