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EU report focuses on hardships of EU's Roma population

VIENNA — Millions of citizens in the European Union battle discrimination and poverty simply from birth because they are Roma, according to a report released Tuesday from an EU rights agency.

The EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights says that about 80 per cent of almost 34,000 Roma, or Gypsies, surveyed in nine EU nations over six months ending in April, live below the poverty level. Every third Roma child goes to bed hungry at least once a month, says the report, while 50 per cent between 6 and 24 do not attend school.

The European Union has put an emphasis in improving Roma lives after centuries of discrimination, climaxing in the Holocaust that led to death of about half a million Roma, and Tuesday's report notes improvement in some categories since the last survey in 2011.

But it warns of continuing "widespread deprivation ... destroying Roma lives" in the countries where most of the EU's estimated 6 million Roma live: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Hungary, Portugal and Romania and Slovakia.

Among the findings:

— Of Roma aged 16-24, 63 per cent were not employed, in education or training at the time of the survey, compared with the EU average of 12 per cent . "The results also show a considerable gender gap" of 72 per cent for young Roma women, compared with 55 per cent of young Roma men.

— Discrimination is rife, with 41 per cent reporting experiencing it due to ethnic origin over the past five years. One in four say it happened in the 12 months preceding the survey and many are unaware that they have the right to report such cases.

— Overall, 80 per cent of respondents and their children live on an income below their country's poverty threshold, compared to 17 per cent across the EU. Rates vary from a high of 98 per cent in Spain to a 58 per cent in the Czech Republic.

— Segregation is common in some countries, with 27 per cent of children attending all-Roma schools in Bulgaria and more than 60 per cent schools with predominantly Roma pupils in Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.

—While nearly 100 per cent of respondents in Spain, Portugal and Slovakia have health insurance, only 45 per cent in Bulgaria and 54 per cent in Romania are covered. That compares to between 86 per cent and 100 per cent for non-Roma in the countries surveyed.

— The rate of respondents without an indoor toilet, shower or bathroom ranges from 25 per cent in Bulgaria to 82 per cent in Romania.