Poland: Situation and treatment of Roma, including employment, housing, health, and education; state protection (2009-2012) [POL104191.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

Sources indicate that around 12,700 people identified as Roma in Poland's 2002 census, but that the actual number of Roma is believed to be higher (EURoma n.d.; MRG n.d.a; US 24 May 2012, 23). Estimates range from 15,000 (Council of Europe 14 Sept. 2010) or 20,000 (EURoma n.d.; Poland Aug. 2003, I) to as many as 60,000 (MRG n.d.a; Council of Europe 14 Sept. 2010). Sources note that the majority of Polish Roma live in cities (HFHR Mar. 2009, 4; EU and UN 2012, 30). Census data indicates that 93 percent of Roma live in cities, compared to 62 percent of the general Polish population (Poland 2007, annex 2). In terms of regional dispersion, census data shows that 13 percent of the Roma population lives in the Malopolskie region, 10 percent live in the Dolnoslaskie region, 10 percent live in the Mazowieckie region, while the remainder live dispersed throughout the rest of Poland (ibid., annex 3).

There are different groups of Roma (EURoma n.d.; HFHR Mar. 2009, 25). The Bergitka Roma [also known as Carpathian Roma] have historically been sedentary (HFHR Mar. 2009, 25; EURoma n.d.), and live primarily in the Malopolskie region (ibid.). Other groups, such as the Polish Roma, Keldrashi [or Kelderari] and Lovari, have historically been nomadic but settled in the 1960s due to policies initiated during the communist era (ibid.; HFHR Mar. 2009, 25). Members of these three groups live mainly in cities, such as Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, Lodz, Krakow, Mielec and Pulawy (EURoma n.d.). According to the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS), in which 500 Roma respondents in Poland were interviewed in 2008 (EU 2009, 4), 90 percent of Roma indicated that they speak the Romani language as their first language (EU Oct. 2009, 15).

2. Violence

Sources indicate that Roma in Poland are sometimes subject to racially-motivated verbal abuse and physical attacks (Freedom House 2012; US 24 May 2012, 23; AI 28 Nov. 2011, 3-4). According to the EU-MIDIS survey, 28 percent of the Roma surveyed indicated that they had been victims of an assault, threat or "serious harassment" within the past 12 months (EU 2009, 8). However, of those victims, 72 percent did not report the crime to the police (ibid.).

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) reports that extremist violence towards Roma is a problem in Poland (MRG n.d.b). Similarly, the "Never Again" Association, a Warsaw-based organization that monitors racism and xenophobia in Poland (n.d.), indicates that Roma are one of the groups most affected by hate crimes in Poland ("Never Again" Association Mar. 2011, 3). The association explains that perpetrators of hate crimes are often members of far-right or skinhead groups and that while one group, the National-Radical Camp (Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny ), was banned, other extremist groups in Poland operate freely (ibid., 4). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011notes that Poland has laws against hate crimes and incitement to violence based on ethnicity, but that the implementation of those laws were "sometimes ineffective" (US 24 May 2012, 22). In addition, the report states that extremist groups, whose numbers are small but growing, are active on the Internet and participate in high-profile marches (ibid.)

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a network of European NGOs that combats racism and promotes anti-racist policy development in the European Union (ENAR n.d.), reports that in July 2010 in the town of Limanowa in the Malopolskie region, approximately 100 people tried to break into a Roma family's apartment after a pregnant Polish woman was attacked by a dog owned by a Roma person (ENAR Mar. 2012, 22). The police intervened to stop them and requested reinforcements from Krakow to prevent further escalations (ibid., 23). Authorities reportedly did not initiate prosecution for incitement to hatred on the grounds of nationality and discontinued proceedings of the threats against the family (ibid.). ENAR reports that there were repeated conflicts between Roma and non-Roma in this town between 2009 and 2011 (ibid., 22-23). The East Europe Monitoring Centre and the "Never Again" Association, as part of a project monitoring racist and xenophobic incidents in 2010, report that, according to a Katowice daily newspaper, two Roma families in Bytom were subject to extortion, threats and physical assaults (East Europe Monitoring Centre and "Never Again" Association 2010, 25). The Council of Europe's European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reports that there have been attacks against Roma in Nowy Sacz, without providing further details (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 114).

