Author: Sanela Bešić
The Western Balkans Prime Ministers adopted the Declaration of Western Balkans Partners on Roma Integration within the European Union (EU) Enlargement Process and regional cooperation in 2019 (the so-called Poznan Declaration). Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has pledged to continue and strengthen efforts for full equality and integration of Roma through the implementation and monitoring of the Roma Inclusion Seminar Operational Conclusions.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has pledged to the achievement of the following objectives in the field of employment: “increase the employment among Roma to at least 25%”; in the field of education: increase the enrolment and completion rate of Roma in primary education to 90% and the enrolment and completion rate of Roma in secondary education to 50%; in the field of health: ensure universal health insurance coverage among Roma of at least 95% or to the rate equal to the rest of the population; and in the field of housing: wherever possible, legalise all informal settlements where Roma live; or provide permanent, decent, affordable and desegregated housing for Roma currently living in informal settlements that cannot be legalised for justified reasons.
In addition to this, the signatory states have pledged to ensure that all Roma are registered in the civil registries; and to non-discrimination, i.e. that they will strengthen the government structures to protect against discrimination and establish a specific sub-division for non-discrimination of Roma within the formal non-discrimination bodies to process complaints by Roma, provide legal support to alleged victims and identify discrimination schemes, including institutional and hidden discrimination.
The Poznan Declaration calls for the formulation of policies and the establishment of mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on the implementation of Roma policies, as well as the implementation of regional standards on public budgeting related to Roma integration for mainstream and targeted policies, the increase of public budgets at all levels of government, and the inclusion of the Roma community in achieving the aforementioned objectives. It foresees the establishment of formal channels and mechanisms for joint involvement of the local governments and the Roma communities in the formulation of policies, decision making, implementation and monitoring the efforts undertaken to achieve the objectives of this Declaration. States have pledged to strengthen and support the National Roma Contact Points as a comprehensive mechanism for coordination and implementation of the objectives agreed within this Declaration and for ensuring synergies among ministries responsible for Roma integration.
The objectives of the Poznan Declaration are in accordance with Agenda 2030 and the adopted Sustainable Development Goals Framework in BiH, which is a joint statement of all levels of government that outlines broader development directions that will enable BiH to achieve sustainable development goals.
In order to implement the BiH Roma Strategy adopted in 2005, BiH has so far adopted and implemented three action plans for the periods 2009-2012, 2013-2016, and 2017-2020 with the consent of the entities and BD BiH. After nearly a year of advocacy, the Action Plan for Social Inclusion of Roma in BiH for 2021-2025 (Action Plan) was adopted in 2022. This Action Plan proposes measures in accordance with the “EU Roma Strategic Framework for Equality, Inclusion and Participation for 2020-2030”.
For the first time, the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (MHRR) allocated BAM 2,950,000 from the BiH budget in 2009 to improve employability and encourage employment, solve housing problems, and improve access to health care for Roma. Education was addressed through a special action plan at the time.
According to the MHRR, employment agencies registered 3,880 unemployed Roma in 2020, 3,065 of which are registered in FBiH records. According to the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s 2017 Regional Roma Survey, only 11% of working-age Roma are employed, while 86% of young Roma aged 16-24 are not in education, employment, or training (NEET).
During the Action Plan’s development, it was estimated that BAM 5,200,000 is be required to employ 650 Roma until 2025. According to the MHRR, this ministry should allocate BAM 600,000 per year for these purposes, with the remaining BAM 2,200,000 coming from other sources to employ additional 275 people. According to the Action Plan, additional funds in the amount of BAM 21 million are needed for Roma employment, in addition to funding provided by lower levels of government and donors.
Although the funds planned in the Action Plan represent only a portion of the total required, the trend of decreasing funding has continued. As a result of allocating BAM 2,950,000 withing the 2013 budget, the budget for Action Plan implementation in 2019 was decreased to BAM 2,100,000. Finally, the funds for the implementation of the Action Plan in the 2022 budget is BAM 1,380,000, with only BAM 200,000 allocated for employment rather than the planned BAM 600,000. These funds will be allocated to competent employment agencies in the following approximate proportions: FBiH (62.66%), RS (31.34%), and BD BiH (6%).
Given that the Poznan Declaration established a clear goal of allocating additional funding from public budgets for Roma inclusion, funds from the BiH budget were and remain insufficient for considerable development. This is even more worrying due to the worsening economic crisis and growing living costs.
Given the number of unemployed Roma, as well as the difficult conditions and extreme poverty that the majority of Roma families in Bosnia and Herzegovina face, Kali Sara – Roma Information Centre urges authorities at all levels of government to increase allocations for socioeconomic inclusion, particularly for employment and housing for Roma. Taking into account the assumed obligations from the Poznan Declaration concerning employment, as well as the documented needs for Roma employment, there is no justification for such a cut in funds. The funds have been reduced by two-thirds when compared to the planned funds, which will also reduce the number of Roma people employed by 2025. Furthermore, as the support period expires, a considerable number of employed Roma lose their jobs.
In the spirit of solidarity, humanity, and the protection of human rights, Kali Sara calls on the competent institutions in BiH to plan funds in the 2023 and 2024 budgets based on the allocation from 2020, that is, BAM 1,950,000, and BAM 2,950,000 for 2025, based on the allocation from 2009.
The views expressed in this text do not necessarily reflect the views of the Initiative for Monitoring European Integration’s members or the Initiative itself.