Croatia: Situation and treatment of Roma; including state protection efforts [HRV104125.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. General Situation

The 2001 census found that there were 9,463 individuals who identified themselves as Roma in Croatia (Croatia 2001). However, sources indicate that the number of Roma in the country was believed to be larger (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6; OSF Aug. 2010, 31; MRG July 2008b). Minority Rights Group International (MRG) states that the Roma population "was probably much higher, as Roma often do not declare their ethnicity for fear of discrimination" (ibid). Estimates of the number of Roma range from 30,000 to 40,000 (US 24 May 2012, Sec.6; OSF Aug. 2010, 31; MRG July 2008b), and as high as 60,000 people (MRG July 2008b).

According to MRG, Roma in Croatia "are a dispersed and heterogeneous group; they adhere to different religions including Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Islam, and speak different languages" (MRG July 2008b).

2. Treatment of Roma
2.1 General Treatment

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Centar za Mirovne Studije (Centre for Peace Studies, CMS), a Croatian human rights NGO, stated that the "Roma population in Croatia lives under a great stigma … [and are] perceived as a lower class" (CMS 3 July 2012). A 2010 European Union (EU) report evaluating Croatia’s readiness to join the EU states that "[t]he Roma minority faces particularly difficult living conditions" (EU 9 Nov.2010, 53).

2.2 Discrimination

Multiple sources indicate that Roma are subject to discrimination (CMS 3 July 2012; US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6; AI 2012; Freedom House 2012; MRG July 2008a). Amnesty International specifies that such discrimination is felt "in access to economic and social rights" (2012). MRG adds that Roma experience "exclusion from all areas of life" (July 2008a). In particular, the CMS representative stated that if Roma arrive in a region were they have not previously been present, "they are faced with deep prejudice and hatred from [the] local population" (3 July 2012). However, the CMS also notes that, even in the parts of Croatia where the Roma population has been long established, and are "visible" and "relatively integrated," they still face discrimination (CMS 3 July 2012).

2.3 Health Care

Sources indicate that Roma have difficulties in accessing health care (EU 9 Nov.2010, 14, 53; MRG July 2008b). According to MRG, there have been instances of Roma being refused treatment by health professionals (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2.4 Housing

Sources note that Roma face difficulties in obtaining adequate housing (Balkan Insight 10 Nov.2011; EU 9 Nov.2010, 14). An article published by Balkan Insight, a news site that reports on the Western Balkans (n.d.), reveals that according to the result of an investigation conducted by a journalist in Zagreb, many landlords refused outright to rent to Roma or lied about their properties' availability, despite a high level of vacancy (Balkan Insight 10 Nov.2011). In addition, four out five real estate agencies asked to advertise office space for rent agreed to only refer ethnic Croats to the article's author, with only one of the agencies refusing the request since it was against the law (ibid). The same investigation also found that approximately 40 percent of non-Roma individuals did not want to consider having a Roma roommate (ibid.). However, the Croatian government states Roma housing-improvement programs exist in 13 of the 14 counties that have larger Roma populations (Croatia June 2011, 7). Further details on these programs could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

2.5 Employment

According to sources, Roma also face difficulties in accessing employment (US 24 May 2012 Sec. 6; EU 9 Nov.2010, 14, 53; MRG July 2008a). Some sources note that poverty is also prevalent among the Roma population (Freedom House 2012; MRG July 2008a). The US Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 and MRG indicate that employment is a particular source of discrimination against the Roma (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6; MRG July 2008a). Country Reports 2011 states that, according to the Council of Europe, "only 6.5 percent of Roma held permanent jobs in the country," while the Croatian office for national minorities stated that the unemployment rate for Roma ranged from 15 percent in the city of Rijeka to 98 percent in the region of Meðjimurje , although no dates for these statistics were provided. (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). The Balkan Insight article reports that, according to the Croatian Employment Bureau, 4,553 Roma were unemployed as of late 2010, noting that this number is close to half of the Roma identified in the 2001 census (10 Nov.2011). Several educated Roma women interviewed for the article reported that they "had been vainly seeking jobs for years", including one woman who had only worked two months as a cleaner in ten years of seeking employment (ibid.). MRG also indicates that Roma are "underrepresented in public life, including in public-sector employment" (July 2008b).

