Roma civil society: The Netherlands must first do no harm when implementing inclusion

January 30, 2020

The second Roma Civil Monitor (RCM) report for the Netherlands has found that while the authorities have developed measures for implementing its equivalent of a National Roma Integration Strategy (NRIS), many are not just unsuccessful, but actually harmful to the Roma community. Access to the labour market is difficult for ethnic minorities generally, and the report finds even educated Roma face exclusion in the Netherlands due to inequality and sometimes due to statelessness. Roma also face discrimination on the housing market, but the current measures do not address this. There is earmarked funding intended as reparations for the suffering during the Second World War, but it is not easily accessible and even that funding has been regularly denied to the country’s only Roma women’s organisation. Crucially, there is less antigypsyism experienced by Roma children in education in the Netherlands than is experienced by Roma in the other sectoral areas examined by the report.

The RCM reports are part of a research project that began in 2017 and is funded by the European Commission for the purpose of strengthening the involvement of Roma civil society in the monitoring of Roma integration strategies across the EU. The added value of civil society monitoring is that it builds on the direct experience of Roma women and men and represents their independent voices.

Michelle Mila Van Burik Bihari
Utrecht, The Netherlands
December 2019
(PHOTO:  Esmeralda Shoshanna)

"The danger and the future consequences of antigypsyism and statelessness in Europe are being underestimated, and institutionalised discrimination is still deeply rooted. Therefore, it is absolutely vital to strengthen and combine our forces against this at all levels and to take up leadership on this; the Roma Civil Monitor report has helped us to discover more about which areas Roma experience discrimination in the most," says Michelle Mila Van Burik Bihari of the Roma Association in Utrecht, who coordinated and wrote the report.

A 2017 Government report mentions the piloting of a “Programme on Combating Exploitation of Roma Children” that has been locally implemented in the Netherlands. Civil society reports that this programme entailed child protection services removing Roma children from their families of origin; many were only returned after months of legal battles, if their parents could access legal aid from the NGO sector.

While the pilot ended in 2017, the Government has reportedly decided to beef up this kind of policy in the future. Ethnic registration has been officially forbidden in the Netherlands since after the Second World War, but according to the report, the ethnic registration of Roma has been conducted unofficially by local authorities and police in some municipalities in association with this policy.

There is a general dislike of Roma, of Sinti, and of Travellers living traditionally in the Netherlands. Employment agencies and employers themselves discriminate against ethnic minorities generally in the Netherlands; according to a local antidiscrimination agency, employment agencies discriminate based on ethnicity in 47% of cases. In 2018, the Government decided to institute fines against such agencies for failure to implement anti-discrimination policies. The RCM report found that while local Roma organisations have been suggesting alternative policies, such as access to microcredit so Roma entrepreneurs can start small businesses, their suggestions have so far been ignored by the authorities.

The civil society recommendations to the authorities in the Netherlands include the following:  European Social Fund resources should be made accessible to small NGOs generally; measures should be designed with measurable indicators, implemented, and monitored to improve Roma health by addressing barriers to accessing healthcare such as antigypsyism and statelessness; at an early stage of education, measures should be implemented to help Roma children overcome the language barrier; early school leaving prevention measures should be intensified where this phenomenon is still a problem; and last but not least, promising practices in collaboration among local stakeholders, principals and teachers to offer Roma children more chances in the schools should be intensified, with Roma children and parents participating in all stages of the designing, implementing and monitoring of such programmes.