The controversy over France's deportations of Roma men, women, and children has drawn public attention to the plight of Europe’s largest ethnic minority. Roma regularly are denied equal access to housing, shunted into segregated schools, and face barriers to health care. In every country where the Roma live, the general population is hostile toward them. These conditions make a mockery of European values and stain Europe’s conscience.
The greatest divide between the Roma and majority populations is not one of culture or lifestyle but of poverty and inequality. Roma want to—and can—integrate if they are given the opportunity, as shown by the work of my Open Society Foundations. Roma share the same aspirations of the majority populations: a home with adequate services, a decent education for their children, and jobs that enable them to provide for their families. It is because they face appalling discrimination and deprivation at home that they continue to migrate across Europe.
Over the last 20 years, my Foundations have given nearly $150 million to improve the lives of Roma, but we cannot solve this problem alone.
Policymakers must recognize that the pan-European nature of this problem demands a comprehensive and effective strategy for Roma inclusion. And there are funds available to help address these inequities. Right now there are €20 billion of structural funds which are available to foster social inclusion, yet only a tiny proportion of these funds actually reach the Roma.
I urge the European Union to redirect a larger portion of structural funds to Roma, by cutting out administrative obstacles and asking countries for integrated plans for Roma. New EU member states need to show political will and improve their capacity to implement programs, especially for Roma education. It will take time but this terrible situation can improve if we seize the moment. I only hope with public attention to this problem will help bring about real change.