Roma in Ukraine: Council of Europe ‘disappointed, concerned, alarmed’

22 March 2018

By Bernard Rorke

While Ukrainian society “continues to be tolerant, open and respectful of multiple identities” it seems that this benevolence does not stretch to include the Roma. The Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee for the Protection of National Minorities, in its latest opinion on Ukraine*, describes the situation of the Roma as “one of the most pressing social problems in Ukraine” and details how Roma continue to face deep-seated difficulties in access to education, housing, health services, and employment; and that Roma still “suffer from school segregation, widespread anti-Gypsyism, including hate speech.”

Anti-Roma hostility

For many Roma, harassment and various forms of violence are a common occurrence, with reports of cases of mob attacks meting out collective punishment, which has included grievous bodily harm, damage to property, and expulsions. The Committee expressed alarm at the alleged collusion of the local authorities in some incidents, most notably in Loshchynivka where the authorities, at the height of the tensions, apparently affirmed to the mob their agreement that all Roma residents should be expelled from the settlement.

The Committee called for proper investigations and effective prevention of racially motivated acts of violence, and reiterated its call on the authorities to ensure that public statements by politicians that incite racist or ethnic hatred are unequivocally condemned, promptly investigated and adequately sanctioned, to ensure that such discourse is not condoned in society.

Police violence and misconduct

The Advisory Committees was deeply concerned about allegations of police misconduct and harassment against Roma, and continued reports of excessively violent police raids on Roma settlements, where officers have indiscriminately beaten, humiliated and arrested Roma. In addition it was reported that law enforcement bodies are slow to intervene in cases of domestic violence putting Romani women’s lives further at risk. Roma also continue to fall victim to racial or ethnic profiling by the police when conducting document checks, as well as arbitrary arrests, systematic fingerprinting and photographing. The Advisory Committee described these practices as incompatible with Article 6 of the Framework Convention, requiring an urgent response by the authorities.

School segregation

The Advisory Committee was deeply concerned that Roma children to be segregated in sub-substandard schools or routed into so-called ‘special education’. Disproportionate numbers of Romani children are diagnosed as having ‘special needs’ – the Committee noted that although enrolment into ‘special education’ schools follows in each case an examination by an expert committee which assesses whether a child requires an adapted curriculum or has particular education needs,

“it is most surprising that according to information provided by Roma representatives, entire families of Roma children have been officially diagnosed as having special education needs and have all been enrolled in this school.”

Equally worryingly were reports that some integrated schools refuse admission to Roma children, and those which admit Roma pupils operate a quota system of no more than two Roma children per class. The Committee was ‘disturbed, alarmed and concerned’ at such segregationist practices, and deeply that instead of trying to facilitate Romani children’s access to education, school directors place multiple obstacles to prevent enrolment, and frequently display open prejudice against the Roma and voice prejudicial views. The Committee called on the authorities to “take all necessary measures to end, without further delay, practices that lead to the continued segregation of Roma children at school and to redouble their efforts to remedy other shortcomings faced by Roma children in accessing education.”

Roma Integration Strategy up to 2020

The Advisory Committee for the protection of national minorities noted that the authorities’ efforts on Roma inclusion had done nothing to improve their living conditions, and expressed regret that the 2013 national integration strategy was drafted without consulting the Roma. The documents contain no implementation or monitoring mechanisms, and are ill equipped to ensure the effective participation of Roma in social and economic life.  They lack strategic objectives, dedicated budgets and a gender component. The Committee noted that these and other shortcomings were identified from the outset by the OSCE, the ERRC, and local NGOs such as Chiricli: “Regrettably, the identified shortcomings have not been addressed by the authorities.”

Identity documents, health and housing

The lack of significant progress on the specific issue of identity documents was particularly disappointing and the Advisory Committee noted that progress in this area largely depends on active involvement of civil society organisations such as the Roma NGO Chiricli which assisted about 10,000 Roma in getting ID cards, birth certificates, registration, pension and invalidity benefits. This lack of documents deprives many Roma of basic rights and access to public services.

As a direct consequence Roma continue to experience problems in accessing health care. In addition, many impoverished Roma cannot cover additional costs during treatment. According to Roma representatives, occurrences of refusal of treatment and lack of awareness of Roma specificities continue to be reported. The Advisory Committee welcomed the network of Roma health mediators but insisted that provision of health care is first and foremost a responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities who should be more proactive in this regard and not reliant on the involvement of civil society and international institutions.

The Committee expressed concern about the “deplorable substandard living conditions” that members witnessed in a number of settlements, and called for concerted efforts to provide running water, sewage treatment, and access to roads; and further noted that notes the provision of social housing is deeply inadequate.

In short, this latest opinion from the Council of Europe, confirms that Roma continue to suffer from multiple discrimination, extreme social exclusion, and remain the “most socially vulnerable national minority”.

It remains a matter of ‘deep regret and concern’ that the authorities have so far failed to take heed of any of the recommendations made by civil society groups and international organisations to break these dire cycles of exclusion and immiseration inflicted upon the Roma of Ukraine.  

*Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities Fourth Opinion on Ukraine - Adopted on 10 March 2017. Published on 5 March 2018. Available at:


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