Is Europe a Good Place for Racial and Ethnic Minorities?

by Zsolt Nyiri and Cynthia English

Majorities see their communities as accepting

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Many Europeans view the cities or areas where they reside as good places for racial or ethnic minorities to live. However, this sentiment is least pronounced in several countries in Eastern and Central Europe, where the European Court of Human Rights in November ruled that the Czech government indirectly discriminated against children from the largest ethnic minority in Europe -- the Roma. In the Czech Republic, 28% of respondents surveyed in May and June 2007 said the city or area where they live is not a good place for racial or ethnic minorities to live. Less than half of Czechs (46%) said the city or area where they live is a good place for minorities, well below the regional median in Europe (60%).

Discrimination and violence against racial and ethnic minorities is a documented problem in Europe. Earlier this year, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reported an increase in recorded racist crimes in 8 of 11 EU member states collecting such data. The EU agency's report stated that "visible minorities, refugees, asylum seekers, and the Roma appear to suffer the brunt of abusive treatment." Just last month, when a Roma migrant was jailed for a violent killing in Italy, outraged Italians committed violent acts against ethnic Roma communities.

Europeans in most countries surveyed, with the exception of Austria and several former socialist countries, feel their communities are good places for racial and ethnic minorities to live. At least roughly three-quarters of residents in the United Kingdom (80%), Sweden (76%), Spain (76%), Ireland (76%), the Netherlands (74%), and Denmark (74%) say their communities are good places for minorities to live. Perhaps surprisingly, a country from the Western Balkan region of Europe that has been plagued with ethnic tensions also ranks among the top of this group -- 76% of Serbians say their areas are good places for ethnic and racial minorities. However, in Kosovo, a province of Serbia currently under UN interim administration, only 48% agree.

This sentiment falls under a majority in nine countries and areas surveyed. Respondents from several former Soviet republics (Russia, Estonia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus) are among the least likely to report their areas as good places for minorities, with between 40% and 50% expressing this. Sentiment is also less than a majority in the Czech Republic (46%), Poland (50%), and Kosovo (48%). Austria is the only established and developed European democracy with less than a majority (44%) of people saying where they live is a good place for minorities.

In some cases, public perception about how welcoming one's city or region is for minorities seems to reflect general migration patterns in Europe as well. Countries such as Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine boast negative migration. In these countries, the percentage of respondents who say their city is a good place for minorities to live is at or below the regional median for Europe. While people tend to leave Eastern and Central Europe, the major destination countries of new migrants are Ireland (4.82 migrants per 1,000), the Netherlands (2.63/1,000), Denmark (2.5/1,000), and the United Kingdom (2.17/1,000). These latter countries have high percentages who report the areas where they live are good places for racial and ethnic minorities to live.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older, conducted throughout 2006 and 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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