Lenia Samuel, EU Deputy Director-General of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, addressed a one-day seminar organised by the European Commission, local Roma organisations and the Hungarian government. The event is being attended by 250 delegates from Hungarian and foreign Roma organisations and foundations.
Samuel stressed the need to develop truly inclusive societies and effectively and sustainably remove the disadvantaged Roma groups from the vicious circle of prejudice, poor qualifications, dismal health conditions, poverty and social exclusion.
Zoltan Balog, Hungary’s state secretary in charge of social inclusion, called for a complex approach to the Roma issue, which he said was connected with deep poverty, regional discrepancies and ethnic background alike.
The government is committed to promoting Roma inclusion, focusing on better housing, improving the standard of education and raising the community’s social welfare through a new type of employment policy, Balog said.
”There is a struggle between hatred and cooperation in present-day Hungary. The government has a vested interest in strengthening the latter,” the state secretary said, adding that the “sober, intelligent majority” of society can be convinced about the importance of Roma integration.
Florian Farkas, government commissioner in charge of support for the Roma, called the Roma issue the biggest challenge the European Union would face in five to ten years.
”Although Hungary’s EU accession is generally considered a success story, the Roma community has not managed to reap any benefit from it,” he said.
Although the EU has granted massive funding to help the Roma, this money has not been drawn in full. Despite the tens of billions of forints earmarked for education over the past few years, the jobless rate of the community has not fallen, he said.
The number of Roma, the largest minority, in Hungary is estimated to be around 640,000. They are generally much poorer and less educated than the majority. The unemployment rate is high, with some north-eastern localities showing a staggering rate of 95 to 100 percent. Life expectancy at birth is around ten years lower than for non-Roma, and their mortality rate is far higher.