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Introduction to Roma in Hungary

Hungary is a member of the European Union since 2004. According to a 2001 census it has a population of 9.9 million people, of which 92.3% are ethnically Hungarian, around 1.9% are Roma and the rest are other minorities such as Germans, Romanians, Greeks, etc.1  Its GDP per capita in PPS (purchasing power standards) compared to the EU28 was 87,2 and the unemployment rate was 8.9% in 2014.3 Hungary’s Human Development Index is 0/831, ranked 37th in the world.4

Roma in Hungary

While the official estimate of the number of Roma in Hungary is 1.9% of the population, the average estimate from the Council of Europe is 700,000 (7.1% of the population). In Hungary, the Roma are mostly concentrated in the North-East of the country and continue to be a marginalized community.

 According to a UNDP/EC/WB Survey conducted in 2011, 2% of the Roma in Hungary live in absolute poverty, and 71% live in relative poverty. 29% of Hungarian Roma do not have secure housing. There is a 50% unemployment rate for Roma between 15 - 64 years old. Unemployment in this age group is higher for women (61%) than for men (44%). 61% of employed Roma work as unskilled workers.5

Discrimination and violence towards Roma in Hungary is widespread. The 2011 Survey found that 42% of Roma experience discrimination based on their ethnicity in one year. A 2014 study conducted at Harvard University showed that there has been an increase in violent attacks against Roma, use of racist public statements by public officials and increase in extremist paramilitary groups that seek to prevent “Gypsy crime”.6  

Situation of Roma education in Hungary

With regard to education, school segregation of Romani pupils is one of the most problematic issues. Segregation refers to the involuntary physical separation between Roma and non-Roma, which is manifested in the disproportionate overrepresentation of Roma in schools and classes.

A UNESCO report found that 24% of Roma study in schools where the majority of students are also Roma. Of this 24%, 6% attended non-Roma majority schools, but were places in Roma-majority segregated classes within the schools.7 A recent study of 100 Hungarian towns conducted by the Roma Education Fund found out that school segregation is strongly related to the mobility of higher income students (mostly non-Roma) away from Roma majority schools. Further, the report explained that because of the funding per capita policy of Hungary, schools are interested in placing Roma pupils in separate classes, so to attract more non-Roma students to enroll.8 This segregation trend of Roma pupils is largely a result of the discrimination that Roma face in Hungary, and serves to systemically perpetuate the cycle of marginalization.

Another concerning issue in Hungary is the overrepresentation of Roma children in special schools for children with mental disabilities. The 2011 Survey Report found that the share of Roma aged from 7 to 15 years in special schools in Hungary is 9%, of whom only around 22% self-reported having a longstanding illness or health problem.9 There is an overrepresentation of Roma pupils in these schools; in 1993, the last year when ethnic data were officially collected in Hungary, 42% of students enrolled in these schools were Roma, though they represented 8.22% of the student body only.10 In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of two Roma children who complained that their placement in special schools was based on their ethnic identity. The Court underlined in its ruling that there is a long history of wrongful placement of Roma children in special schools in Hungary.11

Segregation hinders social integration, reinforces stereotypes and racism among majority and minority communities. Therefore, segregation in and of itself is damaging – both for minority and majority communities. The failure of several actors within the school system to provide inclusive education and the lower expectations for Roma children compared to majority students constitutes institutional discrimination.12 This in turn results in absenteeism and early drop out, i.e. an effective exclusion of Roma from school. Even if not a single teacher, social worker or local decision maker engages in an intentionally discriminatory conduct, the end result can still be exclusion.


1 Minority Rights International,
2 EUROSTAT, GDP per capita in PPS Index (EU28 = 100),
3 Hungarian Central Statistics Office, Unemployment,
4 Human Development Indicators,
5 UNDP Data 2011
7 Ibid.
9 pg.66-69
10 Horvath and Kiss v. Hungary Ruling  11
12 The following introduction to the Sociological Interpretation of Segregation is an extract from the paper of Orsolya Szendrey, Brief summary of the education policy measures promoting equal opportunities for multiple disadvantaged children, especially Roma in Hungary

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Supported by EC

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.