Turkey’s Roma population and similar social groups such as Abdal, totalling between two million and five million, have long been one of the country’s most marginalised communities. From hate speech and the threat of targeted violence to extreme poverty and exclusion, they suffer discrimination in almost every area of their lives. This situation has been sustained not only by deep-rooted social prejudice, but also by the indifference and even complicity of authorities to address their second-class status in Turkey. Indeed, until relatively recently there was little official acknowledgement of the profound social and economic inequalities affecting them, let alone a concerted effort to improve their conditions.
The limited availability of studies or concrete data on targeted attacks, inadequate essential public services and other challenges have contributed to the continued invisibility of Roma and other similar groups in public life. This has been accompanied by a steady attrition of their ability to maintain their distinct culture and identity: for example, there has been a drastic decline in the number of people who can speak the traditional languages of the Roma community such as Romani, Lomavren, Domari and Abdoltili, and those languages and dialects are under threat of disappearing. This report, drawing on extensive fieldwork with Roma communities as well as desk-based research, seeks to raise awareness among policy makers, journalists and the general public by highlighting the particular barriers they continue to face in two key areas – housing and education. While Turkey is a signatory to all of the relevant international conventions guaranteeing all citizens equal access to housing and education – protections affirmed in its national legislation and constitutions – in practice legal shortcomings and implementation failures have meant that for many these rights remain out of reach.
Poverty and discrimination from some landlords has meant that the barriers to securing adequate housing are especially high for Roma, resulting in high rates of homelessness or their concentration in settlements with limited public services and insecure tenure. This has led to the persistence of so-called ‘Roma neighbourhoods’ that are largely segregated from surrounding areas and mainstream society. Besides being characterised by limited access to water, sanitation and other needs, these communities are especially vulnerable to forcible displacement to accommodate urban ‘regeneration’ and other projects: as a result, Roma may be forced to migrate repeatedly. These issues are especially acute for certain groups, such as women and refugees, who may be subject to multiple forms of discrimination. Their discrimination is further entrenched by their continued exclusion from education. Despite the right to education being guaranteed for all, in practice a range of social and economic hurdles, from physical isolation and financial constraints to the absence of accessible and culturally appropriate schooling, have left many Roma children isolated – a situation that perpetuates low attendance, poor attainment and the emergence in some areas of almost exclusively Roma schools that reinforce their segregation.
These issues are exacerbated by other forms of discrimination, such as harassment from staff and pupils, and curricula that ignore Roma in their materials. As a result, instead of effectively addressing the drivers of exclusion, Turkey’s education system is perpetuating inequalities by failing to provide Roma with accessible, affordable education. Importantly, there has been some progress in recent years, with the government coming up with a number of policies that officially recognise the challenges these communities experience. Despite the limitations and ambiguities of those policies, they have been embraced by the NGOs established by Roma and similar social groups. However, only time will tell if the current strategies will produce positive results. This report seeks to highlight the current rights gaps and support the development of more inclusive social policies.