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Hungary: Roma suffer from economic transition

Hungary: UN expert says Roma suffer from economic transition, racial discrimination

Hungary has taken significant steps to address the problems faced by its minorities, particularly the Roma, but the country's economic transition as well as racial discrimination continue to place them at a disadvantage compared to the majority, an independent United Nations expert said today.

In a statement issued in Geneva, UN Independent Expert on minority issues Gay McDougall hailed the “high degree of cooperation and assistance demonstrated by the Government of Hungary” in the course of her visit, which began on 26 June and included talks with officials and members of minority groups.

Ms. McDougall highlighted that the Hungarian Government has demonstrated significant political will to address the unique needs of and problems faced by minorities in general and, in particular, the Roma minority. Among other measures, she hailed a comprehensive anti-discrimination law and a newly established Equal Treatment Authority to handle complaints.

But the expert noted that Roma still face daunting challenges. “Statistics demonstrate that between the late 1980s and the early 1990s a disproportionately high percentage of employed Roma lost their jobs, compared to members of other communities,” she observed. “Amongst the Roma, startling statistics also reveal a life expectancy some 10 years less than that of the general population.”

She also called for attention to ensuring equality of schooling, noting that education of Roma is “characterized by widespread segregation on racial grounds, and poor educational opportunities.”

The estimated 600,000 Roma population face serious discrimination, exclusion and unusually high levels of poverty, according to the expert, who said economic factors were not solely to blame. “The desperate situation faced by Roma is not only the consequence of the transition to a market economy, but is also due to the pervasive effects of racial discrimination.”

Ms. McDougall expressed concern that moves by the Government to dismantle its current institutional focus on Roma issues, in favour of a broad-based policy to address 'disadvantaged groups,' could lead to an erosion of progress on Roma issues that require urgent and focused attention. She highlighted in particular concern over the situation of Roma in the fields of education and employment, as well as the need to comprehensively address the widespread societal discrimination and anti-Roma prejudice.

Ms. McDougall, who is unpaid, was appointed the first UN Independent Expert on minority issues in 2005.

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