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Roma and Egyptians in Albania: From Social Exclusion to Social Inclusion: Summary of the World Bank Needs Assessment Study on Roma and Egyptians in Albania

21 July 2005

From January 2002 to June 2003, a World Bank team conducted a qualitative needs assessment study of the socio-economic, cultural, institutional, and historical situation of Roma and Egyptian communities in Albania.2 Its objectives were to: 1) provide quantitative and qualitative data on these groups in Albania, which would assist the Albanian Government in drafting special programs for these communities; 2) provide insights into potential social exclusion processes that affect these communities, which might help the Government meet some of the EU recommendations on ethnic minorities; and 3) provide advice on the design of concrete actions that facilitate the inclusion of Roma and Egyptians into Albanian society.


This study is based on research in 11 districts throughout the country, which were chosen to represent: (i) all regions in which large groups of Roma and Egyptians live; (ii) urban, rural, and semi-urban populations; (iii) all Roma fis;3 (iv) varying degrees of socio-economic development, particularly since the start of the transition period; (v) different economic structures; and (vi) any existing large-scale coping strategies, such as international and internal migration. The selected districts were: Berat, Delvina, Durrës, Elbasan, Fier, Gjirokastra, Korça, Kruja, Shkodra, Tirana, and Vlora.

Table 1. Estimated Population of Albanian Roma and Egyptians, by District

Regions Local Gov. Local Gov. Roma Assoc. ?Amaro Drom? Poulton (1) Bugajski (2) State Dept. (3) Brunër (4) Egyptian Assoc. ?Vëllazërimi?
* Roma Egyptian Roma Roma Roma Roma Roma Egyptian
Shkodra 50 4,5 600-1,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a.
Kruja N/a n/a 1,500-2,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a.
Tirana N/a n/a 10-12,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a.
Elbasan 2,622 8318 9-10,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a 10
Durres N/a n/a 3-4,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a 20
Korça 2,383 n/a 10-11,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a 28
Fieri 5,323 n/a 17-18,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a 400
Vlora 1,036 3 2,000-2,500 n/a n/a n/a n/a 30
Berat N/a n/a 3-4,000 n/a n/a n/a n/a 10
Gjirokastra 1,2 5 2 n/a n/a n/a n/a 5
Delvina 285 2,5 2 n/a n/a n/a n/a 1,1
Total n/a. n/a. 120,000-150,000 10000 10000 100000 60000 Over 200,000

(1) Poulton, H. (1991). ?The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict.? London: Minority Rights Group.

Note: The official statistics provided in all the population censuses conducted in Albania since World War II (2002) do not give separate figures about the Roma and Egyptian communities. These numbers are included in the total Albanian population figures. Meanwhile, in some districts, local governments have made their own estimates of the Roma and Egyptian population. In addition, the Roma and Egyptian associations have made their estimates of these populations in certain districts as well as nationally. Several non-Albanian authors have also attempted to approximate the numbers of these two communities. The striking differences between these estimates show that these figures must be taken with a grain of salt.

(2) Bugajski, J. (1994). ?Ethnic Politics in Eastern Europe.? Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharp.

(3) U.S. Department of State. ?Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994.? Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, February, 1995.

(4) Brunër, G. ?Nemzetisegi kerdes es kisebbsegi konfliktusor Kelet-Europaban.? Budapest: Teleki Laszlo Alapitvany, 1995.

The analytic work for this study included primary and secondary data analysis. It involved: a desktop review of relevant literature, qualitative and quantitative methods, and Roma and Egyptian community profiles. The research methodology instruments included: (a) focus group discussions with local Roma and Egyptian communities (separate focus group discussions with women, children, and men); (b) semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, and formal and informal male and female leaders in the Roma or Egyptian community and the neighbouring Albanian community; (c) eight ethnographic case studies - two females, two males, two girls, two boys per community; and (d) one socio-economic household survey questionnaire for Roma and Egyptians, comprising 188 questions for 661 households, and another questionnaire for Albanians (non-Roma and non-Egyptians) comprising 10 questions for 440 households.


The end of socialism marked the beginning of Roma/Egyptians' decline from relative well being to extreme poverty.4 Low skills, discrimination, and the collapse of many state-owned industrial and agricultural enterprises during the transition period have contributed to their mass unemployment, along with rising illiteracy rates and deteriorating health, infrastructure, and housing conditions.

