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European Stability Initiative (ESI) is a site where you can find reports on South Eastern Europe and European enlargement Policy. Recent projects are about the situation in Turkey and EU policy on Visa-Free Travel for the Western Balkan.

The situation of the Roma minority in Albania

Roma people have lived in Albania for 600 years. Originally from the Indian continent, it is believed that Roma people in Albania have arrived via three different ways: Turkey, Greece and Montenegro. There are four tribes living in Albania that all speak the same language and have the same traditions and culture. In Albania there is religious and ethnical tolerance and because of this Roma people can live peacefully here. An estimated 120.000-150.000 Roma people are living in Albania, with a concentration in the south-east of the country. These are not official data since there still has been no study on the registration of Roma people.

Before the 1990s the situation of Roma was quite similar to the rest of the Albanian population. They worked in different state sectors and incomes of their families were on the same level as incomes of the majority of the population. After the 1990s, however, the situation of Roma people in Albania grew critical; most of the Roma people lost their jobs because of the privatisation of the state industry. The democratization process that developed in Albania and the period of transition caused an economic catastrophe for Roma families. Some factors influenced the conditions of Roma in this period in particular, for example, the competition on the free trade market and labour market and migration. At the moment around 90% of Roma people in Albania are unemployed. Some of them are self-employed in the trade market, but other Roma businesses have been unsuccessful. World Bank data show that the average expenses of a Roma family are 199 USD per month, that 40 % of Roma families live in bad conditions, and that only 20 % of the Roma people have an adequate income to buy medicines. On top of this they have difficulties in benefiting from social assistance policies of the state.

One of the main reasons of the disability to compete in the arising free market economy is the low level of education. Illiteracy amongst Roma has increased during the transition period. The percentage of illiteracy is as high as 52.4 %; 56.5% are women and 48.3 % are men. About 40% of Roma families ask their children to work to ensure primary needs and this is the main reason why children do not attend school.

Another important emerging problem is that many Roma families have bad housing conditions. Parts of their houses have been destroyed by government with the promise of rebuilding them, but so far this issue has not been solved. The result of this is that they live in shamble cabins or even in the streets.

All these different aspects, high unemployment rates, the absence of learning, and bad housing conditions are a bustle for racism. During the transition period Roma people had a lot of problems which were put in view by the media. In general the Albanian media treated Roma people in a positive way, but there have also been cases when journalists published misinformation; Roma people are blamed for a lot of criminality, for example, because they are an easy subject, unable to defend themselves properly.

Based on research carried out by the World Bank, the Albanian government has approved a National Strategy for the period 2003-2015 in order to raise living conditions of the Roma people. This Strategy will operate in different fields to solve problems of Roma, such as the bad housing conditions, unemployment, and lack of education. Several Roma NGOs have approved of and accepted this Strategy, and contribute to the implementation of the strategy. However, many Roma people are disillusioned by the responsible Ministry, because four years have passed since the implementation of the strategy and there is insufficient budget available. Roma NGOs have been lobbying to secure the budget for the coming 8 years. Another problem that Roma people have protested for is that some associations have abused the system by claiming money in the name of Roma.

In the name of all the Roma people in Albania we hope that Roma will see progress in the integration of Roma in Albanian society.

Ramazan Mile and Alma Lleshi, Albanian Roma Union ‘Amaro-Drom’, Tirana

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