Since the adoption of ECRI’s fourth report on Lithuania on 22 June 2011, progress has been made in a number of fields.
The authorities also developed the new Action Plan for Roma Integration into the Lithuanian Society 2015 – 2020 which includes, inter alia, measures in the areas of housing, education, employment and health.
ECRI welcomes these positive developments in Lithuania. However, despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern.
The situation of many members of the Roma community remains extremely difficult. The housing situation in the Kirtimai settlement has not improved since ECRI’s last report and social marginalisation of Roma is still evident, for example in the areas of education and employment. The urgent measures needed to address these problems have not been taken by the Lithuanian authorities in recent years.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
4. Integration policies
60. Lithuania has adopted integration policies in respect of only two groups, namely Roma and beneficiaries of international protection, which include refugees and persons who have been granted subsidiary protection.
61. The estimated number of Roma living in Lithuania ranges from 2 000 to 2 500, with the largest communities in and around Vilnius and Kaunas. Following the unsatisfactory achievements of previous programmes, including the 2012-2014 Action Plan for the Integration of Roma into Lithuanian Society, the authorities developed the new Action Plan for Roma Integration into the Lithuanian Society 2015 – 2020 (henceforth: Action Plan) which includes, inter alia, measures in the areas of housing, education, employment and health.51
51 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015. The authorities informed ECRI, that this new Action Plan was adopted to comply with the European Commission’s Communication of 5 April 2011 on an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020 (COM (2011) 0173), according to which every EU member State should adopt a Roma integration document.
62. The Action Plan includes three measures in the field of housing: to increase access to housing for vulnerable population groups, including Roma; to organise meetings between municipalities and Roma communities on new forms of social housing provisions; and to provide legal consultations on housing issues.52 ECRI is pleased that housing is now included in the Action Plan. This area already required urgent attention several years ago, but was not included in the previous Action Plan 2012-2014, in spite of ECRI’s recommendations made in 2011.53 The European Committee of Social Rights also considered, in its 2011 Conclusions, that profound discrimination is faced by the Roma community in the field of housing, as many of its members live in isolated ghetto-like neighbourhoods in which living and housing conditions are poor.54 Several hundred Roma are estimated to live in the Kirtimai settlement near Vilnius airport in difficult conditions, many in wooden shacks. It is the only settlement of this kind in the Baltic states.55 Many residents continue to live in unregistered houses, lacking sanitary facilities or access to running water and electricity.56 In recent years, the Municipality of Vilnius repeatedly informed Kirtimai residents of plans for their imminent evictions, without prior consultation or provision of adequate alternative housing.57 Kirtimai residents and civil society organisations confirmed during the visit of the ECRI delegation in early 2015 that such threats continue to occur and remain a serious problem.
52 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015, Annex 1: 9-10.
53 § 118 of ECRI’s 4th report on Lithuania.
54 European Committee of Social Rights 2012: 707 – 710.
55 Šukevičiūtė / Bakker 2013: 3.
56 Ibid.: 8.
57 European Roma Rights Centre 2012.
63. While the three measures included in the Action Plan touch upon the most salient points in the field of housing, they remain too vague. The first measure does not provide details of how access to housing will be improved for Roma. The corresponding evaluation criteria in the Action Plan state that the number of illegal buildings in Kirtimai should be reduced from 77 in 2015 to 55 by 2020 by legalising dwellings or by providing social housing.58 This is a useful starting point, and also takes some of ECRI’s 2011 recommendations into account, but it merely reduces the number of illegal dwellings in the settlement by about one third, while not providing any solutions to the remaining persons, neither with regard to the regularisation of their homes or the living conditions, for example by improving access to water, sanitation, and electricity. Regarding the second measure, ECRI notes that there is a general shortage of social housing in Lithuania and that it is allocated by municipalities and can therefore not be easily steered by the inter-institutional working group on Roma issues at national level. This shows the importance of having the Municipality of Vilnius fully involved in this group, as was recommended by ECRI in its last report, but which has not happened so far.59 Furthermore, although vulnerable persons can access a rental subsidy paid by the state to facilitate the renting of privately owned apartments, Roma met by ECRI’s delegation report that they frequently experience high levels of discrimination when attempting to access accommodation in the private housing market. The third measure is not associated with a specified outcome to improve access to housing. The Action Plan only contains the target of providing 300 legal consultations on housing issues per year, but without stipulating a specific impact that these consultations should have, such as regularisation of existing dwellings or securing alternative accommodation. The mere provision of consultations alone can hardly be seen as an adequate response to the housing problem.
58 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015, Annex 2: 6.
59 This was one aspect of ECRI’s 2011 priority recommendations. See also § 69 below.
64. The area of health care was also not included in the previous Action Plan but is part of the new one. Measures include a vaccination coverage study and followup community seminars, as well as trainings on healthy living and hygiene.60 Two main obstacles to equitable access to health care, however, are not addressed. The first one concerns the lack of health insurance coverage of many Roma. Based on the 2011 Census and data from the Health Insurance Register, it is estimated that nearly a quarter (24%) of Roma in Lithuania do not have health insurance, while the rate among the overall population is only 9%. According to the local clinic, nearly one third (32.5%) of Kirtimai residents were without health insurance in 2014. The fact that these aspects are not addressed in the Action Plan is especially surprising given that this information is contained in its situation analysis.61 The second obstacle for Roma in the context of access to health care is a widespread perception of discriminatory behaviour towards them in health care settings. While ECRI cannot verify the levels of discrimination in the health care sector, it is obvious that already the perception that discrimination might occur, can be sufficient to dissuade Roma from attending health care facilities. The position of the Ministry of Health62 that discrimination of Roma does not occur in the health care sector is therefore not an adequate response to this problem. Without (i) research into whether discrimination does occur in this field, (ii) adequate prevention mechanisms, such as trainings of staff and effective complaint mechanisms, and (iii) outreach activities in Roma communities, this obstacle to improving the health care of Roma cannot be overcome.
