• Xhenson Cela

Census 2022 in Albania: Is it the same story for the Roma and Egyptian minorities?

In my previous article, some weeks ago, I wrote about if there is a political dialogue for the Roma and Egyptian Minorities, focusing on the momentum of Seminar V on the Roma dialogue. Not by chance, in parenthesis, I recalled the number of the Roma population in Albania dramatically varying on the source of information. One of the official sources, yet highly contested by the Roma civil society organisation and activists, is the Census in 2011 that came up with the results of 8,301 Roma and 3,368 Balkan-Egyptians in Albania. Clearly, the census results are nowhere near the actual number of that time. Roma and Egyptian grassroots organisations claim the number of Roma varies from 80,000 to 120,000, whereas that of the Egyptian minorities is at least double, not to say triple of 120,000.

Problems during the 2011 Census and how to avoid the past setbacks?

Not only the results of the 2011 Census were contradictory and unrealistic, but they came as a result of several irregularities and a lack of mass participation of the Roma and Egyptian minorities before and during the Census. Only the Ministry of Education and Science database of that time had stored data on about 8,000 Roma children. Two years later, the Open Society Foundation in Albania conducted the Census on “Roma Housing and Population in Albania”, which was released in 2014. Information was collected on 18.276 Roma (Open Society Foundation for Albania, 2014). However, the result was not exhaustive as the study did not reach at least fifteen (15) settlements with a significant Roma population and did not include in the interview about 464 households confirmed as Roma tenure due to not finding any family members in the apartment, says the Census of OSFA. One of the irregularities was unawareness of the terminology self-declaration. Unfortunately, many Roma, usually those with low formal education, refer to themselves in pejorative terms, just as the non-Roma and non-Egyptians refer to them. Of course, such an option is not available on the questionnaire because it is discriminatory. Besides, the opportunity to self-declare your ethnicity is not mandatory.

Roma and Egyptian civil society organisations piloted the census in 2021

Considering the past drawbacks and irregularities, some of the Roma and Egyptian civil society organisations came together to hold the rein of potential discrepancies that might retake place as the Census 2022 develops. One of the key stepping stones was to assemble and ally with relevant stakeholders such as organisations at the national and local level, community leaders and activists in a joint consultation meeting. Several crucial points came along the discussions highlighting the importance of this year’s census and that of inclusiveness. Here are some hints why the participation of national minorities, particularly the Roma and Egyptian as disadvantaged groups, is pivotal.

First, data, whether we agree or disagree, are decisive. Roma and Egyptian stakeholders are still concerned about data accuracy as an indicator of policy-making and budget allocation. There is no out-of-the-blue expression that numbers do matter! Secondly, a responsibly and well-organized census, with the participation of the Roma and Egyptian minorities, will produce statistical information on intervention areas that would push forward the Roma inclusion. Information on the field at the local level regarding these two minorities lacks accuracy in many aspects. In most cases, the municipalities have only data on the number of Roma families, approximation of Roma families that live in informal houses, type of employment, and a number of those that have access to the social protection scheme. Nevertheless, they lack data on gender desegregation, the legal status of tenure, and information on housing conditions. Many more do not have data, and none can expect them to undertake studied and well-assessed interventions in the community.

Therefore, the Census 2022, if done correctly, will generate up-to-date data on the Roma and Egyptian populations. The civil society organisation delivered a list of recommendations to the Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) on what can ensure the scenario of Census 2011 is not repeated. One of the main recommendations the first in the list was the engagement of interviewers from Roma and Egyptian national minorities. This will ensure accurate figures for both national minorities. The second recommendation right after the first was the following. If members of the Roma and Egyptian minorities are involved in the counting process, they will operate in populated areas primarily from their national minorities. Not surprisingly, the advocacy process is not an easy endeavour. Civil society organisations held several meetings with the INSTAT about negotiating a participatory census. Also, international agencies were all eyes and ears on this matter too. Finally, after a considerably long advocacy process, given the time shorter time, the INSTAT accepted some of the recommendations, including the participation of Roma and Egyptians as interviewers in Roma and Egyptian neighbourhoods.

This is undoubtedly the first step. However, a few preliminary actions were proposed, along with a list of recommendations. To begin by organising awareness campaigns in Roma and Egyptian communities to self-declare according to their ethnicity and the correct terminology under strict cautions, however. Positive steps and meaningful decisions are taken to ensure an inclusive census. Now, it remains careful monitoring that the process will develop as expected by Roma and Egyptian organisations and activists.

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