slideshow 1

You are here

6 may 2022

Analysis of current state documents and strategies for Roma integration for 2021-2030


Savelina Danova, external expert

NGO Organization Drom


This article will analyse the measures and objectives set for Roma integration in the relevant fundamental state documents: National Development Programme "Bulgaria 2030", National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Equality, Inclusion and Participation of Roma (2021-2030) as well as the National Action Plan for the period 2022-2023 for the implementation of the National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Equality, Inclusion and Participation of Roma (2021-2030). The latter two documents were adopted by a Decision of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria on 5 May 2022.

National Development Programme "Bulgaria 2030"

Bulgaria 2030 National Development Programme is a strategic framework document of the highest order in the hierarchy of national programming documents, determining the vision and overall objectives of development policies in all sectors of government. Roma integration as a whole is not directly addressed in this document, but there are measures envisaged that are relevant to the topic. These measures are included in two of the priorities of the programme: Priority 1 'Education and Skills' and Priority 11 'Social Inclusion'.

It is worth mentioning here that, over the last decade, the Bulgarian state, insofar as there has been any focus on Roma education that can be described as positive, it has mainly been on pupil encompassing and drop-out prevention. It is another question to what extent there has been real and, therefore, effective action by the government in this direction. As for the commitments made on educational desegregation, they have definitely remained only 'on paper'.

In this sense, logically, the Strategy undoubtedly singles out encompassing in the education system as a leading direction in future state policy. It is highlighted as the first area of impact under Priority 1 "Education and Skills". The following measures are envisaged in this direction:

"Measures will be taken to provide basic education services in pre-school, school and tertiary education; to encompass, include and prevent drop-out and to ensure equal access to pre-school, school and tertiary education by overcoming demographic, socio-economic and cultural barriers."

There is also an impact area "Support for full participation in the educational process", which, at least as an idea, is a bit closer to the topic of educational integration.  Within this impact area the document foresees :

"Measures will be taken to provide integrated and accessible early childhood education and care services and to engage children, pupils and students (including those from vulnerable groups, with special educational needs and learning difficulties) to participate fully in the educational process and to interact with parents and make them active partners."

What is striking in this document is the discrepancy between the declared need for educational integration measures, for interaction with parents and making them active partners (although Roma are not explicitly mentioned), and the fact that the main focus is still on the encompassing of students and dropout prevention.  Indicative estimates are also given of the financial resources needed to implement the activities. European funds, state and municipal budgets are mentioned as sources of funding, but only in principle, as indicative and without specifying specific commitments, deadlines and responsible parties.

In the mentioned Priority 11 "Social Inclusion", the promotion of employment takes the lead. The Impact Area "Provision of employment services" provides for:

"Measures in this impact area will focus on the provision of: employment intermediation services (according to the individual needs of jobseekers), including through off-site workplaces, mobile job centres, job fairs and outreach by Roma mediators, case managers, youth mediators and activation specialists. ...".

Another Area of Impact under this Priority is "Promoting employment of vulnerable groups in the labour market". The following measures are envisaged under this heading:

 "Measures in this impact area will be aimed at: integrating vulnerable groups into the labour market through inclusion in employment (including subsidised employment); providing opportunities for sustainable integration into the labour market of young people who are neither in employment nor in education and training, as well as the long-term unemployed and people with disabilities; providing equal opportunities for employment for jobseekers."

Although it seems rather wishful thinking, it is worth noting another Impact Area under this Priority, entitled "Social Entrepreneurship and Corporate Social Responsibility".

"The policies in this impact area aim at: (1) through the employment and training by social enterprises of persons from vulnerable groups for labour market inclusion and social inclusion, to move out of a state of long-term unemployment and end their dependence on state benefits. Support in the field of social entrepreneurship will be expanded and modernized through the establishment of a network of focal points with territorial coverage in the six regions of the country, which will apply an individualized approach to the needs of each individual subject of the social and solidarity economy. (2) Through mechanisms of good interaction and negotiation with business and social partners, encouraging companies to develop and implement programs of corporate social responsibility, including interaction and cooperation with the subjects of the social and solidarity economy. „

Of course, we are aware that in view of the current socio-economic and socio-political situation in the country, it is not realistic to expect that these measures will be implemented, but at least as an indication of the direction of thinking for future policies on the part of the state, it is important that this be noted and encouraged.

Unfortunately, the expectations that the National Development Programme would include as a priority the solution of acute problems with the regulation and development of Roma neighbourhoods did not come true. Within the same Priority 11 "Social Inclusion", activities are foreseen only in the direction of providing housing and support for the homeless:

"This impact area aims to ensure access to housing through: construction of social/community housing, creation of integrated cross-sectoral services for the homeless, including begging children and adults; improvement of facilities and/or construction of new ones."

In conclusion, it can be said that in the National Development Strategy Bulgaria, despite the general positive declarations and the presence of some useful measures in the two priorities mentioned, still does not include a vision and activities to solve the two most serious problems facing Roma - educational segregation and housing.

National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation (2021-2030) and National Action Plan 2022-2023 for the implementation of the National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Equality, Inclusion and Participation of Roma (2021-2030).

In this part, the National Strategy and the National Action Plan will be examined in combination, tracing respectively the relevant declared commitments in the Strategy and the envisaged activities for their implementation in the Plan.

The National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation (2021-2030) is a framework document that sets the guidelines for the implementation of policies for the socio-economic inclusion and participation of Roma.