3. Discrimination

In their submission to the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review, Polish state authorities describe Roma as "one of the groups most at risk of discrimination and socio-economic exclusion" (Poland 8 Mar. 2012, para. 103). Similarly, ENAR describes Roma as the group most discriminated against in Poland, noting that poverty and high unemployment among Roma contribute to their social exclusion and marginalization (ENAR Mar. 2012, 3, 10). According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Polish Public Opinion Research Center, 50 percent of Poles surveyed said that they did not like Roma, while 24 percent liked them and 20 percent were indifferent, and 6 percent didn't know, making Roma the group facing the highest level of antipathy from society (Feb. 2012, 1).

In a 2011 survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) of 670 Roma households (totalling 2,558 people) in Poland, approximately 62 percent of respondents over the age of 16 said they had experienced discrimination because of their Roma ethnicity within the past 12 months (EU and UN 2012, 26, 30). Similar findings were reported by the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS) (EU 2009, 4). Of the 500 Roma respondents in Poland who were interviewed by EU-MIDIS in 2008, 59 percent said they had experienced at least one form of discrimination based on their ethnicity within the past 12 months (ibid.). Specifically:

  • 19 percent when looking for work or at work;
  • 10 percent by a housing agency or landlord;
  • 22 percent by healthcare personnel;
  • 18 percent by social service personnel;
  • 20 percent by school personnel;
  • 48 percent in private services, such as cafés, restaurants, bars, shops or banks (ibid., 4-5).

Sources note that Roma are subject to discrimination in various sectors including banking (US 24 May 2012, 23), the justice system (ibid.; PAP 2 Feb. 2012), social services (US 24 May 2012, 23), and accessing goods and services (ENAR Mar. 2012, 27; Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 80). Roma are also reportedly portrayed negatively in the media (PAP 2 Feb. 2012; US 24 May 2012, 23).

4. Employment and Socio-Economic Conditions

Sources indicate that unemployment is high among the Roma population in Poland (ENAR Mar. 2012, 3; EURoma n.d.; US 24 May 2012, 24). In the EU FRA survey, approximately 35 percent of the Roma respondents between the ages of 20 and 64 described themselves as unemployed, as compared to approximately 15 percent of the non-Roma respondents living in the same area and sharing the same social and economic infrastructure (EU and UN 2012, 10, 17, 30). The survey also show that 25 percent of Roma respondents in the same age range had paid employment, excluding self-employment, as compared to 55 percent of the non-Roma respondents (ibid., 16). According to the US Country Reports 2011,Roma unemployment in Poland is 80 percent (US 24 May 2012, 24). In some areas of Poland, 100 percent of Roma are reported to be unemployed (ibid.; ENAR Mar. 2012, 3). One such area, ENAR reports, is the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodeship (ibid., 13).

According to the EU FRA survey, approximately 62 percent of Roma respondents over the age of 16 claimed that they experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity when looking for work within the past 5 years (EU and UN 2012, 19).

Sources indicate that many Roma live in poverty (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 131; ENAR Mar. 2012, 10). According to the 2011 EU FRA survey, approximately 82 percent of Roma in Poland are at risk of poverty, meaning that they have an income below 60 percent of the national median equivalised disposable income (EU and UN 2012, 24-25). The survey also indicates that approximately 37 percent of Roma households had a member go to bed hungry at least once in the proceeding month, compared to approximately 4 percent of the non-Roma respondents (ibid., 24).

5. Housing

The majority of Roma reportedly live in housing of a low standard (EURoma n.d.; HFHR Mar. 2009, 5; Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 69). Sources indicate that Poland has a general shortage of affordable housing, which poses difficulties for Roma and other vulnerable groups (ENAR Mar. 2012, 14; HFHR Mar. 2009, 5). The Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR), in a report commissioned by the EU FRA about housing conditions of Roma and travellers in Poland, notes that most Roma live in poor quality communal housing, but that there are also some Roma who own expensive homes (ibid.).

