382 million euros for Gypsy welfare

Responding to criticism on Sunday by opposition leader Costas Karamanlis that it was doing nothing to better the lot of Greece’s Gypsies, the government said yesterday it would spend nearly 382 million euros on Gypsy housing and education by 2008. The details of the state «action plan for the social integration of Gypsies» will be settled during an interministerial meeting tomorrow, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis said. The seven-year action plan started in 2000, and so far 58.7 million euros have been spent on Gypsy housing projects on the island of Corfu, in Didymoteicho and Serres in northeastern Greece and in Sofades in central Greece. Skandalidis said most of the future payments – some 208 million euros of which will be provided by the Third EU Community Support Framework – would go toward housing. Tomorrow’s meeting will discuss 238 million euros worth of housing projects, which involve the construction of new settlements, the upgrading of existing buildings and the improvement of infrastructure in permanent camps for nomadic populations. Furthermore, the meeting will allot some 137 million euros to programs to create jobs for 17,000 Gypsies, to integrate Gypsy children into the educational system, and to build new schools and health centers. Estimates of the number of Greece’s gypsies range from 200,000 to 500,000. On Sunday, Karamanlis told a gathering of Gypsies at Aspropyrgos in western Attica that they were «Greek citizens and have the right to live in a society of equal opportunities.» He accused the government of inefficiency in addressing Gypsies’ problems, and advised the ruling socialists to investigate the possibility of EU funding for Gypsy welfare programs.

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