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Cyprus Mail

Biggest problems for Roma are housing and schooling

Roma children in Cyprus are better off than in Bulgaria, but segregation still exists

By Jean Christou

HOUSING is one of the least optimal aspects of Roma life in Cyprus, along with segregation in education, according to the EU’s latest report on the health and welfare of Roma within the bloc.

It is estimated that there are anything from 750 to 1,200 Roma living in the government-controlled areas, almost all in Limassol and Paphos. Though the vast majority are classed as belonging to the Turkish Cypriot community, there are Romanian and other Balkan Roma living in Cyprus, although their number is not officially known, according to the EU report.

Many of the Turkish Cypriot Roma moved to the south of the island when the crossings began opening up from 2003 and on in order to avail of better living conditions and benefits, including free health care.

Most settled in the old Turkish quarter of Limassol, in properties abandoned by Turkish Cypriots after 1974, which were in a poor state of repair, said the EU report.

“There, they faced extreme poverty, exclusion and hostility from the host population and were treated with suspicion and intolerance by the authorities,” it added.

Citing an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman, the report said Roma were one of the most vulnerable groups in Cypriot society because they were not recognised as a minority by the Republic’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion.

Though the Roma in Cyprus do not live in encampments, their access to private housing is severely limited.

“In concrete, Roma live either in abandoned Turkish Cypriot properties administered by the government or in prefabricated houses in specially designated Roma settlements,” said the report.

“Accommodations have temporary structures and are in isolated areas, primarily to satisfy the local communities, who treated them with hostility and did not wish to live close to them.”

This accommodation is free of charge and supplied with basic facilities: water, electricity, sewage systems and solar heaters, it said. Repairs had been carried out recently on 45 houses in Paphos and Limassol, under the initiative of the welfare services. On healthcare, the report said the Roma were offered the same services as the rest of the population as it is the government’s policy to integrate the population.

However, it said that the 2011 Report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) observed that there was a disproportionately high concentration of Turkish Cypriot (including Roma) children in particular schools, indicating a certain level of segregation.

“This disproportionate concentration may be a result of the fact that Roma pupils attend schools that are closer to where they live. However, this does not explain the lack of attendance in rural areas,” said the EU report.

It said an ethnographic study in 2012 based on interviews carried out in two schools in Cyprus found that teachers had insufficient understanding of Roma cultural practices, beliefs and attitudes towards schooling, “making the integration of Roma students more difficult”. Roma primary-school pupils were offered supportive measures such as school meals, uniforms and school materials. Secondary school enrolment and attendance was still poor in comparison to non-Roma populations, however, it said.

Roma also have problems finding work due to the fact they don’t speak either English or Greek, the report said although local authorities do provide free Greek lessons.

The report said there was a dearth of data when it came to assessing, mortality and life expectancy among the Roma, the prevalence of major infectious and chronic diseases, healthy life styles and related behaviours.

The first mention of Roma in Cyprus dates back to the middle of the 16th century. It is believed that they came originally from Corfu, employed later by the Ottomans for military purposes and later converting to Islam. However, there is also a minority of Roma who are Christian.

In 1960 there were over 5,000 Roma living in Cyprus but they moved north after 1974.

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