Roma children grow up poor, dirty and sick in Slovenia

A new report (and video) just released from Amnesty shows how Roma people within the EU are being discriminated against, leaving them forced to live in cramped, dirty housing without clean water or electricity.

The report looks at Slovenia, a relatively-new EU member where income levels are generally quite ‘high’ (according to the EU) and the capital, Ljubliana, is a wealthy (and very beautiful) city. But the contrast couldn’t be stronger with the shacks in which some Roma communities are forced to live.

Insects infest people’s homes and the only water they have comes from a tap 5km away or a filthy stream. Parents tell of how their kids get sick, and our video shows one child who’s covered in sores from the insanitary conditions he’s been brought up in.

The average daily water use per person in Slovenia is up to 300 litres per day. Yet many Roma communities struggle to collect even small amounts of water to drink, cook, and bathe with: Amnesty found Roma families who were only able to collect between ten and 20 litres for each family member, collected from distant sources and sometimes even polluted streams.

Between 20 and 30 per cent of Roma settlements in the south-east of the country have no access to water, according to a survey conducted last year.

Roma people often find living in settlements is their only option due to discrimination they face when trying to buy or rent housing. One man told us how he tried to get out of the settlement to help his family, but once landlords found that they were Roma, they weren’t interested in having them as tenants.

Many families find it difficult, if not impossible, to get social housing or permission to improve their current housing, even though the state and municipalities have a responsibility to adequately house Roma communities.

The conditions create a cycle of poverty. The educational opportunities of Roma kids are reduced, which means their employment opportunities are lower when they grow up. Rua Brajdic, a 12-year-old girl living in the informal Roma settlement of abjak in Novo Mesto, without water, electricity or sanitation facilities, told our researchers:
“I don’t go to school because I’m dirty and I smell. Other children make fun of me and call me names.”

This echoes the stories we’ve documented right across Europe, from Serbia and Romania to Italy and Greece. Not to mention my own experience when I lived in the Roma part of a small town in the Czech Republic. Right across from my door was some graffiti that translated as “Good gypsy: dead gypsy”.

Action needs to be taken at a national and pan-European level. Last week the European parliament passed a resolution calling for binding minimum standards at EU level to improve their access to employment, education, housing and healthcare. At the very least, the authorities in Slovenia should ensure a minimum standard of safe drinking water in all Roma settlements, and improve the housing of Roma children who are growing up in conditions that no-one should have to experience.

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