Turkey's Romani citizens, colloquially known as Roma, expect concrete steps to be taken regarding the problems being faced by the community, a local Roma group said Friday, marking International Roma Day.
"We would like to see concrete steps taken in solving the problems Romani people face," said the Istanbul-based Roma Dialogue Network (RODA) in a statement on Friday, addressing the government, local administrations, public institutions as well as political parties.
Despite an increased interest in Roma culture in Turkey, the problems being faced by the community still await solutions, the statement said.
"We are witnessing an increase in interest in Romani culture and history; and the authorities have started taking our requests on social issues into consideration,” it added.
Still, the group said, Roma people are facing problems in accessing public services, education, housing, employment, health and social security.
International Roma Day aims to celebrate Roma culture and raise awareness of the difficulties the Roma people face. According to the Council of Europe’s Roma and Travellers Division, Turkey has an estimated 2.75 million Roma population, the highest in Europe. Established in 2012, RODA ensures "continuous dialogue between public authorities and Roma groups,” according to its website. The network consists of representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with Roma, Dom, Lom and Abdal groups and activists working in these fields.
In 2016, Turkey announced an action plan as part of the government’s Roma Initiative to improve the living conditions of local Roma people.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan often hails his ties to the community, with which he spent his childhood in the Kasımpaşa neighborhood of Istanbul where a large part of the Roma community lived. He is credited with taking the first steps for affirmative action programs for the community during his tenure as prime minister. The president, who attended Roma “conventions” that brought together representatives of the community, was also the first to apologize to the community in 2010 for the Turkish state’s past policies depriving the community of their rights.
Education and employment pose serious challenges to the Roma community although their situation has improved with a string of projects in recent years. Most Roma citizens work at low-level positions and low-paying jobs due to their limited access to education. The government has worked to help them access better jobs with better social security and seeks to encourage participation in free vocational training courses where participants are automatically employed in public services and private companies once they complete the training.