Roma civil society: Austria should expand its integration targeting beyond employment

February 27, 2020

The second Roma Civil Monitor (RCM) report for Austria has found that the National Roma Integration Strategy (NRIS) process there brought about a tenfold increase in the number of Roma-targeted ESF programmes implemented between 2015 and 2019, specifically those making it possible for civil society to empower Roma in accessing the labour market.

The NRIS does not address housing, which is an area in which EU-mobile Roma and travelling groups continue to face challenges, nor does it address health outcomes, for which there is little information with respect to Roma in Austria. Funding for existing education programmes impacting Roma has grown just slightly as a result of the NRIS process. In order to build on the good results of the existing effective inclusion programmes in the area of education, stronger linkage with mainstream education policies and the institutionalization of initiatives that work well, such as Romani mediators, are both needed.

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.

Danijela Kostic, a mediator for Roma in the schools, speaking on 19.11.2019 during the Roma Dialogue Platform event at the Vienna Education Directorate. (Photo by Mirjam Karoly)

“Through my work I am contributing to a positive environment in the schools,” says Danijela Kostic, who works as a mediator for the Roma community in the schools. “If Roma children can freely express their identity, it enhances their overall educational opportunities. I started 13 years ago as a mediator; my language skills in German, Serbian, Romani and Romanian are an asset for many Roma children in Vienna. We are recognized as creating an environment of trust in the schools for teachers, children and parents.”

Research in 2014 into the situation of migrants who are Roma in Vienna found that the unemployment rate among migrants who are Roma is higher (13 per cent) than it is among migrants in general (9 per cent) and much higher than the unemployment rate of non-migrants (3 per cent). Ethnic discrimination against Roma as jobseekers could be part of the problem.  

Other research conducted among migrants in Vienna and published in 2015 found that Roma migrants are disadvantaged when it comes to housing compared to non-Roma migrants or non-migrants. The share of Roma migrants living in substandard apartments is 38 per cent, and overcrowding is a problem, resulting in a reduced quality of life. For many disadvantaged Roma families generally, municipally administered housing is more affordable than renting on the private market in Vienna.

As a result of the NRIS process, Austria’s ESF Roma programmes 2015-2019 and 2019 to 2022 were funded with EUR 7.5 million EUR; Instrument A of the ESF programmes allocated funding to 10 projects to empower Roma to access the labour market. This allocation represents the greatest impact of the NRIS process on Roma-targeted policy in Austria.

Roma civil society groups recommend that the successful employment empowerment measures recently piloted should be taken up by the public labour market service and integrated into mainstream policies. Successful labour market integration depends on addressing the complex obstacles and discrimination facing Roma women and men, as well as on early intervention focusing on education, training and the transition from education to the labour market. Housing should also be included in the current and future NRIS, and Roma-targeted programmes should be developed to improve access, based on research. Health care professionals should be made aware of the situation of Roma in Austria with regard to accessing care. With respect to education, mediation by Roma in the schools should be further institutionalized and targeted education programmes should be supported; content on representing Roma culture and history in textbooks at various levels should be developed with Roma organizations; educators should be encouraged to use existing teaching resources about Roma; and classes in the Romani language should be offered to more Roma children, especially in Vienna, where the education authority should actively recruit such staff in collaboration with civil society.