Because of high unemployment in the formal labour market, Roma and Egyptians seek employment in the informal labour market. When income from informal labour is insufficient to meet daily needs, Roma and Egyptians utilise alternative poverty-coping methods, such as international migration, and, as a last resort, prostitution and trafficking of children and drugs. Forms of cognitive and structural social capital – such as trust, community solidarity, and Roma and Egyptian associations – have also emerged during transition to assist families in coping with poverty and economic insecurity in the absence of traditional forms of social organisation and government programs. However, social capital is fragile and does not pull families out of poverty.

According to collected empirical data, the causes of poverty and social exclusion for Roma and Egyptians in Albania are lack of education, employment, and basic infrastructure. The symptoms of poverty and social exclusion are seen in their informal sector activities, migration, aid dependency, and prostitution, which they employ as coping strategies in their daily lives. Their overall approach is to use social capital, evident in different kinds of relationships, exchanges and collaboration. These strategies help to sustain their livelihoods at the edges of mainstream society, but also tend to trap them in poverty and social exclusion. Effective policies are needed to address the multiple dimensions of their poverty and social exclusion, and to identify the specific social, institutional, and political barriers that need to be overcome.

Income and Living Standards

Both groups have fewer opportunities for formal employment than the majority population. They increasingly rely on income sources, such as casual work and self-employment, which are in decline because of increased competition and offer few prospects for improving living standards. An average of 46 percent of their decreasing household income comes from casual work or self-employment.

Graph 1. Distribution of Identified Poverty Categories among Roma, Egyptians, and Albanians


In comparison with the majority of the population, the percentage of the "very poor" group of households among Roma and Egyptians is apparently much higher:5 respectively 75 percent and 70 percent, while for the majority population, it is 28.8 percent.6 These communities are distinguished by two extremes, the 80 percent defined as the "very poor" and "poor" households, and a 5 percent minority in relatively good financial shape. Very poor and poor families face higher levels of social exclusion, because they are less capable of affording daily needs, and less likely to participate in processes that affect their individual livelihoods, such as employment and education.

The state's inability to provide infrastructure and public services contributes to their poverty. The structures to extend utilities into the areas where most of these populations live have not yet been built. More than 40 percent of Roma and 30 percent of Egyptian families do not have running water in their homes because water connections have not been installed. The majority of these families live in makeshift or dilapidated housing with surface areas much lower than the national average. They also face difficulties obtaining state assistance and other forms of social assistance.

Much like Albanian households surveyed in 2000,7 39 percent of Roma and 45 percent of Egyptian households highlighted that the health of household members has declined over the past five years. Determinants of poor health include malnutrition, limited access to health care facilities - especially for Roma and Egyptians in rural areas - and a weak government capacity to provide health services. Only 25 percent of Roma and 29 percent of Egyptians said they have enough money to buy medicine.


The education level of the Albanian population has decreased during transition; among all Albanians, this problem is most pronounced among these communities. Sixty-four percent of Roma and 24 percent of Egyptians aged 7-20 are illiterate;8 while, 40 percent of Roma and 11.3 percent of Egyptians aged 20-40 are illiterate.

The biggest barrier to education is poverty – families cannot afford to pay for schoolbooks or supplies or to feed and clothe children sufficiently for them to attend school. In fact, 67 percent of Roma and 60 percent of Egyptian families cannot afford the costs of books and school supplies.

Many children do not attend school because they are required to contribute to household income by begging or working with parents. Some children migrate abroad to work with their families for several months a year.

Other barriers include limited access to education facilities. In some areas, the long distance between schools from homes, along with a lack of public safety, prevent children from attending school. Moreover, many Roma children, who speak only Romani at home, have little knowledge of the Albanian language when they begin primary school. Discrimination is also a barrier to education. Parents and children described forms of frequent mistreatment by teachers in some localities, such as Korça and Tirana.

The Labour Market

While the national unemployment rate level was around 16 percent at the end of 2002, the rate for Roma and Egyptians derived from the socio-economic survey were 71 and 67 percent, respectively, for the working age population.9 Further, 88 percent of Roma and 83 percent of Egyptians have been unemployed for more than one year. Many became unemployed when state enterprises began restructuring in 1991.

Because of poverty and exclusion from the formal labour market, both groups work in the informal labour market, mainly in casual work, musical performance, can and metal collection, and begging. This work provides inadequate incomes to their families. However, even these incomes are in decline, contributing to emotional stress. If viable alternatives are not developed, their future economic welfare is in jeopardy.

Migration and Remittances

When income from formal or informal work is insufficient to meet daily needs, members of both groups try to migrate abroad for short periods, mainly to Greece. Migrants travel to the recipient country in large groups of 30-300 individuals, in small groups of 10-30 individuals, or in-groups of dozens of families. Most international migration is illegal, since migrants are unable to procure legal visas to recipient countries. Clandestine travel and visas purchased on the black market are expensive and migrants face risks while travelling.