The HFHR report indicates that some Roma dwellings lack running water, electricity or sewage disposal (ibid., 5). According to the EU FRA and UNDP report, approximately 21 percent of the Roma surveyed in Poland lacked one of the following basic housing amenities: indoor kitchen; indoor toilet; indoor shower or bath; or electricity (EU and UN 2012, 23). In comparison, approximately 12 percent of the non-Roma surveyed lacked one of the same amenities (ibid.). HFHR notes that many Roma dwellings are in "a terrible state of disrepair" due to a lack of funds for necessary maintenance such as painting, removing mold from walls, and repairing broken windows, heaters, plumbing and electrical fixtures (HFHR Mar. 2009, 30). In addition, some Roma squat in structures that violate building code standards (ibid., 32).

The HFHR report indicates that some Roma accommodations are reported to be overcrowded (ibid., 5). According to the EU FRA 2011 survey, Roma families have approximately 2.5 occupants per room (excluding kitchens, hallways, toilets and bathrooms), while non-Roma have approximately 1.5 occupants per room (EU and UN 2012, 22). HRHF notes that there are cases in which 10-member multi-generational families occupy a single room; in one case a 21-person family occupied a one-room apartment (HRHF Mar. 2009, 30).

The HFHR reports that some of the Roma settlements in southern Poland are spatially segregated and located away from Polish towns, but that the majority of Roma in other areas of Poland live dispersed among the general population rather than in large Roma-concentrated areas (ibid., 5). The same source notes that Roma have experienced hostility from non-Roma neighbours, including cases in which non-Roma have protested when Roma families were moved into social housing (ibid., 33). For example, in 2008, 69 people in Zary signed a petition against plans to house Roma in social housing in a particular neighbourhood claiming that it would "'result in continued devastation and degradation of an already unseemly area'" (ibid.).

The HFHR explain that the housing conditions are the most difficult for the Bergitka Roma in southern Poland (ibid., 5). According to ECRI, authorities in the Malopolskie region needed to suspend the demolition of illegal Roma buildings until they could find alternative housing for the Roma families occupying them (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 69). The HFHR highlighted examples of particularly poor housing situations among Roma in Maszkowice , Koszary and Krosnica (HFHR Mar. 2009, 30-31).

According to the EU-MIDIS survey, 13 percent of Roma experienced discrimination based on their ethnicity in accessing housing within the past 5 years (EU Oct. 2009, 9).

ENAR notes that improving housing conditions for Roma is viewed as one of the priorities in the government's overall plan to improve conditions for the Roma (Mar. 2012, 15). According to ENAR, the government provided funding for 535 Roma homes to be refurbished with electricity and sewage disposal in 2010, but that this was fewer homes than in 2009 (ibid.). ECRI reports that government efforts to implement projects to improve housing have been criticised by Roma NGOs for having complicated procurement procedures, for "lacking focus" and for being managed by noncompliant mayors (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 69). Meanwhile, some projects were reportedly hindered by town planning and land registry issues, and some authorities complained of a lack of cooperation among the Roma (ibid.)

6. Health

HFHR explains that unsanitary living conditions, caused by a lack of amenities such as running water, sewage disposal and heating, as well as overcrowding and poor housing structure quality, have led to an increase in the spread of disease and health problems among the Roma (HFHR Mar. 2009, 27). HFHR notes that some Roma are afflicted with some diseases that have been eradicated among the general population, such as tuberculosis (ibid.). According to the 2011 EU FRA survey, more than 50 percent of Roma between the ages of 35 and 54 had a health problem affecting their daily activity, compared to approximately 18 percent of the non-Roma population (EU and UN 2012, 20).

7. Education

Roma in Poland reportedly have low levels of education (EU and UN 2012, 15). According to the 2011 EU FRA survey, less than 30 percent of Roma respondents aged 20 to 24 had completed at least general or vocational upper-secondary education, compared to more than 80 percent of non-Roma respondents (ibid.).

