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Roma Strategies and Policies in Scandinavian Countries and the Migrant Issue


Allison Bailey, Video Advocacy and Fundraising, NGO Organization Drom

Amanda Mayer, Video Advocacy and Fundraising, NGO Organization Drom

APRIL 16, 2018


Out of the estimated 10-12 million Roma living in Europe, approximately 6 million are living in the European Union./ In 2011, the European Commission called for national strategies for Roma integration. This stems from the EU’s belief that European institutions and EU member countries have a responsibility to improve the living conditions and integration of the Roma community. In 2012, the European Commission reviewed each member country’s national integration strategy, and in 2013 the European Council agreed on on a recommendation on effective Roma integration measures in EU countries. These integration measures focus on four areas: education, employment, healthcare, and housing. The Commission is tasked with producing annual reports from each country until the year 2020. The research in this article focuses on outcomes in Scandinavian countries from these EU regulations, and the impact that it has had on Roma migrants.

Policies and Strategies for Roma in Scandinavian countries

Under European Union regulations, each of the Scandinavian countries has developed a set of policy measures for the inclusion and integration of its Roma population. These codified integration measures, although unique in their specific strategies, contain numerous similar elements, and funding for their implementation comes from several common sources. Common strategies include formation of Roma-led or Roma-populated commissions to advise on various issues such as housing, education, and employment, as well as public information campaigns to bolster awareness of issues faced by the Roma minority. Reported progress on these measures has been overall limited and anecdotal, as the objectives set forth by each country are broad and lack specific, quantifiable outcomes that can be measured. Additionally, common societal issues persist throughout the Scandinavian countries, as throughout the remainder of Europe, that hinder progress on efforts toward Roma equality and inclusion. Such issues include the heterogeneity among the Roma, lack of ethnic data on populations, and continued social stigmatization due to lack of trust between the Roma and the public. Nevertheless, the basis formed by respective Roma integration plans within the Scandinavian countries presents opportunity for future progress. Continued funding from the EU and various other institutions, as well as continued review and updating of country policies in collaboration with Roma representatives, can lead to instances of measurable success and present opportunities for collaboration in certain areas with Europe-based NGOs such as Organisation DROM.


In Finland, government-funded programs focus on Roma integration into Finnish society. According to a 2012 estimate by the Council of Europe, there are between 10,000 and 12,000 Roma living in Finland./ Like all other Scandinavian countries, the Finnish government does not register its population on ethnic grounds, therefore data on the Roma population is inexact. The main source of funding for addressing Roma-related issues in Finland comes from the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). From the ESF funding, 39.5% is to be allocated during the 2014-2020 period for Roma-related projects to promote employment, education, and social inclusion./ Of this percentage, the ESF and ERDF allocated €75,000 for a Romani Language Nest. Some additional national funding has been dedicated toward promoting employment among Roma.

Finland’s integration strategies include the creation of a Regional Advisory Board on Romani Affairs, the Non-Discrimination Act of 2004, and information/awareness campaigns. The Regional Advisory Board was created in 2006 under four State Provincial Offices to handle Romani affairs on regional and local levels, and is manifested through the establishment of several “broad-based Roma working groups” in several localities with large Roma populations. The Non-Discrimination Act  of 2004 forbids discrimination based on ethnic origin in employment, social welfare and health care services, social security benefit decisions, and provision of services, and obliges authorities to “alter any circumstance that prevent the realisation of equality.” Additionally, the government launched the awareness campaign YES- Equality is Priority, funded by the EU’s PROGRESS Programme with the aim of promoting “non-discrimination, equal treatment and acceptance of multiplicity.” In regard to equal access to education, the Roma Education Unit is charged with the development and promotion of Romani language and culture. Finland has an additional 15 projects related to Roma integration e.g. “UusiTaito” which trains Roma employment mediators and “Kaleet kouluun!” for creating a model for employment and education of Roma. / Tempo, one such nationally-funded project, is dedicated to training and employment of Roma professionals.

