Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 18:58 UK

EU urges action to integrate Roma

Roma woman in France
Poverty makes it hard for many Roma to integrate

The poverty and discrimination that blight the lives of many Roma (Gypsies) across Europe have dominated an EU conference in Brussels.

The special meeting on Tuesday was called to encourage EU member states to give Roma the access to education and welfare that other citizens enjoy.

About 10 million Roma live in the EU - and the European Commission says they face deeply embedded discrimination.

The Commission president issued an urgent appeal to help them.

"The problem which we are facing together... is one of great urgency," Jose Manuel Barroso said.

More than 400 officials, Roma representatives and civil society activists attended the conference, the first such EU summit.

Some Roma delegates wore T-shirts saying "No to ethnic profiling," the AFP news agency reported.

Italy criticised

An Italian move to fingerprint Roma - already condemned by the European Parliament and human rights groups as discriminatory - came under fire again.

George Soros, founder of the Open Society Institute, said it was "a case of ethnic profiling which ought to be illegal," the Associated Press reported.

Italy's right-wing government introduced the fingerprinting measure, saying it would cut crime and push Roma children to attend school instead of begging.

An estimated 150,000 Roma live in Italy, mainly in squalid, makeshift camps on the outskirts of major cities.

'Daily discrimination'

The Brussels conference was aimed at raising awareness of Roma needs and identifying the best ways to improve their lives.

Joseph Jones, vice-chairman of the UK Gypsy Council, told the BBC that "we face daily discrimination".

"We face discrimination from the press, from local councillors, from local people, in education. We're totally segregated in education, we're segregated in the planning system, so we've been facing segregation for many years," he said.

In 2000-2006 the European Commission spent 275m euros (218m) on projects specifically geared towards helping Roma. A further one billion euros was spent on disadvantaged groups in general, including Roma.

Grappling with a Roma identity
01 Sep 08 |  Europe

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