2.6 Citizenship and Access to Documentation

Sources indicate that many Roma face difficulties in defining their status in Croatia (CMS 3 July 2012; US 24 May 2012, Sec. 2, Sec. 6). Citing estimates from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Romani NGOs, Country Reports 2011 states that that there are "500 stateless Roma in the country and an additional 1,000 at risk of statelessness" (ibid., Sec. 2). The source explains that "[c]itizenship is derived by birth in the country’s territory or via one parent," making it difficult for Roma originating from other parts of the former Yugoslavia to provide the documents necessary to obtain the Croatian citizenship and, in turn, to benefit from state services such as social assistance and free health care (ibid., Sec. 2, Sec. 6). Other sources also expressed concern that access to citizenship is difficult for members of ethnic minorities in Croatia (UN 24 Mar.2009, para.17; Refugees International Mar.2009, 45). Country Reports 2011 adds that the children of Roma who face difficulties in establishing Croatian citizenship also have difficulty in accessing social services, although they were generally able to be enrolled in schools without difficulty (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6).

2.7 Political Representation

Sources note that there is a Roma MP sitting in the Croatian parliament (Balkan Insight 10 May 2012; Croatia June 2011, 2). According to the Croatian government, there are also Roma representatives who participate in "decision-making processes" at the local and regional levels (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2.8 Education

Sources indicate that Roma continue to face challenges in accessing education (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6; EU 9 Nov.2010, 14, 53; MRG July 2008a).While noting that Roma children are entitled to free education, which is mandatory until the eight grade, Country Reports 2011 stated that they face "serious obstacles in their education," "including discrimination in schools" (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). The US Department of Labor's 2010 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor reports that only 3.5 percent of Roma children graduate from school at the secondary level, in contrast to 85 percent among the general student population, although a specific period of time is not provided (ibid. 30 Sept. 2011, 221). The report also states that Roma children are particularly at risk of being exploited for child labour, noting that Roma children are reportedly involved in a majority of cases of child labour in agriculture and are subject to forced begging (ibid., 218). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources report that Roma may be subjected to segregation in schools (CMS 3 July 2012; EU 9 Nov.2010, 14). In March 2010, following an appeal, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the state had discriminated against Romani students from Meðjimurje who were placed in separate Roma-only classes, overturning its own previous decision (BBC 16 March 2010; US 24 May 2012, Sec. 1e). According to MRG, in 2008, the ECHR had originally agreed with Croatian authorities that the children had not been discriminated against, as separate classes were held to bring up the Roma children’s Serbo-Croat language skills within an integrated school, despite the claimants' assertion that the Roma-only classes were substandard, without full access to the same program of study as other students (July 2008b).

2.9 Incidents and Public or Media Portrayal of Roma

Some sources indicate that Roma are subject to violence (USA 24 May 2012, Sec. 6; Refugees International Mar.2009, 45) and "harassment" (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). According to Country Reports 2011, in 2010, a Roma man was "severely" beaten by three off-duty police officers in the city of Karlovac (US 24 May 2012, Sec. g). One of the officers was later convicted and given a one-year suspended sentence (ibid.).

According to the CMS representative,

[t]here have been incidents in last couple of years but in 2012 they increased so now they seem to be systematic. Over the past several months, we have observed and collected evidence of a number of cases of public incitement to direct or indirect discrimination, hatred or violence against Roma. Our preoccupation is even stronger due to the fact that most of those incidents were prompted by representatives of the public authorities of Croatia. (3 July 2012)

The CMS representative also added that "media coverage [in] Croatia is discriminatory," blaming the Roma population as a whole for any individual incident, thereby perpetuating prejudice (3 July 2012). Other sources also reported a number of anti-Roma incidents and statements in 2012 (Balkan Insight 10 May 2012; Independent Online 4 May 2012). The CMS representative noted in particular that "increasing tensions between Roma and non-Roma population have been observed in the region of Lika, often resulting in physical attacks and threats" (3 July 2012).