As a result of the creation of the Regional Advisory Board, there has been a reported increase in Roma participation in social affairs and decision-making. There has also been reported improvement in Roma housing conditions and a gradual stabilization of Roma participation in education, to include an increase in the number of Roma with formal school education.


According to Swedish news publisher “The Local,” approximately 50,000 Roma live in Sweden, making it the Scandinavian country with the largest Roma population. The country faces a widespread problem with Roma living in camps and settlements, similar to those in Romania and Bulgaria, as they arrive in the country at a high rate and they do not qualify for asylum or assistance from Sweden’s welfare system (image) The Swedish government is slated to allocate 58 million kronor (€5.77 million) per year for the period between 2016 and 2019 toward integration efforts. /

A specific effort outlined in Sweden’s official policy is the creation of a mediator program, whereby individuals with knowledge of the Roma language and experience within the Roma culture are educated to serve as a link between the Roma population and the public sector. The mediators are assigned to convey information to the Roma regarding services and support available to them through the Swedish national public employment agency, Arbetsförmedlingen, as well as other agencies and services / Additionally, the national plan specifies cultural inclusion initiatives with the express purpose of preserving the Roma language and strengthening Roma cooperation with various cultural institutions throughout Sweden.

An additional aspect of the integration plan is the formation of a Commission on Anti-Gypsyism, which produces informational materials for schools and communities in order to provide education and awareness about historical problems faced by the Roma. Furthermore, this commission is tasked with formulating reports with recommendations to strengthen the Roma position in society. One such specific recommendation, put forth by the Commission in its 2016 report, is the establishment of a national centre for Roma issues. At present this objective has not been accomplished, but has continued to surface in reports and recommendations by independent entities, such as the 2017 report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. /

Another facet of Sweden’s integration policy is the institution of Municipal Roma Information Centers, which currently exist in two municipalities (Malmö and Gothenburg), with a third planned in Stockholm. The mission of these centres is to serve as points of information to members of the Roma community, as well as to raise awareness of Roma-related issues among employees of the municipalities. /


The Roma population in Norway is estimated at 500-700 based on 2015 data Funding for Roma-related programs primarily comes from state grants and EEA Grants. In the national budget, there exists a specific item entitled Grants to National Minorities. In 2006, the Norwegian government added under this line item Measures for Roma. This funding has been allocated for the Adult Education Project for Roma in Oslo. Created in 2009, EEA Grants are directed toward Roma populations in Eastern European countries. EEA Grants provide funding to 16 EU countries to “reduce economic and social disparities,” including Roma-specific issues. This is the largest source of funding directed at Roma inclusion excluding EU funds. /

Norway’s primary Roma integration strategy maintains a focus on education. The Adult Education Project for Roma in Oslo is funded by the Ministry of Labour and the Social Inclusion budget. Organized by the Municipality of Oslo, courses are offered to adults in the Roma community in word processing, searching the Internet, and using email. There are also trainings for computer software, reading and writing skills, and Norwegian language instruction available. /


The Roma population in Denmark is estimated at 5,500. Ethnic origins of persons are not registered in Denmark, so the Council of Europe estimates a range between 1,500 and 10,000. / Denmark will receive €326 million from the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) between 2014 and 2020. At least 20% of this funding is allocated for the “promotion of social inclusion and combating poverty,” including Roma-specific issues. Between 2012 and 2016, 20 million Danish Kroner (€2.7 million) was allocated for awareness campaigns and other initiatives to promote active citizenship and combat discrimination.

The Danish government has instituted social awareness campaigns, such as “We need all youngsters,” which is co-financed by the European Social Fund and supports ethnic minority groups in starting and completing their education. This campaign exists in several municipalities, with specific groups established in Elsinore and Copenhagen—the Danish cities with the largest Roma populations.

Migrant Issue

Strategies for integration throughout the Scandinavian countries are a crucial element of the overall effort toward Roma equality, as Scandinavia currently receives the greatest flow of Roma migrants from Bulgaria and Romania-- the two European countries with the highest Roma populations. Despite the fundamental EU principle of free movement of people within its borders, discriminatory practices and public impressions of incoming Roma peoples from Eastern Europe persist. As EU citizens, Roma migrants generally do not qualify for asylum upon entering other European countries, nor for individual countries’ welfare systems, and are thus left to fend for themselves. / In regards to these migrants, the Scandinavian governments have pursued various courses of action.

