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EU Presidency - Hungary Roma strategy to focus on poverty not ethnicity, says official

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Címkék:  Balog Zoltán
 6th of March 2011   Source: MTI


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Hungary's Roma integration strategy should focus on easing poverty on a social and economic basis, rather than ethnicity, Zoltan Balog, the integration state secretary, told MTI in an interview on Sunday.

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Balog said placing the emphasis only on eliminating ethnic discrimination generates but tensions.

 

"Everyone who lives below a certain level of poverty, especially if it's a child, must be given assistance, regardless of skin colour," he said.

 

The first draft of the EU's new Roma strategy will be presented in Budapest on April 8, Balog told MTI.

 

Balog said that a breakthrough in Roma integration policy would come if Europe embraced the goals as its own.

 

"There is a Roma population of 10-12 million in Europe, making it the biggest minority without a state on the continent," Balog said, adding that in Central and Eastern Europe about 80-90 percent of the Roma are unemployed.

 

"If only as many Roma found work as the European average, our gross domestic product (GDP) would rise by 4-5 percent," he added.

 

One of the strategy's goals is to reduce the proportion of school dropouts among the Roma and to draw Roma children into the education system as early as possible, Balog said. He mentioned a proposal to lower the compulsory age when kinds enter nursery school from the current 5 to 3. About 20,000 places are lacking for this scheme to work, so perhaps the requirements of opening nursery schools should be eased, Balog added.

 

He said there were funds to be tapped on from the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, the latter available also for rural projects.

 

Balog said it was problematic to define Roma in Hungary. In the 2001 census, 190,000 people declared themselves Roma by ethnicity, but their real numbers are estimated in a range of 600,000-800,000. He added that the next census in 2011 will offer the option of choosing two ethnicities, which could reveal a more accurate figure of the Roma population. There will be questions gauging language use, too, he said.



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