Residents in the localities of Škabrnja [also spelled Skabrnje ] (CMS 3 July 2012; Balkan Insight 10 May 2012; Independent Online 4 May 2012) and Siroka Kula (Balkan Insight 10 May 2012) reportedly mobilized against local Roma. In the case of Škabrnja , located near the city of Zadar on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Roma were driven off the property they had purchased after receiving threats, including from the village's mayor (CMS 3 July 2012; Balkan Insight 10 May 2012; Independent Online 4 May 2012). Some sources noted that the Roma left as "they feared for their lives" (ibid.) According to sources, the mayor had declared that Roma and Serbs had never lived in Škabrnja and that they never would (CMS 3 July 2012; Balkan Chronicle 13 May 2012). The CMS representative added that "the police didn’t ban the protest, and didn’t protect the family in any way" (3 July 2012). However, an article notes that the families had received police protection, although they left the village, stating that they "they feared for their lives" (Independent Online 4 May 2012). The Balkan Chronicle also notes that the mayor was arrested after the families left, although he remained unrepentant after being released (Balkan Chronicle 13 May 2012). The CMS representative added that only 2 criminal charges of racial discrimination have been laid despite hundreds of people having been involved (3 July 2012). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. South Africa-based news site Independent Online noted that the both the Croatian Foreign Affairs minister and the Ombudsman denounced the events in the town (4 May 2012).

According to the Balkan Chronicle, the mayor of Siroka Kula led a protest against local Roma families due to alleged encroachment by Roma cattle on agricultural land (13 May 2012). The Balkan Chronicle reports that despite media coverage, "state authorities did nothing to prevent discrimination and expulsions of the families" (13 May 2012)

Sources report that, in March 2012, the Croatian minister of the Interior [also referred to as "Minister of the police" by one source], declared that more than half of the crimes in Medjimurge [also spelled Međimurje ], in Croatia's north, were caused by Roma (Balkan Chronicle 13 May 2012; Croatian Times 29 Mar.2012). According to the CMS representative, the Minister also stated that Medjimurge "would be the safest county" if there were no Roma living there and added that Roma "use social benefits for alcohol" (3 July 2012).

Sources also noted that the chief of police of Osijek , within Osječko-Baranjska district in eastern Croatia, also stated that Roma were a cause of local insecurity (CMS 3 July 2012;Balkan Insight 10 May 2012). According to the CMS representative, the police chief in Osječko-Baranjska County had also stated that the Roma in his country "should somehow be deported". (3 July 2012).

3. State Protection

The EU progress report states that "[h]igh-level public expressions of commitment to the rights of minorities, reaffirming their place in Croatian society, have continued" (9 Nov.2009, 52). Sources report that there exist legal protections for minorities (Croatia June 2011, 1-2; US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6), These protections include the constitutional recognition of 22 groups, including Roma, as national minorities and the Constitutional Law on the Rights of the National Minorities, adopted in June 2010, which guarantees seats in Parliament for members of national minorities (Croatia June 2011, 1-2) as well as an anti-discrimination law (Balkan Insight 10 Nov.2011; Croatia n.d.),which came into force in 2009 (ibid.) However, sources report that government efforts to combat discrimination were not effective (CMS 3 July 2012; US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6; Refugees International Mar.2009, 45). According to the Balkan Insight article, research conducted in 2010 by the Croatian human rights office, the Ombudsman's office and the Centre for Peace Studies found that "around half of all Croats do not know that discrimination in Croatia is illegal" (10 Nov.2011). Sources also indicate that official data on Roma is incomplete (OSF Aug. 2010, 27, 29) or erroneous (MRG July 2008a). The Open Society Foundations (OSF), an international organization that works to improve governance and strengthen civil society (n.d.), notes that information regarding discrimination against Roma in particular is lacking, although the OSF also states that Croatia has taken significant actions in improving the information available on Roma (Aug. 2010, 27). In particular, the OSF notes that the government of Croatia has made efforts to collect information regarding the Roma and education (Aug. 2010, 27).

Several sources report that the authorities’ response to discrimination, intimidation or violence towards members of minorities is slow and inefficient (UN 24 Mar.2009, para.11; MRG July 2008a). According to Amnesty International, government measures regarding discrimination towards Roma in particular remain "insufficient" (2012).