60 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015, Annex 1: 6.
61 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015: 5.
62 As communicated verbally to the ECRI delegation during its visit in February 2015.
68. Several civil society organisations, and in particular Roma groups, mentioned to the ECRI delegation that although they were consulted as part of the preparation process of the new Action Plan for Roma Integration 2015-2020, their inputs were too often disregarded without discussion or explanation. In the view of several Roma community leaders, the lack of results of previous Plans was mainly caused by the inadequate involvement of Roma during the planning and implementation stages, which often meant that their needs were not sufficiently understood. 72
72 Sabatauskaitė / Urbonaitė 2014: 2.
69. One of ECRI’s 2011 priority recommendations called for an inter-institutional body on Roma issues to be set up with a view to coordinating the action of the authorities responsible for the implementation of Roma integration programmes. Coordination with the Municipality of Vilnius should in particular have been further enhanced.73 The authorities set up an inter-institutional working group, which met regularly under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture to coordinate the activities of the participating public bodies in respect of Roma integration, but the Municipality of Vilnius did not participate in it. In its 2014 conclusions on the implementation of the recommendation, ECRI emphasised that it expected the national authorities to use their convening powers to bring the Municipality of Vilnius to the table in order to work jointly towards the better integration of Roma,74 which has still not happened and there are no specific provisions to this end included in the Action Plan.
73 § 94 of ECRI’s 4th report on Lithuania.
74 ECRI 2014: 5.
70. In 2011, ECRI also recommended that the authorities guarantee adequate funds for the Roma Integration Programme.75 The funding for the Roma Action Plan 2012-2014 increased from 647 000 Lt (187 500 €) in 2012 to 1 400 000 Lt (406 000 €) in 2013. However, in 2013, only some 400 000 Lt (116 000 €), less than 30%, were contributions from the Lithuanian state budget. The balance was provided by EU funding mechanisms. These proportions were similar in 2012. In both years, around 10% of the annual Action Plan remained unfunded.76 At the time of ECRI’s visit, the authorities could not provide information as to the full funding levels for the new Action Plan 2015-2020. ECRI notes, however, that only some of the specified measures were allocated a budget. In the field of housing, for example, only the third measure is funded; while in the area of health care, only the vaccination coverage study is funded, but none of the outreach activities.
75 § 94 of ECRI’s 4th report on Lithuania.
76 ECRI 2014: 5.
71. ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities, as part of the Action Plan for Roma Integration 2015-2020, resolve the difficult housing situation of Roma, inter alia by (i) co-operating more closely with and financially supporting relevant local authorities, in particular the Municipality of Vilnius, to provide sufficient social housing to vulnerable members of the Roma community; and (ii) working with rental agencies and associations of private landlords to overcome prejudices against Roma in the private-sector housing market. Furthermore, recalling its 2011 recommendation concerning the Kirtimai settlement and expressing concern that no steps have been taken to provide suitable accommodation since then, ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities take steps as soon as possible to provide proper accommodation for this community and, in the meantime, ensure that no evictions take place, and that all necessary public services are provided to the people in the Kirtimai settlement.
72. ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities take the shortcomings indicated in the preceding paragraphs into consideration when implementing and, if necessary, adjusting the Action Plan for Roma Integration into the Lithuanian Society 2015 – 2020. The authorities should, inter alia, commission an independent assessment of the level of discrimination of Roma in the health care sector as a basis for future action, and reduce the number of Roma without health insurance coverage. They should also scale up the support for Roma education activities and aim at raising the level of enrolment of Roma children in pre-school education to that of the general population with a view of promoting non-segregated pre-school facilities. Furthermore, the authorities should take more specific measures to support the integration of Roma into the labour market (see § 123 of ECRI’s 2011 report), such as the expansion of vocational training activities geared towards the Roma community and the facilitation and promotion of their registration with the Labour Exchange, but also the expansion of adult education courses for Roma beyond Vilnius. In addition, the authorities should ensure that the Action Plan is fully funded.
– Polish and Russian minorities
80. Poles and Russians are the two largest historical ethnic minorities in the country, accounting for approximately 6.6% (some 200 000) and 5.8% (some 175 000) of the population respectively.83 84 According to the Lithuanian authorities, these minorities’ main obstacle to social integration is the insufficient knowledge of the Lithuanian language. ECRI would like to recall that teaching of the national language and knowledge of the minority language are both legitimate goals that can be pursued as part of a minority education strategy.85 However, there are doubts as to whether the steps taken by the Lithuanian authorities in this regard are facilitating the integration of these minorities.
83 According to the 2011 census. Source: Statistics Lithuania 2013.
84 There is currently no law on national minorities. The previous law was only valid until 2010 and the Seimas has not yet enacted a new law.
85 In this regard, see also the work of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, in particular its Third Opinion on Lithuania 2014.
Document data: CRI(2016)20 Adopted on 18 March 2016 Published on 7 June 2016 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-lithuania/16808b587b Also available in French and Lithuanian