The European Union is holding a two-day summit on how to better integrate the Roma, Europe's largest ethic minority.
The European Union's Roma population has boomed since eastern European countries joined the 27-member bloc in recent years. Today there are between 10 million and 12 million Roma, or gypsies, living in the region.
Some Roma are well integrated in European societies, as the EU shows in a new documentary. But many remain at the margins of society, one reason why the EU is holding a special summit, ending Friday, to address their plight in Cordoba, Spain. Cordoba is a good place to hold the meeting, about half of Spain's 600,000 Gypsies live there.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told summit participants that living standards for Roma in Europe had deteriorated in recent years.
The European Parliament and rights groups like Amnesty International are calling on the EU to take concrete action during this summit to help Roma communities. "We have been very concerned about the racist attacks and also the cycle of discrimination, of poverty and exclusion experienced by Romani communities throughout Europe," said Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty's regional campaign coordinator for Europe and Central Asia.
Tigani says discrimination against the Roma is widespread in the EU - evident in southern countries like Italy and in eastern states like the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria, where Romani communities have been forcibly evicted from their homes.
"The victims of the forced evictions are often left homeless. They have deplorable housing and living conditions. Many lose possessions, whatever access they have to education, employment, public services. This is the situation that Roma are at the moment," Tigani said.
A 2009 EU survey of Roma found that half the respondents said they had suffered discrimination over the past 12 months. The EU summit coincides with International Roma Day which was marked on Thursday.