Discrimination against the Roma people

Discrimination against the Roma people is a serious human rights issue in Finland, and our country also receives complaints about it from international bodies that monitor human rights. In Finland, discrimination is still visible in the lives of the Roma people typically as insulting harassment or in the refusal of service or the offering of a service on more limited or insulting terms. 

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman has systematically aimed to promote the realisation of equality of the Roma in many ways. The Ombudsman has also given statements issued to prosecutors and courts of law in accordance with section 27 of the Non-Discrimination Act with the aim of developing legal practice concerning the non-discrimination legislation. 

The Roma face discrimination in many everyday situations

The discrimination against the Roma in private services often manifests as a refusal of service or offering the service on more limited or insulting terms. The discrimination is frequently based on stereotypical ideas; as a result, Roma customers are treated as representatives of their group instead of as individuals. The negative prejudices related to the Roma as a group manifest as individual cases of discrimination. 

Typical of the contacts related to the provision of services is the open and self-evident manner, in which references to the Roma background have been made. For example, in one case a seller at a clothes shop told Roma customers that a guard had been called to follow them due to the shop’s policy of having all Roma customers followed. Such instructions constitute discrimination prohibited by the Non-Discrimination Act.

Often the discrimination faced by the Roma people also manifests in ways such as refusing them entry to a restaurant. In one case, this was justified by the restaurant’s dress code, according to which e.g. the traditional dress used by Roma women was not allowed. A rule like this that is seemingly the same for everyone may in fact constitute discrimination.

Roma also experience hate speech and actions that violate their human dignity. For instance, in one case the operator of an amusement park ride played a song with lyrics mocking the Roma when a Roma family arrived. While the song played, the operator also kept gesturing at the family to bring them to the attention of other customers. At court, the act was judged to constitute discrimination and defamation. 

The discrimination against the Roma in the housing market affects their entire life 

On the community level, the Roma are still in a clearly weaker financial and social position compared to other Finns. In the recent years, housing has been involved in most of the complaints filed by the Roma with the Ombudsman. The Non-discrimination Ombudsman considers it important to address the structural obstacles that slow down the improvement of the socio-economic position of the Roma.

Structural factors are often linked to the complaints related to housing, which makes it difficult to handle them as individual cases of discrimination. A positive development is that the means of criminal law have also been used to address discrimination related to housing in particular.

  • For example, the District Court of East Uusimaa has stated in its judgment that the defendant’s claim of the injured party’s insufficient financial means for renting the apartment was not the deciding factor in the defendant’s decision to pass by the injured party; the reason for terminating the service was specifically that the injured party was Roma.  
  • In its judgment, the District Court of South Karelia found that the defendant’s appeal to the reluctance of other shareholders of the housing company to have Roma residents in the building was an illegal policy, and therefore constituted discrimination with intent that fulfilled the definitional elements of a discrimination offence. 

The right to a home is one of our most important fundamental rights. Housing conditions affect the possibility of participating actively in working life and other activities in the society, and they are also an important starting point for ensuring that the preconditions of stable schooling can also be guaranteed for the next generation.