ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on Roma), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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2. Hate Speech

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Hate Speech in public life

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25. Civil society representatives also informed ECRI that racist insults against Black persons still occur frequently in day-to-day life, especially on public transport. Members of the Roma community are also regularly subjected to discriminatory comments in public. The LCHR carried out a study on the coverage of Roma in Latvian Media in 2013-14 and highlighted cases of stereotyping. The study found that although some media also discussed matters of daily life and social issues concerning Roma, there was nevertheless a common practice of portraying Roma as offenders, which in turn reinforced the widespread negative stereotypes about Roma in Latvia.22 ECRI also received information about antisemitic threats that were made to the Jewish community school in 2015.

22 LCHR (2015): 2

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4. Integration

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Roma

64. The Roma community in Latvia is relatively small; the CSB 2017 figures indicated 5191 persons.70 Roma associations, however, point out that many Roma do not volunteer information about their ethnic origin to the authorities due to persistent stigmatisation and prejudice against Roma in the public sphere. Roma NGOs estimate that the number might easily be two or three times as high.71 In 2012, in order to promote the integration policy for Roma, evaluate its implementation and increase participation of the Roma community, the authorities set up the Advisory Council for Implementation of the Roma Integration Policy. The Council consists of representatives from public bodies, local governments, NGOs and members of the Roma community.72 In 2015, the Society Integration Foundation commissioned a research project on Roma in Latvia, which examined their access to education, employment, health care and housing services. The report shows that although some progress has been made, for example in certain areas of health care (access to obstetrics and frequency of visits to family doctors73), Roma remain one of the most socially marginalised groups in the country.74 In spite of ECRI’s recommendation in its last report,75 the authorities decided not to adopt a new national Roma strategy, but instead opted for a general approach which aims at including Roma into existing mainstream integration policies and programmes. However, given the difficult situation of the Roma community76 and the existing barriers to accessing regular social integration programmes (see, for example, § 71 below), ECRI encourages the authorities to closely monitor the effectiveness of their choice and to reconsider the decision if necessary.

70 Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2017): 32.
71 The Council of Europe estimates the number to be around 12 500. (See:
https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/roma).
72 The Council implemented, for example, the project Latvian Roma platform I “Dialogue, cooperation and involvement”, which supported the dialogue between Roma groups, government and municipality institutions in order to ensure better coordination of integration measures for Roma at national, regional and local level.
73 Society Integration Foundation (SIF) / Market and Opinion Research Agency (2015): 7 and 81.
74 Ibid.: 3-5.
75 ECRI (2012): § 103.

76 See for example: EU Commission (2014).

Education

65. In spite of various efforts by the authorities,77 including at local level, to support the education of Roma children, and some progress with regard to enrolment rates of Roma children in previous years,78 overall success has been very limited.79 The 2015 research report on Roma in Latvia revealed the full extent of the dismally low levels (or even complete absence) of formal education among many Roma. Almost half (48.8%) of the surveyed members of the Roma community had not completed compulsory primary school education (which in Latvia extends to the 9th grade), including 8.9% who had never been to school at all and some 30% who only completed less than 7 grades (completion of the 7th grade is the minimum schooling requirement for participation in vocational training courses offered by the State Employment Agency – see § 71 below). A further 34% had only finished primary education, while just 12% finished secondary education.80 These findings point to the urgent need for strong action to tackle the problem of marginalisation of Roma in the field of education, which in turn is a root cause for their high rates of unemployment and related socio-economic exclusion.81

77 Cf. ECRI (2012): § 107.
78 SIF (2015): 45.
79 See for example: Ibid.: 35.
80 Ibid.: 37. – Survey among 365 Roma, which equates to approximately 7% of the registered Roma population in Latvia.
81 Ibid.: 34 and 37.

66. In its last report, ECRI reiterated as a matter of priority82 its previous
recommendation to close any remaining special classes for Roma and integrate Roma students into mainstream classes. To facilitate this, ECRI recommended that the authorities reinstate the Roma assistant teachers trained under the previous Plan for Roma and also address the high representation of Roma children in special needs’ schools. In its 2015 interim follow-up conclusions, ECRI noted that progress had been made through the reinstatement of Roma assistant teachers and through the provision of guidance material to teachers on how to better integrate Roma children into mainstream classes. ECRI also noted that further to a recommendation from the Ombudsman in 2013, some local authorities had discontinued separate classes for Roma, but others had not, although negotiations were reportedly underway to change this situation. On the
other hand, however, ECRI was concerned about information indicating that the percentage of Roma children attending special needs schools had actually increased, from 11.6% in 2011 to 16.1% for the academic year 2013-2014 and therefore considered its priority recommendation as partially implemented.83