The Strategy sets out three  horizontal objectives in areas of the equality, inclusion and participation and four sectoral objectives in the areas of education, health, housing and employment.


With regard to the Health sectoral objective, the Strategy states:

"The objectives related to this priority are focused on active health promotion and prevention of chronic non-communicable diseases and socially significant diseases, and actively helping vulnerable groups to gain effective access to health care and health services."

As in the field of education, the main burden of the planned activities is to be borne by mediators, in this case health mediators:

"Access to health services is guaranteed through the mediation of health mediators, who are the link between vulnerable populations and the health care system."

Equal access to quality health care, which has over the years emerged as a major problem in Roma health care, at least at the declarative level, figures as an operational objective in the Strategy:

"Equity in access to quality public health care and improving the health status of populations in distinct vulnerable ethnic communities with concentrations of poverty."

Although there is no official information on the ethnic profile of the uninsured persons in the country, it is known that for a number of reasons - unemployment, low income, non-payment of health insurance by the employer, working abroad, etc. - this problem has serious dimensions among the Roma community.

Unfortunately, however, the Action Plan to the Strategy does not foresee substantial commitments by the state precisely in terms of solving the aforementioned fundamental problem of equal access to quality healthcare.

The first mentioned priority activity in the Health sector of the Plan turned out to be in a completely different direction. This is obstetric and gynaecological examinations :

"Implementation of obstetric-gynaecological examinations with mobile surgeries in settlements with a compact Roma population."

Improving access to quality healthcare is listed as one of the objectives in the Plan, but the activities envisaged while useful are not directly relevant to achieving this objective. The envisaged activities in question are:

"HIV prevention and control activities, activities to improve tuberculosis control among the Roma community by conducting risk screening, conducting examinations for socially significant diseases with mobile clinics - fluoroscopists, sonographers and clinical laboratories, etc."

In conclusion, in the health sector of the Strategy and Action Plan there are the shortcomings characteristic of other sectors: low degree of institutional commitment, modest funding for activities, shifting the burden of implementation to health mediators, and above all, lack of real commitment to the most significant problem of ensuring access to health services for the uninsured.

Housing conditions

The same weaknesses as in the previous priority areas of the document can be observed with regard to the crucial part of the Strategy "Housing conditions". On the one hand, the rationale and objectives are correct, but on the other hand, the proposed implementation measures deviate from the set objectives. As a justification for the housing issue, the Strategy states:

"Possible solutions regarding the housing conditions of the Roma population should be integrated into broader national activities and legislative initiatives. These should be directed mainly towards the regulation and improvement of Roma neighbourhoods, the expansion of opportunities for families to build their own homes and, to a lesser extent, towards social housing programmes or support for families in intergenerational poverty, especially those with young children and schoolchildren, sick family members, single-parent families and others."

The operational objective of the Strategy is the improvement of housing conditions, including the adjacent technical infrastructure and infrastructure for public services. As general objectives are indicated:

"Establish a working mechanism for the assessment of housing stock in areas with a compact Roma population;

Providing conditions for the acquisition of financially affordable housing and conditions for the introduction of alternative models of social housing for households in areas of concentrated poverty;

Building/renovating infrastructure for the provision of integrated health, social and community-based social services for vulnerable groups;

Reconstruction of social infrastructure facilities for education, cultural, etc. purposes;

Search for tools to improve legal and economic conditions for the elimination of housing and neighbourhoods that do not comply with the Law on Spatial Planning (LZP)/legislation. Adoption of a law amending and supplementing the Law on Spatial Planning to introduce the principle of proportionality when issuing an order for the removal of an unlawful structure constituting the sole dwelling for its occupants;

Extending legal access to quality water, electricity and sanitation in segregated neighbourhoods with concentrations of poverty."

However, in the Action Plan to the Strategy, in the section "Housing conditions", there are no measures foreseen on the regulation and improvement of Roma neighbourhoods, as well as on the other priorities set in the Strategy. The only real and resourced activity in the Plan is:

 "Successful completion of the social housing projects under OP "Regional Development" 2014-2020, grant value BGN 43 323 484,43".

This project became notorious in the public domain for its wrong prioritization, incorrect selection of target groups and not by chance caused public discontent. For the implementation of the other objectives of the Strategy mentioned above, either the proposed measures are of a rather wishful nature or no implementation measures are proposed at all.

The educational part of the National Strategy as well as the Action Plan is commented in a separate analysis : "What are the prospects for educational desegregation to become state policy according to the objectives and measures set out in the state strategies for 2021-2030?"

In conclusion, the overall assessment of the three strategic state documents can hardly be called optimistic regarding Roma. There is a significant discrepancy between the officially declared objectives on the one hand and the envisaged measures and activities for reintegration on the other. And in some cases, such as education, for example, even the measures are fundamentally opposed to the objectives. In the field of education, desegregation objectives are declared, but the activities envisaged and resourced are essentially to perpetuate segregation. In the area of health, one of the stated objectives is equal access to quality healthcare, but the proposed measures are not relevant to achieving this objective. With regard to housing, the objective is to regulate and improve Roma neighbourhoods, but the proposed actions do not provide for anything in this direction.  We are not even commenting on the levels of financial commitment here, because the direction and approaches are what is important. We remain hopeful that, although very significant, it is still possible, given good political will, to correct these weaknesses in the strategic documents.