Opening address by UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton at the Presentation of the Regional Roma Survey 2017May 2, 2018
Dear Prime Minister Zoran Zaev
Minister of Labor and Social Policy Mila Carovska
Minister Aksel Ahmedovski
Mayor of Suto Orizari Kurto Dudus
EU Head of Cooperation Nicola Bertolini
World Bank Country Manager Marco Mantovanelli
Distinguished guests from Government, civil society and academia
On behalf of the entire United Nations team and UNDP in particular, it’s a pleasure to be here today.
Let me start by thanking the Prime Minister for his presence and for hosting the event in the Government building – this gives the issue of Roma inclusion the status and focus it so richly deserves.
UNDP has for decades been a key provider of data and analysis on the situation of Europe’s Roma community, including landmark surveys covering both European Union member states and aspiring EU members.
Our last major study was completed in 2011, so the need for fresh data is acute.
We thank the EU for the generous financial support that made it possible to undertake a new survey in 2017 covering 6,760 households across the Western Balkans.
And we thank the World Bank for the excellent partnership in analyzing the findings.
In relative terms, the new data for 2017 paint a highly favorable picture for this country.
Among all the Western Balkan countries, this country offers the best – or at least the least bad – opportunities for its Roma citizens.
And it has also shown the biggest improvements of any country for the period since 2011.
However – and I have to underline here that this is a big caveat – the gaps in quality of life enjoyed by members of the Roma community and their non-Roma neighbors remain wide and persistent.
The statistical chasms that the survey exposes should leave us both alarmed and ashamed.
Let’s take hunger. Nearly four in ten Roma households (39 percent) report that at least one family member goes to bed hungry every night. The share for their non-Roma neighbors is just 7 percent.
Or employment. Only 26 percent of Roma young people are active in any way in the labor market, whether in a job or some form of school or training, against 67 percent for non-Roma youth.
Or sanitation. Only 74 percent of Roma households have indoor toilets, against 93 percent for their non-Roma neighbors.
Sadly, for every area where progress has been recorded since 2011 – for example in completion rates for secondary education or in overcrowded housing – there is another area of regression – for instance in the share of Roma children attending segregated schools, or in preschool enrollments.
These new data are an important reality check. They should spur us all to work harder and better to improve policies and practices to deliver on the promise of equal opportunities for all citizens.
We have heard already from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labor and Social Policy about the numerous measures undertaken in the past ten months to address deficiencies, and we salute the Government for its resolve to deliver improvements in the situation of Roma.
As for the Government, all of the UN agencies in the country are firmly committed to this effort, in line with our shared resolve under the Sustainable Development Goals to “leave no one behind.”
Narrowing the gaps between Roma and non-Roma citizens features as a top priority in the UN strategy for the five years from 2016 to 2020, and many practical efforts are already way.
Colleagues from UNICEF, UNHCR and other UN agencies are here today and can speak in more detail about specific activities that are under way.
UNDP, for its part, is working in partnership with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to apply coaching and mentorship to improve success rates for Roma in job-creation programs.
We are also supporting the Ministry of Education and Science in developing an equivalency program to enable Roma and other persons who failed to finish primary education to earn a diploma.
And, with generous financial support from the Kingdom of Norway, we are in the midst of rebuilding the only kindergarten in the municipality of Suto Orizari, which was destroyed by fire last February.
Let me use this opportunity to note that UNDP continues to seek additional funding to ensure that the rebuilt facility will meet several additional priority needs identified by the local community.
As is clear from the statements by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and other speakers this morning, there is an abundance of good will inside the Government and among its partners to expand policies that are showing results and design new measures in areas where we seem unable to make progress.
Here the new survey data offer an excellent opportunity to take stock and make a fresh start.
Please count on every support from the UN and UNDP in reassessing and redesigning policies for Roma inclusion, to ensure that – in deeds as well as words – we really do leave no one behind.