International migration is a poverty-coping method that allows many families to subsist in the short term. Major forms of migrant labour are agriculture, casual work, begging, can/metal collection, and trade in used clothes, and none of these activities produce enough income for migrants' families to escape poverty. Most international migrants send remittances home to their families to purchase basic consumption items. If the remittances are inadequate, families are sometimes extended credit by being put in a "list" by local shop owners.10 In the end, the migrants' absences from home eventually lead to increased poverty because their indebtedness outruns their income. As a result, few migrants can afford to spend their earnings on investments in local infrastructure or business.

Finally, migration among Roma and Egyptian populations contributes to divorce, the weakening of cultural traditions, and low education levels. For example, families separate for long periods of time, resulting in significant emotional stress and marital separation. Musical traditions are being lost, because families of musicians work entire days in agriculture and cannot pass down musical traditions to children. Another drawback of Roma and Egyptian international migration is that it prevents children from attending school, thus increasing child illiteracy.

Prostitution and Trafficking

Prostitution and trafficking of children or drugs are used as coping mechanisms when other methods of survival are unavailable or fail to meet the families' basic needs. However, prostitution and trafficking only compound the situation by contributing to increased poverty.

Women in abusive marriages who wish to separate from their husbands regard prostitution as one of the few existing exit strategies available to them in terms of both life choices and economic survival.

Surprisingly, in relatively prosperous Romani localities, girls or women may be lured into prostitution by Albanian acquaintances who gain the trust of their families by making false marriage proposals, or through business arrangements with family members who approve the selling or renting of girls and women. In this way, Albanian traffickers succeed in bringing Roma girls and women into prostitution.

Child-trafficking is also practiced by some Romani families. Roma families traffick their children in three basic ways. Children are: (i) "rented" to other families for financial gain; (ii) sent by families to nearby cities and towns to work; or (iii) taken abroad by their families, where they work as informal migrant labourers.

Social Inclusion: Recommendations and Policy Implications

Public options11 should not be seen in isolation but as part of a holistic development approach. Policies can be implemented individually, in combination, or in sequence, at the local, district, or national level, with the support of, and in partnership with, different government organisations, NGOs, Romani and Egyptian community organisations, the private sector, and international partners.

Improved access to public goods and services is one key aspect of promoting the social inclusion of these groups. Policies regarding access to the public education system would help improve the quantity and quality of education facilities and teaching for Roma, Egyptian, and Albanian children alike. Inclusion could be fostered through policies that include specific teacher training, Romani and Albanian language courses, after-school classes, and mentoring programs. Another key aspect is the need to establish confidence that education will improve future livelihoods and development opportunities. There also needs to be improved public safety for children to and from school and improved protection of citizens and crime victims.

Policies regarding improved access to public water supply, sanitation, and electricity networks should include improved service provision in areas where the utility infrastructure exists, and an expansion of the public utility networks for families living outside the current network systems.

Policies to improve access to health care must include the provision of basic health care services in remote areas, including sufficient medical personnel. Improved access to healthcare also needs to address citizen complaints about extra charges for medical treatment, via built-in measures to discourage health care services personnel overcharges.

Changes in the eligibility criteria for state assistance, such as making assistance available to designated family members, should replace the current practice of giving benefits only to the male head of household. Modification in the unemployment benefit system would also be useful, where benefits could incrementally decrease over time instead of the present one-year provision.

The strategic promotion of market and employment opportunities for Roma and Egyptians is another way to support their social inclusion. Policy options include the expansion of existing and creation of new local, national, and international markets for their traditional handicrafts and music. In areas where Roma and Egyptians have traditional and new skills, support could be provided to help ensure the sustainability of small and medium-sized enterprises based on those skills. The current gap between these traditional skills and labour demands could be addressed through vocational skills training and qualifications that are tailored to employment opportunities. Similar training and counselling could give more choices to women who are presently not included in SME programs.

Access to the justice system and policy options further advance social inclusion. Among other legislative remedies are the enactment of legislation that enforces spousal/child support payment, the issuance of birth certificates, and granting the Roma and Egyptians official citizen status. Currently those in, or born from, unregistered marriages do not have formal citizen status.

Humanitarian aid for families should be instituted in the form of food, clothes, and basic amenities that encourage school attendance and the completion of compulsory education. Aid could also be used to encourage trainees' attendance and completion of vocational training courses.

