The Ambassadors of France, Switzerland and the Netherlands as well as the Country Manager of the World Bank for Bulgaria visited the town of Sliven on April 11 in order to attend Roma related events organized by Amalipe and to obtain better impression about the projects financed by Swiss Contribution Program in Roma neighborhood Nadezhda. The visit was organized by the Coordination group of Roma Inclusion Ambassadors Group (RIAG) and by Center Amalipe on the occasion of International Roma day Eight of April.
H. E. Denis Knobel (Ambassasdor of Switzerland), H.E. Tom van Oorschot (Ambassador of the Netherlands), H.E. Eric Lebedel (Ambassador of France), Anthony Thomson (Country Manager of the World Bank), François-Xavier Kowand (the institutional and technical cooperation Officer at the Embassy of France), Kamelia Dimitrova (the general secretary of the National human trafficking commission) and others had working lunch with the Minister of Education prof. Nikolay Denkov and the chairman of Amalipe Deyan Kolev. They discussed the state of Roma education in Bulgaria, main challenges and successes. The program for decreasing the dropout rate of Roma “Every Student will be a Winner” implemented by Amalipe in 250 schools was specially discussed as successful practice that should be scale upped. The diplomats requested the minister to put the Roma integration higher on the political agenda. Prof. Denkov explained about his personal commitment to Roma educational integration and the measures planned by Ministry of Education.
Later the diplomats attended the opening of the Annual Assembly of Student Parliaments from “Every Student will be a Winner” schools network. On behalf of RIAG H.E. Eric Lebedel (Ambassador of France) greeted more than 200 students who are presidents of school parliaments. He encouraged them to continue their education in order to make their dreams come true as well as to promote tolerance as key value. Mr. Lebedel also complimented the organizers from Center Amalipe for their permanent commitment.
Meeting with NGOs from Sliven region and from the national Roma Integration Network was the next event in the diplomats’ agenda. Stela Kostova from Roma Academy for Culture and Education - Sliven, Gancho Iliev from World Without Borders – Stara Zagora, Albena Kostadinova from IndiRoma Foundation – Kuklen, Sergi Karakashev from Iskra Roma Foundation – Shumen, representatives of local based organizations as well as Deyan Kolev from Amalipe shared their concerns about the problems met by Roma. Lack of political will and courage for implementing the integration strategies, need for profound reform in the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, low level of Roma participation in the decision-making and barriers before the real NGO participation were the main topics discussed. The rigid application of “de minimis” principle by the Managing Authorities of operational programs limits the participation of those organizations that have intensive work, explained Mrs. Kostadinova. Stela Kostova and Zarko Chankov stressed the lack of political participation as root cause for the exclusion of Roma.
The ambassadors complimented the NGO’s for their commitment and the important role they play in the field of education and health care and assured they will raise the concerns before the national Bulgarian institutions. Deyan Kolev thanked for their visit and permanent support giving them the Roma flag as present.
Following joint idea of AMALIPE Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance, the former ambassador of Norway in Bulgaria H.E. Guro Katharina Vikor and the ambassador of Switzerland H.E. Denis Knobel, in January 2016 the Norwegian and Swiss Embassies established a group of Ambassadors in Sofia. RIAG is a broad and open platform, involving 12 Embassies and the EC Representation in Bulgaria. They have a track record of long-term and genuine involvement with the problems of the Roma community in Bulgaria. As such RIAG’s main goal is two-fold: first, to raise awareness at a central political level with the Bulgarian institutions and second, to keep the common touch and get involved at a community level. The group is co-chaired by H. E. Denis Knobel (Ambassasdor of Switzerland) and H.E. Tom van Oorschot (Ambassador of the Netherlands). RIAG activities are coordinated by the Roma Program Management Unit at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.
The Enlarged Group or Roma Forum (RF) complements the work of RIAG. It brings together main embassies, authorities, international organizations and NGOs. The RF activities are coordinated by the Bulgarian Roma NGO Center for Interethnic Dialog and Tolerance ”Amalipe”.