In Denmark, a measure directed specifically at incoming Roma migrants is the adoption of the Danish Action Plan for Roma Inclusion. The Integration Act requires that integration programs be offered to all newly arrived refugees and immigrants, including Roma migrants, who are reunited with a family member or are at least eighteen years old. These programs last until the immigrant obtains a permanent residence permit. The abilities and backgrounds of migrants are assessed and a contract is formed, where the ultimate goal is the migrant’s introduction into the labour market or relevant education. Additionally, under this act, adult foreigners are given the right of up to three years of Danish language courses, and more recent additions include basic courses in Danish society, culture, and history. Elsinore has reportedly benefited from this program via reduced rates of absences among Roma students at the primary level, as well as an improvement in cooperation between schools and parents. Special classes specifically for Roma students were abandoned and these students were instead integrated into ordinary classes at the primary level. Each student has an individual action plan, and Roma students are offered 10 hours of additional classes per week.


Despite progresses made, common issues persist throughout the Scandinavian countries related to Roma integration and equality. In spite of international laws mandating equality and non-discrimination, discrimination against Roma continues often in various forms. Indirect, everyday racism undermines the self-esteem and identity of the Roma population. An additional hurdle to overcome is mutual lack of trust that widely exists between Roma and the public sector, preventing Roma from participating fully in society.

Potential for collaboration between NGO Organisation DROM and Scandinavian countries’ efforts toward Roma equality and integration exists in the areas of social inclusion and education. Yet, programs for skills development and job creation for Roma are very much needed for countries like Bulgaria where unemployment of the Roma population is critically high – over 80 %.

The Roma School Desegregation process in Vidin has been set up by NGO Organization Drom in 2000 and it is considered international best practice by the World Bank and the European Commission which have published extensively on this. /NGO Organization Drom has been working on human rights protection, education, media, social development and job creation for Roma since 1997. More information about the organization can be found at: It can be adapted to suit specific needs of Roma in Scandinavian countries. For example, the existence of segregated, all-Romani schools is an issue common to both Eastern European countries and several Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark, who have since abandoned the separate schools and education programs but still see their discriminatory effects in Romani vs. non-Romani education rates. Through potential collaboration between NGO Organisation Drom and Helsinki Deaconess Institute from Finland, /More information about Helsinkii Deaconess Institute can be found here: who visited Vidin in February 2018, the roots and effects of these problems can be further examined through the elimination of information barriers. In the same vein, NGO Organisation Drom can collaborate with Scandinavian NGOs to create joint information and awareness campaigns regarding Roma integration and equality. These can be modeled upon previous campaigns, such as Finland’s YES - Equality is Priority, and can be utilized to promote public awareness of Roma-related issues, as well as provide information to the Roma communities about available resources within different countries’ borders. Information-sharing and the formation of such partnerships can be used to investigate the causes of Roma migration- for example, the specific issue of Roma from Vidin migrating to Finland- and take steps together to form a joint solution for greater equality and more effective integration strategies.

Finally, the high unemployment rates among Roma in Bulgaria are the main reason why Roma leave the country and pursue new life opportunities in Scandinavian countries. In this line of thought, job creation programs, skills development programs and establishment of social enterprises for Roma in Bulgaria, with the support of Scandinavian NGOs would be the main tool to address the migration problem. Given that Scandinavian countries are the lead innovation economies in Europe, it would be worthwhile to invest in such activities for the sake of supporting the future of Europe and finding a decent place for Roma in the European family.


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The authors would like to thank Ms. Donka Panayotova, Chairperson of NGO Organization Drom and Ms. Anca Enache, Lead Researcher at Helsinkii Deaconess Institute in Finland for comments and suggestions on an earlier draft. All omissions and interpretations are responsibility of the authors.