Strengthening the civic organisations of Roma is important in the process of empowerment. This structural social capital – formal or informal associations or networks –offers opportunities for both groups to voice their needs and interests and to foster their participation in decision-making at all levels.

The creation of cultural centres has been requested by many Roma and Egyptians to support Romani language, music, history, and handicrafts, and Egyptian music and metal-working traditions. Such centres could also provide services that address the needs that they identified, such as counselling and training for marriage, abused women, family planning, childcare, health, and hygiene education, and vocational training relevant to the local market. The development of women's associations should also be encouraged, as they could assist women in making decisions that affect their lives and could provide legal advice and counselling.

Cultural centres could help promote community-based development, by enabling Roma and Egyptians themselves to develop their communities with the assistance of local, national, and international partners. Finally, such centres could serve as a vehicle for inter-ethnic contact. Through bottom-up social inclusion, Roma, Egyptians, and Albanians would all contribute to social cohesion.

The following table summarises the possibilities to ameliorate the causes of social exclusion: View it (MSWord doc format)!


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  1. -
  2. The origins of both Roma and Egyptians are unclear. Based on linguistic evidence, scholars believe that Roma began migrating westward from India beginning in the 9th century C.E. (See Silverman, Carol. ?Persecution and Politicization: Roma (Gypsies) of Eastern Europe,? Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer/1995). The time of their arrival in the Balkans is also uncertain, but Croatian sources point to a Roma presence there as early as the 14th century. (see Kolsti, J. Albanian Gypsies: The Silent Survivors? in Crowe, Jim and Kolsti, John, The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1991). In contrast, Egyptians claim to have originated in Egypt, and at least three distinct theories exist linking Egyptians to this purported homeland: (i) they arrived in the Balkans from Egypt in the 3rd century B.C.E (See Zemon, R. ?Evërteta mbi Evgjitianët e Shqipërisë?. In Papirus April/2001); or arrived in the 4th century C.E. as Coptic migrants (See Koinova, M. ?Minorities in Southeast Europe: Roma of Albania?, Center for Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe - Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE), 2000); (ii) they descended from Egyptian slaves in the Ottoman army (See Courthiades, M. and Duka, J. A Social and Historical Profile of the Rroms in Albania. (ECRI). 1995; Fonseca, I. Bury Me Standing. The Gypsies and Their Journey. London: Chatto & Windus; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and (iii) they are semi-integrated Roma who, much earlier than other Roma, ended their nomadic traditions and lost the Roma language. (See Fonseca). None of these claims has been substantiated, and, despite claiming separate origins, the Egyptians are now considered a subcategory of the Roma.
  3. ?fis" is a type of social organisation that is based on a unilineal descent group. A unilineal descent group can be based on patrilineal descent (patrilineage) or matrilineal descent (matrilineage) whose members trace descent from an apical ancestor/ancestress by known genealogical links. The Albania Roma fis (as well as the Albanian fis) is based on patrilineal descent. A patrilineal descent traces through a line of ancestors in the male line, while a matrilineal descent is a principle of descent from an ancestress through her daughter, her daughter's daughter, etc. (in the female line). (Keesing, R.M., Cultural Anthropology: A Contemporary Perspective. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1992.)
  4. De Soto, H., Gordon, P., Gedeshi, I., & Sinoimeri, Z. Poverty in Albania: A Qualitative Assessment. Washington, DC: The World Bank. 2002.
  5. De Soto et al. ?Poverty in Albania: A Qualitative Assessment.? 2002.
  6. Ibid.
  7. De Soto, H., Gordon, P., Gedeshi, I., Sinoimeri, Z. ?A Qualitative Assessment of Poverty in 10 Areas of Albania,? Washington, DC: World Bank. 2001.
  8. Respondents aged 21-40 attended state schools from 1970?1990, and Roma illiteracy rates and educational levels are comparable from as early as 1970. By 1970, all Roma had been settled in permanent localities, which created the appropriate conditions for the state to enforce mandatory school attendance. Prior to the settlement of Roma, school attendance was unenforceable, so education levels prior to 1970 are not comparable to education levels in later periods.
  9. The national unemployment figure is derived from INSTAT, 2002. Roma and Egyptian unemployment data results from the socio-economic household questionnaires with Roma and Egyptians for the needs assessment (2002/03).
  10. A ?list? refers to informal credit granted by a shop owner to a customer that permits a customer to take goods now and pay later.
  11. Public options are part of public choice. Public choice is a policy term that refers to an institutional system based on pluralism in which policy-makers can choose between different policy options to meet priorities.


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