According to the CMS representative, security for Roma does not vary depending on regional location, noting that Roma face discriminatory speech and actions from authorities (3 July 2012). According to the CMS representative, statements by authorities such as by the Minister of the Interior and the Osijek police chief is "disturbing to [the] Roma community and due to a prior bad relationship with the police they feel threatened and without protection of any authority" (3 July 2012). However, the Croatian government states that police departments in seven counties follow a community policing strategy, "actively involved in monitoring and resolving the situation in Roma settlements" and serving as mediators between Roma and local villagers (Croatia June 2011, 9). Information regarding the effectiveness of these measures was not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to sources, the Croatian ombudsman became the central body for promoting equality in accordance with the 2009 Anti-discrimination Act (Croatia n.d.; European Network n.d., 56). The Balkan Insight article reported that most of the complaints lodged with the Office of the Ombudsman in 2010 "concerned race or ethnic background" (10 Nov.2011). However, the CMS representative stated that, while the Office of the Ombudsman reacted in some situations, it lacks the "authority to do anything more" (3 July 2012). According to the Office of the Ombudsman's website, the Ombudsman studies instances where citizens' individual or collective rights may have been infringed upon and may deliver warnings, make recommendations and propose steps to be taken (Croatia n.d.)

4. Support Services
4.1 Government Support

According to the CMS representative,

At the level of central government, the Office for Human Rights and Ethnic and National Minorities is the body that is supposed to address issues concerning Roma. It annually allocates funds to minority non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Roma NGOs. (CMS 3 July 2012)

The National Roma Program was put into place by the government in 2003 to improve their situation (Croatia June 2011, 1; MRG July 2008b). However, the MRG notes that the program is “poorly” funded and that it came under criticism for its failure to adequately consult with the Roma themselves (ibid.). Further details on the programme and its implementation were not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Country Reports 2011 states that, according to Croatian government estimates, between 20,000 and 30,000 Roma "received some form of social assistance" in the country (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). According to Country Reports 2011, national authorities paid back employers for two-year worth of salaries for their Roma workers in order to encourage the employment of Roma (ibid.).

Croatia is a participant in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 (ibid. 30 Sept. 2011, 220; Croatia June 2011, 1; OSF Aug. 2010; MRG July 2008b). The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 is described as "a commitment by European governments to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma" (Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 n.d.). The Croatian government notes that this joint initiative focuses primarily on education, health care, employment and housing, and on the general improvement of the living conditions of Roma (Croatia June 2011, 1).

Country Reports 2011 indicates that the Croatian government provides special funding for Roma children at the kindergarten and preschool levels and provides scholarships to Roma students in high school and university (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6). Country Reports 2011 also notes that, in response to the 2010 ECHR decision, authorities introduced a preschool program for 200 Roma school children in Meðjimurje (ibid.). According to sources, the number of Roma children attending school is increasing at all levels (ibid.; Croatia June 2011, 4). However, the EU progress report describes the progress in making sure that Roma children continue to attend school as "modest" (9 Nov.2010, 14). The US Department of Labor's 2010 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor also reports that Croatian authorities carry out outreach programs to reduce forced begging by encouraging Roma children to attend school, although no information is provided on the effectiveness of such programs (30 Sept. 2011, 220).

According to Country Reports 2011, the EU and the Croatian government have collaborated in the construction of infrastructure for Roma settlements in the Medjimurje region, where many Roma live (US 24 May 2012, Sec. 6)

4.2 Roma Organizations

According to the Croatian government, there are 114 Roma associations in the country (Croatia June 2011, 3). The government states that funding for such organizations is available from the Croatian Council for National Minorities and from government authorities at different levels (ibid.).

However, the EU progress report states that "[c]oordination between Roma groups remains limited, as does their expertise for effective implementation of measures in their favour" (9 Nov.2010, 14). The Croatian government likewise states "that the capacity of Roma NGOs remains limited, and networking with other Roma and non-Roma organizations is still poor" (June 2011, 2). The CMS representative also stated that Roma NGOs do not have the capacity to react, adding that these NGOs do not provide legal support (CMS 3 July 2012). However, the representative stated that the CMS works along with other groups to combat discrimination and xenophobia (ibid.).

