The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) published a report on Wednesday, highlighting the systemic “environmental racism” the minority Roma population across Europe faces. The report was published as part of International Roma Day and focuses on Central and Eastern European countries. However, the conditions faced by Roma communities have been found to be consistent across the entirety of Europe. European authorities must take steps to integrate the Roma population into wider European society, as opposed to being complicit in the suffering faced by these communities.
The phenomenon of “environmental racism” that the Roma are currently facing entails the often forced habitation of polluted lands, often next to landfills and wastelands. As a consequence, Roma communities are excluded from wider society and left to fend for themselves. The report analysed a wide range of cases, and in more than half of them, the most prominent issues faced were a lack of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities.
Patrizia Heidegger, Director of Global Policies and Sustainability at EEB and one of the authors of the report, stated that its findings expose the overlooked and desperate conditions Roma communities are often found to be living in. She told Al Jazeera that “..in basically all of the countries we have covered, these are slums”. She added that the challenging environmental conditions the Roma face are exacerbated by “widespread and deeply rooted” prejudices held against them across European societies. It is evident that the Roma are heavily marginalized in multiple ways. They are pushed to the fringes of society not only socially, but physically too.
Pada-Rat, a Roma settlement in the Hungarian city of Cluj-Napoca, paints a picture of the living conditions Roma are often forced to endure. Roma activist Ciprian Nodis has described the conditions in Pada-Rat as “inhuman”, with around 2,000 people living around a huge landfill. The majority of the population live in makeshift housing, comprised of plastic, cardboard, or rotten wood. Additionally, there is a lack of access to electricity or clean drinking water. “The worst thing that can happen to you in Romania is to be born into a Roma family that lives in Pata-Rat- because you are born into dirt,” Nodis told Al Jazeera. He added that different Roma communities share the sentiment of being disregarded by European authorities. “The people there feel abandoned- they say they are treated like the garbage they live next to,” he stated.
The European Commission estimates that there are around 10-12 million Roma people living throughout Europe. Among this population, 6 million reside within EU member states, making Roma the largest minority population. A 2016 survey across 9 EU member states concluded that around 80% of Roma live below the poverty line. Additionally, Roma life expectancy is 10 years lower than the European average.
European authorities need to step up and take solid steps to integrate Roma communities into society, particularly by improving access to areas such as employment, education and housing. It is essential that moving forward, the Roma people are given a voice. It is no longer acceptable for the world to turn a blind eye to the suffering endured by an entire population.
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