Some sources expressed concern at the low level of compulsory school attendance among Roma children (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 50; US 24 May 2012, 23). The Ministry of the Interior and Administration, as cited by Country Reports 2011, indicated that 2,764 of 3,369 Romani children between the ages of 6 and 16 were enrolled in school during the 2009-2010 school year, amounting to approximately 82 percent (ibid.). The 2011 EU FRA survey indicated that approximately 7 percent of Roma aged 7 to 15 were not in school, compared to approximately 5 percent of the non-Roma population (EU and UN 2012, 14). In contrast, ECRI stated that as many as 50 percent of Roma children were not attending school (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 50).

Sources indicate that Roma children are disproportionately placed in schools for children with mental disabilities (ENAR Mar. 2012, 17; US 24 May 2012, 23). According to ENAR, a 2011 survey by the Ministry of the Interior and Administration found that 17 percent of Roma students attended special classes and schools for children with mental disabilities: 70 percent for mild cases; 25 percent for moderate cases; and 1.2 percent for severe cases (ENAR Mar. 2012, 16-17). In comparison, only 1 percent of Polish students attended special schools for any degree of mental disability during the 2009-2010 school year (ibid.). Country Reports 2011notes that, according to the Roma Association, two-thirds of Roma children who are placed in such special schools are intellectually capable of studying in regular schools (US 24 May 2012, 23).

ECRI noted several improvements in education for Roma, including:

  • the phasing out of separate Roma classes;
  • the recruitment of Roma assistants, elected by Roma communities, to aid with the integration of Roma children in the educational system
  • free school books for Roma students;
  • the availability of some scholarships for Roma students (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 48)

8. State Protection

The Roma are a recognized ethnic minority in Poland (EURoma n.d.; US 24 May 2012, 22; HFHR Mar. 2009, 10). As such, the Polish constitution affords them rights to maintain and develop their language, culture and traditions (ibid.; US 24 May 2012, 22). Also, Article 6 of the Act on National and Ethnic Minorities of 2005 specifically prohibits discrimination based on national or ethnic minority status (HFHR Mar. 2009, 10).

Sources indicate that the Polish government has developed the Programme for the Roma Community in Poland [also known as the Programme for the Benefit of the Roma Community] to improve the situation of Roma in areas including education, civic society, access to employment, health, living standards, security, and cultural preservation (Poland Aug. 2003; Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 131-132). The program has a ten year duration spanning from 2004-2013 and a budget of 100 million Polish zloty for the whole period [C$ 29,526,118 (XE 4 Sept. 2012a)] (Poland Aug. 2003, annex 3; Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 132). ENAR cites the program as "a good example of social inclusion and increasing civic, political and cultural participation of ethnic minorities living in Poland" (Mar. 2012, 38). ECRI describes the program as "well-funded," noting that authorities have "serious intentions" regarding its implementation, and that there is Roma involvement with the program, which includes funding for projects submitted by Roma NGOs (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, summary, para. 133). However, ECRI also notes that the program is unevenly implemented by local authorities (ibid., 8). ENAR reports that as part of the program in 2010, the government funded 773 projects by 316 agencies, including 77 Roma NGOs (Mar. 2012, 38). According to Country Reports 2011, the government provided around 10 million Polish zloty [C$ 2,953,968 (XE 4 Sept. 2012b)] in 2011 for projects to improve education, health, living conditions and access to employment for Roma (US 24 May 2012, 24).

ECRI notes the establishment of a Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, which oversees the National Programme for Counteracting Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, a program that was extended through 2013 (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, 7).

In addition, ethnic minorities can bring their complaints to the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman) (Poland June 2011, 60). According to the Human Rights Defender's summary of annual report for 2010, their office took actions to improve the living conditions of Roma, such as defending Roma families who were living in six unregulated buildings in Koszary (ibid.).

8.1 Police

ECRI indicates that they receive reports that Roma are subject to police misconduct and racial profiling (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, para. 161). According to the EU-MIDIS survey, 20 percent of the Roma surveyed were stopped by the police within the past 12 months in Poland (EU 2009, 10-11). Of those, 51 percent believed that they were stopped because of their Roma ethnicity, while 44 percent did not think that their ethnicity was the issue and 5 percent were not sure (ibid.). In addition, 44 percent of Roma stopped by border control agents believed that they were stopped because of their Roma ethnicity (ibid., 11).

