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Achieving Roma integration in Hungary

At least 300 000 people, around three percent of the population, live in slums in Hungary. Often, these are Roma families. There are more than 1,600 slums across the country. Can we improve their plight or Roma families will remain in poverty?

Mátraverebély, a village in northern Hungary, is one of over 800 places with urban slums. Political and economic reforms of the 1990s brought dramatic changes to the lives of people in Mátraverebély. Mines and agricultural cooperatives, which employed many of the residents, closed down. Unemployment remains high even now, 24 years later.

Traditionally, Roma and non-Roma families of Mátraverebély lived peacefully in harmonious communities. With the drastic decline in income and loss of jobs, the poor and the better-off drifted apart. Today, Mátraverebély is a segregated village, 400 of the 2000 residents are Roma. They live in slums separated from the other communities by a road.

Roma housing conditions are deplorable: broken roofs, damp walls, mould and run down doors and windows. Homes lack bathrooms and toilets. Physical separation from the rest of the community locks these residents into a world without any alternative. Children grow up surrounded by poverty. On the other side of the road, young people and children have no experience of interaction with the largest minority in their community.

Habitat for Humanity Hungary believes that this segregation should be stopped. Our society needs to offer better chances for the Roma population. Change is needed both on the national and local level. As a first step, Habitat Hungary invited local authorities from Mátraverebély, a local grassroots organisation working with the Roma and Roma representatives to discuss the future of their community.

In a series of seven workshops and roundtables, members of the community elaborated on health care, education, employment, social prejudice, local infrastructure and housing problems. As this took place, Mátraverebély got a grant from the EU funds for local development. There was an agreement that these funds will be used and allocated through a process that involves involvement of all communities, including Roma families.

At the end of the roundtable, the participants created a list of action items and identified problems. A local decree on social transfers, subsidies and social work was amended to remove discriminatory and humiliating rules that existed earlier. The roundtable is followed by a research project which will document the importance of inclusive planning and highlight the need for national support.

This series of roundtable is a good example of how dialogue and participation can help with solutions of difficult social problems. Such an approach can help improve the lives of Roma families in Hungary and better integrate them into neighbouring communities.