International Roma Day 2013

8 April 2013
On the 23rd anniversary of the International Roma Day, the UN system in Montenegro notes from the data of the Statistical Office of Montenegro that there has been an increase in the number of Roma women employed, as well as in the number of Roma children enrolled in school. However, much remains to be done in order to ensure full inclusion of Roma in Montenegro’s society.
According to the last data provided by the Statistical Office of Montenegro (MONSTAT) there are 8,305 people who declare themselves as Roma or Egyptian and according to the 2009 re-registration 3,116 of them are internally displaced persons from Kosovo.
The number of Roma and Egyptian children in primary education is increasing every year. According to the report on the implementation of strategies for improving the situation of Roma and Egyptian 2012-2016 this academic year there are 1853 students from this population in primary schools, 75 high school students and 9 at the University of Montenegro. The direct consequence of this progress in education is an increase in the number of aware and educated young Roma men and women who are ready to make a change in their community and break the stereotypes about their people.
“However, more needs to be done to promote educational inclusion of Roma children. According to the latest Census conducted in 2011, 95% of all children of school-going age were attending school whereas in Roma and Egyptian population of children attendance rate in primary schools was drastically lower (51% and 54% respectively)”, UNICEF Montenegro Representative Benjamin Perks points out.
Regardless of improved educational trend, two years before the end of the Decade of Roma, this population is still excluded from main social streams in Montenegro, as well as in most of the countries of the region and wider. Roma and Egyptians are still experiencing a widespread discrimination and deprivation of their rights, poverty, quite high illiteracy rate, low  employment rate, inadequate housing conditions.  
According to the UNHCR Representative Indu Mohandas“the problems this population face are exacerbated by the condition of displacement and by the lack of prospects for achieving durable solutions. Displaced Roma and Egyptians also face bureaucratic obstacles in obtaining personal documents, which places them at risk of being without a nationality.”
Through joint programmatic initiatives, the UN System in Montenegro continues to support the Government of Montenegro and the civil sector in pursuing its strategic national goal of integration in the European Union and in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Over the past 20 years the UN assisted in developing key national strategies and a number of concrete activities for protection of equal rights for Roma and Egyptians. These activities put the UN among top country agents for change in terms of support for acquiring the legal status, employment, improved  access to social and health services and especially education for children.
Individually, each of the UN resident agencies within their respective mandates has actively sought to improve the status of this population.
On the occasion of the Roma Day 2013, we wish to remind that it is essential for all of us:
-  to keep improving social, economic and political instruments and environment wherein the rights and culture of Roma and Egyptians, both women and men are fully respected;
-  to ensure that all Roma and Egyptians enjoy their basic rights, for all RE children to go to school, to be healthy, safe from violence and any kind of abuse; to have a happy childhood and proper documents.
-  to work with the Roma community to build an inclusive society.
The UN Resident Coordinator in Montenegro, Rastislav Vrbenski concludes: “For the UN System in Montenegro, no Roma and Egyptian can be excluded. Their full integration is above all an opportunity for a more stable and a more dynamic society well prepared for EU accession and in line with the Copenhagen Criteria.”
Within this context, the UN System in Montenegro will remain a committed partner to the Government and to the NGO sector in addressing the needs of at-risk groups and in creating an enabling atmosphere for social inclusion of marginalized groups.

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UN System, led by the UNHCR, was at the forefront of helping Roma during the extreme conditions - floods, snowstorms and devastating fire in Konik camp in recent time. Moreover, UNHCR continuously supports improvement of housing quality for displaced Roma and Egyptians in Berane, Nikšić and Pljevlja, as well as for the residents of Konik camps in Podgorica. Poverty and lack of personal documents are still among biggest challenges that vast majority of this population faces. The UN Refugee agency also actively helps in obtaining necessary documentation for this most vulnerable social group in the country, and it also strategically advocates for their needs. One very important aspect of UNHCR’s work on unveiling opportunities for Roma is supporting voluntary return to the places of origin, for those who are displaced, in cooperation with the Government.

Some of recent activities of other UN agencies in the country encompass combating trafficking of Roma as well as legal and medical support (IOM); UNDP supported over 40% of domicile Roma in acquiring the necessary documentation to access health and other services; UNICEF supports the Government and civil society to implement a comprehensive child protection system reform that benefits the most excluded Roma children too, so that every Roma child gets equal opportunities to reach his/her potential and participate in the society; and WHO supports health service delivery at primary health care level with a focus on vulnerable groups.