Section 2 Country-by-Country Report
In Austria the rise of the Freiheitliche Partei Osterreichs (FPO), which is associated with a tradition of anti-Semitism and fascist organisations, has been accused of promoting racist policies against foreigners. The asylum law of 1991, which prevents asylum-seekers from accessing state assistance, has resulted in increased homelessness. There are also severe regulations related to family reunion. Many Austrian Sinti deny or hide their identity because of a history of persecution. From the 17th century onwards Roma in all Hapsburg territories were forced to become sedentary. In the 18th century, during the reign of George II, Roma children were forcibly taken into care. During the Nazi regime there was a large concentration camp for Gypsies in Burgenland.
More recently, the horrors of that period were brought to mind by the explosion of a booby-trap bomb which killed four Gypsies at a camp in Oberwart in the Burgerland region bordering Hungary. (International Herald Tribune, 22/4/95) There have been reports of other attacks near Vienna. Roma and Sinti have been recognised as Austrian citizens since 1945 but were not included in Article 7 of the State Accord on Ethnic Minorities nor in the 1976 legislation on ethnic groups. In 1989 the Roma and Sinti Gypsy Defence League was established to improve the living conditions of Roma and to obtain recognition as a minority ethnic group. This recognition was granted in 1994. However, in Austria, there is a reluctance to promote the rights of minorities as such, although since 1993 Roma and Sinti are entitled to set up their ethnic group councils.
Most Roma and Sinti in Austria are among the disadvantaged in terms of below-average life expectancy, high drop-out rate from school, poverty and social exclusion (source: reports by the European Roma Rights Centre, Budapest).
The growth in support for the Vlams Blok (VB) political party of Flanders, especially in Antwerp, corresponds with the Eurobarometer study which shows that 22% of those interviewed in Belgium openly admit to being racist. This growth is also reflected in the popularity of the slogan "Eigen Volk Eerst” (our own people first) and associated xenophobic policies. One study commenting on the situation in Belgium states that "racial discrimination is frequently practised openly, and is viewed as quite normal behaviour" (Forbes and Mead: 1992). Obviously this is not a very encouraging context for Roma/Travellers.
In Belgium, the Constitution (Article 6) states that "All Belgians are equal before the law" and that "enjoyment of the rights and liberties to which Belgians are entitled must be safeguarded without discrimination." However, given the very restricted nature of Belgian citizenship this has little benefit for immigrants from places like Morocco, Turkey, Zaire, Algeria, Tunisia or the former Yugoslavia. The Vande Lanotte Act introduced restrictive measures for asylum-seekers and refugees, making it more difficult to access social services. Even though legislation was introduced in 1981-82 to suppress racism and to prohibit incitement to discrimination it appears that there are failures to effectively implement legislation in order to protect minorities. In fact municipalities use legislation on urbanisation to evict Roma/Travellers and to restrict nomadism. Roma support groups are critical of the assimilationist approach adopted in schools which do not cater for the specific needs of Roma. The media also frequently portray Roma in a negative way and images tend to be either of beggars and thieves on one hand or of musicians on the other. Since 1965 there has been a recognition of Travellers/Roma rights to permanent residence and the “Cartes de Tsigane” system (an authorisation to remain in Belgium for up to three months) was dropped in 1975.
At the provincial level there are policies to provide halting sites for nomadic and sedentary Roma and Travellers but there is a problem at the municipal levels because of a systematic refusal to build sites. Recently the Flemish community abandoned the idea of special schemes designed for Gypsies and migrants in favour of an integrated approach within the social service system, but there is a problem