Bulgarian Government Approves First Ever Action Plan on Roma

07 February 2004

According to a press release of the Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Project (HRP) dated October 16, 2003, by its decision No. 693, the Council of Ministers approved Bulgarian Government's Action Plan for Implementation of the Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society through 2004. The Action Plan is welcomed as the Bulgarian government's first such initiative in the course of four years since the adoption of the Framework Programme in 1999, though the Action Plan raises serious concerns, as noted by the HRP.

On the positive side, the Action Plan envisages measures for the education of law enforcement officials in implementing anti-discrimination legislation and the introduction of anti-discrimination clauses in school ordinances. Most money available within the Action Plan is earmarked for measures devoted to combating long term unemployment among Bulgarian citizens, including Roma. The Action Plan further elaborates general health service providers in 15 cities and health education programmes for Roma in seven cities. Beginning with the current school year, the Action Plan authorises teaching assistants and sets aside 1.2 million Bulgarian leva (approximately 600,000 Euro) for school directors to employ teaching assistants. An additional 2 million Bulgarian leva (approximately 1 million Euro) is earmarked to provide free textbooks for "ensuring of free of charge textbooks for all poor children, including Romani children." Two-hundred-and-eighty-four houses are to be built in Plovdiv and the infrastructure improved in four cities' Romani neighbourhoods.

The HRP, however, noted that certain aspects of the Action Plan raise serious concerns. The total amount of the funds allocated for Roma-related activities is 271,199,431 Bulgarian leva (approximately 135 million Euro). Although this is a significant increase as compared to previous years, the HRP noted that the funds cover expenses which are not specifically for Roma. For example, the biggest amount envisaged by the Action Plan - 217 million Bulgarian leva (approximately 111,133,000 Euro) - covers expenses for the Ministry of Social Affairs' programme "From Social Benefits to Employment", which is not a Roma-specific programme, although many Roma have been participating in it. Another amount allocated in the Action Plan - 28 million Bulgarian leva (approximately 14,340,000 Euro) - covers expenses for the programme "Beautiful Bulgaria", which is not a Roma-specific programme either.

Another problem posed by the Action Plan is the lack of funds for the desegregation of Romani education - one of the priorities of the Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society. Nor does the Action Plan envisage any funds for transportation of Romani children from segregated schools into mainstream schools.

Finally, the HRP noted that the Action Plan was adopted hastily, prior to the release of the EU Commission's Regular Report on Bulgaria's Progress Towards Accession for 2003, leaving practically no time for civil society - including Romani organisations - to review it and comment on it.



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