8.2 Judiciary

According to ECRI, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers have received training regarding racially-motivated crimes, and victim support centres have been established (Council of Europe 15 June 2010, 7). Further information about the training and victim support centres could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Media sources report that, in 2012, the appellate court in Poznan fined a nightclub owner more than $3,000 for denying a Roma man entry to the club based on his ethnicity (CP 29 Feb. 2012; The Advertiser 2 Mar. 2012). According to Canadian Press (CP), the case was initially dismissed by a lower court (CP 29 Feb. 2012). ENAR, which also reported on this incident that happened in December 2010, noted that the prosecutor's office at the Regional Court in Poznan did not investigate or charge the owner with racism because there was "no violence and no one was insulted in public" (Mar. 2012, 27).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


The Advertiser [Adelaide, Australia]. 2 March 2012. "Poland Win for Roma." (Factiva)

Amnesty International (AI). 28 November 2011. "Poland: Amnesty International Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 13th Session of the UPR Working Group, May-June 2012." <http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/session13/ PL/AI_UPR_POL_S13_2012_AmnestyInternational_E.pdf> [Accessed 13 Sept. 2012]

Canadian Press (CP). 29 February 2012. “Reports: Poland Court Slaps Fine on Club Owner Who Refused Entry to Roma Man.” (Factiva)

Council of Europe. 14 September 2010. Roma and Travellers Division. "Statistics." <http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/romatravellers/default_en.asp> [Accessed 13 Sept. 2012]

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European Network Against Racism (ENAR). March 2012. Maciej Fagasinski. ENAR Shadow Report. Racism and Related Discriminatory Practices in Poland. <http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/publications/shadow%20report%202010-11/20.%20Poland.pdf> [Accessed 27 Aug. 2012]

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"Never Again" Association. March 2011. Rafal Pankowski. Racist Violence in Poland. Brussels: European Network Against Racism (ENAR). <http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/Racist%20Violence%20Poland%20-%20online.pdf> [Accessed 27 Aug. 2012]

_____. N.d. "Who We Are?" <http://www.nigdywiecej.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=237&Itemid=50> [Accessed 6 Sept. 2012]

Poland. 8 March 2012. National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 5 of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 16/21. Poland. (A/HRC/WG.6/13/POL/1) <http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4fcc9ded2.html> [Accessed 24 Aug. 2012]

_____. June 2011. Office of the Human Rights Defender. Summary of Report on the Activity of the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman of the Republic of Poland) in 2010. <http://www.rpo.gov.pl/pliki/13113275370.pdf> [Accessed 27 Aug. 2012]

_____. 2007. Ministry of Interior. Second Report for the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on the Realisation by the Republic of Poland of the Provisions of the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities. <http://www.msw.gov.pl/portal/en/10/54/Ethnic_and_national_minorities_in_Poland.html> [Accessed 13 Sept. 2012]

_____. August 2003. Ministry of Interior, Department of Ethnic and National Minorities in Poland. "Programme for the Roma Community in Poland." <http://www.msw.gov.pl/ portal/en/10/55/Programme_for_the_Roma_community_in_Poland.html> [Accessed 4 Sept. 2012]

Polish Press Agency (PAP). 2 February 2012. “Roma Tell Ombudsman of Discrimination.” (BBC Monitoring Europe 3 Feb. 2012/Factiva)

Public Opinion Research Center. February 2012. "Attitude to Other Nationalities." Polish Public Opinion. <http://www.cbos.pl/PL/publikacje/public_opinion/2012/02_2012.pdf> [Accessed 14 Sept. 2012]

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XE. 4 September 2012a. "Currency Converter Widget." <http://www.xe.com/ ucc/convert/?Amount=100000000&From=PLN&To=CAD> [Accessed 4 Sept. 2012]

_____. 4 September 2012b. "Currency Converter Widget." <http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert/?Amount=10000000&From=PLN&To=CAD> [Accessed 4 Sept. 2012]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Decade of Roma Inclusion; ecoi.net; European Roma Rights Network; Factiva; International Federation for Human Rights; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Transitions Online; United Nations – Refworld, UN Development Programme.