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UN Report Examines Status of Roma Community

A study by the U.N. Development Program examines the status of Roma in several Central and East European countries that will be joining the European Union in the coming years. The study says the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania must work to integrate their Roma communities into their societies.

The U.N. report calls the transition made by former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe from socialism to capitalism an historic success. However, it also says the 4-5 million Roma who live in the region have not benefited from the advances that have been achieved.

Kalman Mizsei heads the U.N. Development Program's regional bureau for Europe. He says the situation of the Roma today is worse than it was 12 years ago, when communism collapsed.

"It is worse in the sense of employment. It is worse in the sense of the feeling of dignity. They are more excluded, isolated, ghettoized today than they were 12 years ago," he said. "It is not that the situation 12 years ago would have been good, but it is worse now. They are the biggest losers of an otherwise very welcome shift from state socialism to a free society."

According to the report, the Roma are among the poorest of the poor in Central and Eastern Europe, with levels of infant mortality, literacy and malnutrition closer to those of sub-Saharan Africa than to Europe.

The U.N. report says only 20 percent of the Roma are formally employed. Only 33 percent have completed primary education, only six percent have completed secondary school, and only one percent attended college.

The main author of the study, Andrey Ivanov, says the lack of education is a serious problem, and must be reversed. He says the time to start is when the children are young.

"We have evidence that [Roma] children who attend pre-school institutions with majority children have much higher chances of continuing their education in an integrated environment, and not falling into special schools, or some special support schools, which is often the case of Roma children."

To improve the plight of the Roma, the report recommends that the countries of Eastern and Central Europe concentrate on three key areas: employment, education and political participation.