Size, composition and historical presence of the Roma communities
Data from the National Statistical Institute from the population and housing census of 2011 show that Roma remain the third largest ethnic group in Bulgaria. 325,343 persons, i.e. 4.9% of the Bulgarian citizens identified themselves as belonging to the Roma ethnos. Data on ethnicity are collected only on the principle of voluntary self-determination and in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Personal Data Protection Act and the Protection from Discrimination Act, which are synchronized with European legislation.
The census shows a persistent tendency from a part of the population to self-identify as Bulgarians, Turks, or Romanians, whilst they would be identified by the general population as Roma or “Gypsies” (derogatory term). This is possible due to the fact that the persons participating in the census have the right to define their ethnic background themselves or to refrain from indicating it.
NGO estimates consider that the total number of Roma living in Bulgaria is between 600,000 and 800,000 (closer to 9% of the total population), in line with the Council of Europe estimate of 700,000.
As it is most commonly admitted, the first big waves of Roma immigrants arrived in the Balkans during the 13th and 14th centuries from Asia Minor (which was, at that time, a part of the Byzantine Empire). During the 18th and especially during the 19th centuries, Roma from the Romanian principalities of Walachia and Moldova also entered the Bulgarian territory (a part of them came straight from the Romanian principalities; another part crossed first the territory of Austro-Hungary). This immigration process particularly intensified with the so called "Kalderash invasion" from the second half of the 19th century. That is the reason why the contemporary Roma who live in Bulgaria speak different dialects (often quite different from one another) of the Romani language and belong to at least three different Roma groups, each of them sub-divided into a number of sub-groups and branches.
Historically, the first group of Roma are the so-called "Yerlii," who are nowadays all sedentary. They are the descendants of those Roma who came from Asia Minor in the first waves of Roma immigration. They were forced to abandon the free nomadic life to durably settle in villages and towns. The greater part of them adopted Islam as confession. The Yerlii are divided into two big groups: the "Horahane Roma", i.e. Muslim Roma who often identify themselves as Turks and speak Turkish and the "Das(i)kane-Roma" who are Christians (Eastern Orthodox or Protestant), identifying themselves often as Bulgarians and speak Bulgarian. Horahane Roma is probably the most numerous Roma (sub-)group in Bulgaria, but it is difficult to assess since some of them prefer to self-identify as Turks. There are well preserved branches of Horahane Roma, such as Drandars, Katkaji, etc., but there are also well preserved branches of so called Walachian Roma, Burguji, etc. who clearly demonstrate their Roma identity and call themselves "parpul Roma" - "the real Roma".
The second largest Roma group in Bulgaria is the Kalderash (also known as "Kaldarashi" or "Kardarashi"). They are the descendants of big Roma groups who left Romania within the so- called "Kalderash invasion during the second part of the 19th century. A great part of the Kalderash came from Austro-Hungary, passed through Serbia and settled in Bulgaria; that is why they are known as "Austrian gypsies", "Hungarian gypsies" or "Serbian gypsies". The Kalderash are prominently Orthodox Christians. They preserve the Romani language and self-determination, as well as a significant part of the Roma traditions, such as the Gypsy court (“meshere”). The Kalderash are divided into two main sub-groups: the "Lovari" and the "Kalaijii", as well as into more additional branches within these sub-groups: "Grebenari", "Bakarjii", "Reshetari", etc.
The third main Roma group in Bulgaria are the Rudari (also known as “Vlax gypsies”). They also came to Bulgaria from Romania during the big "Kalderash invasion”. Unlike the Kalderash, they do not speak Romani, but an old Romanian language and have predominantly Romanian self-determination. The Rudari are also divided into three sub-groups: the "Mechkari" (known in other countries as “Ursari” – bear trainers), the "Kopanari" (known in other countries as “Lingurari” – carpenters and wooden bowl makers), and “Lautari” (musiciens). Another ground of self-determination of the Roma is indeed their traditional occupation: basket makers, miners, goldsmiths, horse tradesmen, etc.
Source: CAHROM thematic report on Roma health mediators (adopted in June 2016)
 Rudari are similar to the Boyash in Croatia or to the Béas in Hungary.
The situation of Roma women in Bulgaria
The Roma represent approximately 370,908 according to official figures (National Statistical Institute, 2001) and are the third largest group after ethnic-Bulgarians (83.9 percent of the population) and Turks (9.4 percent). Other minorities (Arabs, Armenian, Russians, and others) account for 0.9 percent of the population. However, the policy of self-identification of the Roma adopted by the authorities in the Population Census of 2011 has brought the number down to 325,343. It seems that a part of the population that had earlier been classified ‘Roma’ has chosen not to be identified as such. Groups and subgroups within the Roma seek to break out of the Roma-specific stigmas and seek identification with other groups such as ethnic-Bulgarians or Turks. A 2007 UNDP survey estimated the Roma population in Bulgaria between 700,000 and 800,000, including individuals of mixed ethnicity, which is almost twice the NSI 2001 figure.