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.


Amnesty International (AI). 2012. "Croatia." Amnesty International Report 2012: The State of the World's Human Rights. <> [Accessed 6 June 2012]

Balkan Chronicle. 13 May 2012. "Local Croatian Officials Encourage the Anti-Roma Discrimination in Skabrnja ." <> [Accessed 13 June 2012]

Balkan Insight. 10 May 2012. Boris Pavelic. "Anti-Roma Incidents Criticised in Croatia." <> [Accessed 13 June 2012]

_____. 10 Nov.2011. Barbara Matejcic. "Croats hold Roma and Muslims at Arm’s Length."<> [Accessed 13 June 2012]

______. n.d." Balkan Insight." <> [Accessed 29 June 2012]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 16 March 2010. "European Court Says Croatia Violated Roma Rights." <> [Accessed 22 June 2012]

Centar za Mirovne Studije (Centre for Peace Studies - CMS). 3 July 2012. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate by a representative.

Croatia. June 2011. Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015: Progress Report 2010. <> [Accessed 6 June 2012]

_____. 2001. Croatian Bureau of Statistics. "12. Population By Ethnicity, By Towns/Municipalities Census 2001." < Census2001/Popis/E01_02_02/E01_02_02.html> [Accessed 22 June 2012]

_____. N.d. Office of the Ombudsman. "About the Ombudsman." <> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

Croatian Times. 29 March 2012. "Minister Of Police: Roma Commit 50 Per Cent Of Crimes". <> [Accessed 13 June 2012 ]

Decade of Roma Inclusion 2010-2015. N.d. "About." <> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

European Network of Legal Experts in the Non-Discrimination Field. N.d. Lovorka Kusan. Report On Measures To Combat Discrimination: Directives 2000/43/EC and 2000/78/EC: Country Report 2009: Croatia. < 2009%20-HR-%20Country%20Report%20LN_final.pdf> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

European Union (EU). 9 November 2010. European Commission. Commission Staff Working Document: Croatia 2010 Progress Report, Accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council - Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2010 - 2011. (COM(2010) 660) <> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

Freedom House. 2012. "Croatia." ; Freedom in the World 2012. <> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

Independent Online [South Africa]. 4 May 2012. "Croatian FM, Ombud Slam Anti-Roma Incident." <> [Accessed 13 June 2012 ]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). July 2008a. "Croatia: Overview." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. <> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

_____. July 2008b. "Croatia: Roma."World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. <> [Accessed 6 June 2012]

Open Society Foundations (OSF). August 2010. No Data - No Progress: Country Finding. <> [Accessed 22 June 2012 ]

_____. N.d. "About Us." <> [Accessed 13 July 2012]

Refugees International. March 2009. Katherine Southwick and Maureen Lynch. Nationality Rights for All: A Progress Report and Global Survey on Statelessness. <> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

United Nations (UN). 24 March 2009. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 9 of the Convention. Concluding Observation of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Croatia. (CERD/C/HRV/CO/)< 49d5d9402.pdf> [Accessed 6 June 2012 ]

United States (US). 24 May 2012. Department of State. "Croatia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. < humanrightsreport/index.htm?dynamic_load_id=186339> [Accessed 13 June 2012 ]

_____. 30 September 2011. Department of Labour. "Croatia." 2010 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. <> [Accessed 22 June 2012 ]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources:Attempts to contact representatives of the following organizations were unsuccessful: Croatian Roma for Roma Association, Women's Association of the Croatian Roma Union, Romani Women's Association for Croatian Roma Union, Open Society Institute Croatia, Roma Women's Organization for a Better Future and Romani Women NGO Better Life.

Internet sites: Council of Europe, Croatia – Office of the Ombudsman, Government of Croatia; European Country of Origin Information Network; European Roma Information Office; European Roma Rights Centre; Factiva; Human Rights Watch; Roma Buzz Monitor; Roma Solidarity News; RomNews Network; UN – Development Programme, Refworld.