82 ECRI (2012): § 108.
83 ECRI (2015): 5.

67. During its visit to Latvia in 2017, ECRI did not receive any information about the existence of separate Roma classes anymore, but encourages the authorities to monitor this situation to avoid any reintroduction of such a practice in the future. However, according to figures provided to ECRI by the Ministry of Education and Science, out of a total of 900 Roma pupils enrolled during the school year 2016/17 in Latvia, more than one third (34.2%) were enrolled in special needs programmes. In the Special primary education programme for students with learning disabilities, 22.4% of pupils were Roma children, in spite of the fact that Roma account for less than 1% of the country’s population. In the Special primary education programme for students with mental development disorders, the ratio is even higher at 39%. ECRI continues to be deeply concerned about the
disproportionately high number of Roma children enrolled in special needs
programmes. In this respect, the authorities informed ECRI that they are in the process of generally integrating children with special needs into mainstream education, which should also benefit Roma children who might be wrongly placed in special needs programmes. However, given the time it will take to implement this strategy and the large number of Roma pupils concerned, ECRI considers that the situation requires urgent measures to address the high representation of Roma children in special needs programmes.

68. With regard to Roma teaching assistants, the Ministry of Education and Science informed ECRI that while four teaching assistants of Roma ethnicity were employed in general education institutions in the school year 2013/2014, there were only two in the 2016/2017 period. At the same time, schools indicated that in the 2017/2018 study year they would require 16 Roma teaching assistants, making the mismatch between needs and existing capacities in this area evident. In addition, ECRI has been informed that Roma mediators currently work in five municipalities in the education sector. Their work is said to have been very useful in increasing school enrolment and decreasing dropout rates among Roma children. However the positions of these mediators are not funded for the long term which could undermine the results that have been achieved so far.

69. ECRI strongly recommends that the Latvian authorities take more effective steps to improve the situation of Roma children in the education sector. The authorities should in particular (i) take immediate action to remedy the situation for Roma pupils who have been wrongly placed in special needs programmes; (ii) ensure that a sufficient number of Roma teaching assistants are employed; and (iii) make the positions of existing Roma mediators permanent and assess if additional mediators are required.

Employment

70. The very low levels of education described above, as well as frequently reported cases of anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination from potential employers result in high rates of unemployment among Roma, which in turn impacts negatively on their standard of living. The 2015 research project found that the ratio of the unemployed, both registered and unregistered, among (potentially) economically active Roma was around two-thirds (67.6%). While this can be viewed as an improvement compared to 2003 study results which had indicated a ratio of 90- 95%, the 2015 figure for Latvia’s overall population stood, in sharp contrast, at 9.9%.84

84 SIF (2015): 64.

71. In the context of high unemployment rates among Roma, the issue of
professional and vocational training and qualifications is of particular importance. From its discussions with the various relevant stakeholders, ECRI gained the distinct impression that the State Employment Agency (SEA) does not cooperate with other public entities and NGOs as much as is needed and expected when it comes to the difficult task of Roma integration into the labour market. A particular problem in this regard remains the absence of Roma-specific measures. While professional and vocational training courses are offered by the SEA to all unemployed persons, they usually require participants to have completed primary school up to 7th grade, a requirement which already excludes a large number of Roma (see § 66 above). According to SEA data of August 2015, the educational level of 67.4% of registered unemployed Roma was lower than the compulsory
primary education and 20% of them did not possess reading and writing skills.85 There is a lack of programmes suitable for Roma who have such limited education. Attempts to persuade the SEA to develop and offer courses for participants with lower educational backgrounds have so far not yielded any success.

85 Ibid.: 5.

72. ECRI recommends that the authorities ensure that the State Employment Agency offers professional and vocational training also for persons with very low levels of formal education in order to benefit those members of the Roma community who have been hitherto excluded.

Health

73. Although some progress has been made with regard to Roma accessing health care, especially for their children,86 significant gaps remain in the area of knowledge about different health care options and entitlements.87 It has come to ECRI’s attention in this context that the planned new health insurance scheme might create disadvantages for unemployed persons. Although the authorities realised this problem and included hardship provisions, for example for long term unemployed persons, this could still affect members of the Roma community disproportionately, as they often do not register as unemployed and are in many cases insufficiently aware of available services and relevant provisions.88

86 Ibid.: 81.
87 Ibid.: 89-92.
88 Ibid.: 89 and 91

74. ECRI recommends that the authorities closely monitor the impact of the new health insurance rules on the Roma community and make adjustments if necessary. In this context, the authorities should conduct out-reach and information campaigns to ensure that members of the Roma community are fully aware of their rights and entitlements in the field of health care.


Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f

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