A serious problem facing the Roma is the increasing spatial isolation of their community. The concentration of Roma in isolated neighborhoods has increased during the last fifteen years both in the urban and rural areas. This concentration in separate neighbourhoods usually results in the social isolation of their residents, deterioration of their living conditions, problems with the construction and maintenance of the infrastructure and cleanliness, transport problems and difficulties in service provision.
A significant part of the Roma residing in the cities, inhabit overpopulated neighbourhoods, frequently outside the regulated outskirts of the city, located at places that do not have water and sewer systems, or even if they have ones – they are in a very poor condition, where the electricity supply is quite often done illegally or is nonexistent at all. The rural areas in the country are in general with either underdeveloped sewer systems or none at all, which fact determines the much worse housing conditions of the majority of Turks, Bulgarian Moslims and almost half of the Roma citizens. Two fifths of the Roma still live in houses without water supply, taking water from outside/street taps and wells, three fifths of the Roma houses are not connected to the central sewer system, and four fifths have no bathrooms inside.
Roma are among the poorest in Bulgaria. About 33 percent of the Roma, compared with 5 percent of non-Roma, live in absolute poverty and are also worse off in terms of relative poverty. A World Bank (WB) and OSI 2010 survey shows that 67 percent of Roma experience net per capita incomes that put them among the poorest 20 percent of people in Bulgaria. A further 19 percent of Roma are among the next poorest 20 percent of people in Bulgaria. A small minority, only 14 percent, have per capita incomes that are equivalent to those experienced by the three upper quintiles.
Literacy rates among the Roma are relatively lower than the non-Roma with school enrolment rates, as one of the indicators of literacy, showing lower rates consistently across sexes and among age groups, whether it be in the pre-school stage or in the upper secondary education. Some 49 percent of Roma women in Bulgaria have completed less than primary school, and 42 percent only primary education. Only 32 percent of Roma women aged 15-18 are enrolled in formal education. Functional illiteracy is three times higher among Roma women than among Roma men, 16 although according to EC/UNDP/WB 2011 Roma Regional Survey data, about 90 percent of Roma men and 84 percent of Roma women are literate. Functional illiteracy is three times more common among Roma women than among Roma men.
Roma women are worse off than both Roma men and non-Roma women. Furthermore, the Roma are most active in the informal sector and in the unskilled and semi-skilled sectors. Most Roma are employed in agriculture and forestry, construction, public utilities, mining, and trade.
High rates of poverty, unemployment, low human development indicators, poor living conditions, low quality infrastructure and other services all point to a severe form of social exclusion. Social exclusion among the Roma has been historically associated with prejudices and stereotypes in Bulgaria. Poverty remains a chronic factor in the exclusion of the Roma, and Roma integration policies in the past have done little to alleviate the disadvantages of the Roma.
There is a wide perception that Roma women are vulnerable to becoming victims of forced prostitution, trafficking, abuse, and violence, as well as risk early pregnancies and marriages. The EU and the EU member states increased their focus on the particular situation of Roma women and explored their role in promoting inclusion. Principle number five of the EU’s 10 Common Basic Principles on Roma Inclusion notes that effective Roma inclusion policy initiatives need to take into account the needs and circumstances of Roma women and address issues such as multiple discrimination and problems of access to social services.
EC/UNDP/WB 2011 Roma Regional Survey data, available at: https://issuu.com/undp_in_europe_cis/docs/_roma_at_a_glance_web/1
 Report available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTROMA/Resources/Policy_Note.pdf
 World Bank Group, Gender dimensions of Roma inclusion. Perspectives from four Roma communities in Bulgaria, 2014. Report available at: http://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/document/eca/Bulgaria/Roma_Gender-ENG.pdf
 World Bank 2014 report
 WB 2014 report
Access to justice of Roma women in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria, Roma are subject to racial segregation and exclusion in education and housing; dismally inferior education, both in segregated schools, and in mixed schools where they are neglected, separated in separate classes, and racially harassed; extremely high drop-out rates; a critical mass of lack of education among this population group; discriminatory relegation of Roma children to special education facilities for the mentally handicapped; dire housing conditions, a lack of basic infrastructure, lack of communal services, lack of security of tenure, collective arbitrary forced evictions; wholesale exclusion from the labour market through blatant direct discrimination and systemic indirect discrimination; a critical mass of long-term unemployment; lack of access to vocational training; disproportionately poor access to healthcare, incl. very poor access to health security; direct discrimination, incl. arbitrary refusals of service and harassment by medical personnel; practices of segregation in hospitals; drastically lower life expectancy, among other indicators for disproportionately inferior health status. Widespread, often radical, public hate speech and racial slandering portraying them as subhuman, inherently criminal and vile; lack of protection by the criminal justice system, incl. from racist crime; disproportionate criminal prosecution and punishment; disproportionate vulnerability to police and prison personnel ill-treatment, incl. summary killings; disproportionate bars to access to justice; disproportionately limited access to political participation and decision-making; unequal access to public services, incl. openly racially motivated direct refusals of access, less favourable conditions of provision of basic services, such as electricity, exclusion by shops, cafes, restaurants, swimming pools, hotels.
