Inclusion of Roma recyclers in the Green Agenda can help slash unemployment rates

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On 10 November 2020, the leaders of the six Western Balkan countries met in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, where they signed the Sofia Declaration in line with the Berlin Process.

By doing so, Western Balkan countries pledged to join the initiative in making the continent carbon-neutral by 2050.

The leaders agreed also that its implementation and the coordination of an action plan will be compiled and handled by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC).

In the “Action Plan for the Implementation of the Sofia Declaration on the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans 2021-2030” published on the website of the RCC, it was highlighted that “particular attention will be given to ensuring the participation of vulnerable groups in the work of the NGO Forum, such as Roma”.

The Action Plan weighs in on several areas, among others “increase the use of reusable and recyclable materials for packaging, in addition to providing more support to waste management companies that work with Roma “to grow and expand”.

The inclusion of the Roma in the agenda could translate into more workplaces for a community that largely works in the recycling industry, although informally.

Turning this job from an informal type of employment into a regular one could yield significant results, particularly diminishing the unemployment rate among the Roma, but also other groups considered vulnerable.

According to the National Employment Agency, Albania topped the list during the time period from 2011-2017 in terms of unemployment rates among Roma and marginalized groups.

“Unlike the rest of the Western Balkan countries, Roma are less likely to participate in the labor market. Their participation in the workforce is significantly low especially among Roma women (29% in 2017)”, a report from the agency highlighted.

In addition, according to official data from the employment agency, “in 2018 only 239 Romani and Egyptians among 5,845 Romani registered jobseekers were actually employed”.

In its National Action Plan for Integration of Roma and Egyptians 2021-2025, the Albanian government vowed to find employment to 60% of the Roma and Egyptians who are unemployed and looking for a job.

One of the ways that could be achieved, is by including Roma in programs that fall under the Green Agenda, with recycling being one of its core components.

According to the RCC, around 61% of the Roma labor force in the region is engaged in the informal sector, however, it is difficult to provide an accurate number on how many work in the recycling industry in Albania.

According to the UNDP, “54% of Roma and 23% of Egyptian individuals collect illegally recycle waste, but only 14% of Roma and 4% of Egyptians are involved in a regulated recycling process”.

The government has pledged to “create a specific package” that would “protect the rights of the recyclers” and “integrate them in the new system that modernized the way how waste is collected and separated since in its source”.

In a meeting with Roma entrepreneurs in Belgrade, Mr. Orhan Usein, Roma Integration Head of Office, highlighted the importance of including Roma in the Digital and Green agendas.

“Roma citizens can develop skills and acquire opportunities to educate themselves, act innovative and feel the benefits of digital transformation with the purpose to access the labor market. The Green Agenda is a key driver for the transition to modern, carbon-neutral, economies. Roma are the largest individual waste collectors, working mainly in the grey economy. By establishing a system and providing training for waste separation and recycling, Roma people can transition from informal to formal work, and contribute to the goals of the Green agenda.”

The European Union is addressing the issue by funding the project “Economic and Social Empowerment for Roma and Egyptians- a booster for social inclusion” (ESERE), one of its priorities being lowering the unemployment gap through sustainable development policies.

One of its initiatives is the pilot program Transitory Programme for Roma and Egyptian Recyclers (TPR) being implemented in several areas of the Albanian capital in close cooperation between the Municipality of Tirana and recycling company ECO Tirana SHA.

The program is training to integrate 50 Roma and Egyptian recyclers in a regulated waste disposal system, where the collectors pick up the waste and dispose it in the city’s designated areas.

The pilot program is a good example of how informal recycling could be turned legal but more needs to be done to expand the program to a larger number of informal recyclers.

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