Available reports and data from interviewed stakeholders indicate that Roma women are more vulnerable to discrimination and exclusion within the society than other women and more than Roma men. Roma women and children are more at risk in times of forced evictions. Roma women can be victims of trafficking, exploitation, particularly for forced labour and sexual purposes. When it comes to women and juveniles in detention, the limited available ethnic-based data does not provide for a very clear picture of their specific situation.
Stakeholders interviewed indicated that both Roma women and men have a low level of familiarity with laws and regulations and that they have no knowledge about the possibility to file complaints of discrimination with national human rights institutions. Existing initiatives from NGOs or other institutions are insufficient and do not meet the needs of Roma and vulnerable groups about redress mechanisms or free legal aid or legal assistance with NHRIs.
In addition Roma fear to file complains because, for example, there is only one GP in their town and they will have to travel to visit another one which is costly. The same problem applies to finding lawyers interested in leading court cases for Roma on discrimination topics.
The main legal issues of the Roma communities mentioned by the representative of the NNHM were access to public places, healthcare and segregation of hospital wards; sometimes patients have to wait longer for visits to their GPs; GPs refuse to register babies for vaccinations; a bank clerk refused the opening of an account to a Roma citizen; communities have problems with the utility supplier monopolies – electricity and water companies; there are forced eviction cases, the example being given of the town of Peshtera where a factory was supposed to be built at the location of the Roma neighborhood.
Other legal issues of the Roma communities identified by the Veliko Tarnovo Bar association concern family law. Most Roma do not have official marriage certificates; therefore, the women are considered single mothers and the subsequent problems of accessing the social system appear; some Roma children born abroad do not have birth certificates; most Roma do not have property deed and housing documents. Anecdotal data indicates that approx. 85% of women in prison are ethnic Roma, which would constitute an overrepresentation. In additional there is a lack of reintegration programmes available after a sentence was served.
Communities: Stolipinovo and Sheker Mahala in Plovdiv, villages of Bolyartsi, towns of Peshtera, Rakovski, Asenovgrad; Veliko Tarnovo, Zlataritsa, Gorna Oryahovitsa, Rodina, Elena, Konstantin, Pavlikeni, Lyaskovets, Strajitsa.
Awareness-raising gatherings with Roma women
20 awareness-gatherings for Roma women are foreseen. These gatherings touch upon different topics of relevance to the target communities, such as the role of human rights institutions, domestic violence, discrimination, relevant services available, among others. They aim at informing and empowering Roma women to claim their rights and make use of existing services.
See here for more information on awarenes-raising gatherings
Trainings and seminars
Training of police officers
On 19-21 November 2018, a training for police officers on non-discrimination, gender and Roma took place in Sofia. 16 police officers were trained (out of which 5 were women)
Seminars with Lawyers: 5 October 2018 at the Gender Alternatives Foundation, Plovdiv
- This seminar was aimed at sensitising lawyers from the Plovdiv Bar Association on cases relevant to the Roma communities and Roma women in particular and the barriers in accessing justice. It provided the opportunity to share experiences among practitioners
- 9 participants in total, out of which 7 were women
Trainings with Legal Aid Lawyers: 25 January, Sofia; 5 February in Veliko Tarnovo; 11 February in Plovdiv; and 12 February in Sliven
- This training was aimed at sensitising lawyers from the free legal aid in Sofia about Roma communities and Roma women in particular and the barriers in accessing justice
Info days with municipalities
3 October 2018 at the Social Policy Department, Plovdiv Municipality
- This session provided a chance for municipality representatives and people from the Roma community to meet and remove barriers between them. It also helped understand what problems are faced by the Roma community and how the municipality can be of help
- 25 participants in total, out of which 21 were women
- Ms Dilyana GITEVA
- Ms Milena KADIEVA
- Mr Ventsislav FOTI
- Ms Rada ELENKOVA
- Ms Teodora KRUMOVA
- Mitko MANOLOV
- Eleonora DIMITROVA