The Struggle for Survival of the Roma People: Europe’s Most Hated


The results of the recent European election confirmed a distinct shift to the right, with Austria, Denmark, France and the UK all electing parties with anti-immigration policies. “-We have won a national election in this country.” One of the latest waves of migrants taking the heat for right-wing scaremongering across Western Europe are Romanians and Roma gypsies. “-but I would also point out you’re in denial over Romania and Bulgaria.” “Those countries are wracked with corruption and organized crime.” “We in UKIP do not believe it’s right and fair” ” for unlimited numbers of people from those countries to come to Britain to work,” “but also if they want to claim benefits. We don’t want those people coming into our country.” Since the lifting of EU border restrictions on people from Romania earlier this year, The media has been full of scare stories suggesting that Roma are headed for wealthy European countries like the UK, hell-bent on beg-borrowing and stealing their way around Fortress Europe. “The negative image of Roma has been around for centuries.” “We fear the Roma because they’re different, because they threatened to question what our rules are,” “they’re seen as lawless and ruthless.” As the law change loomed, Roma communities all over Britain were suddenly finding themselves under scrutiny. “I’m on my way to an area of Sheffield called Page Hall, which has been at the center of media storm.” “Apparently there are racial tensions in the area and the Roma community there are getting a flat for it.” Originally descended from India, as a people, Roma have never had a country of their own, and to this day injure systematic persecution by European regimes. Page Hall is home to 3,000 Roma originally from Slovakia, who, until recently, had been minding their own business. But when former senior British government minister David Blunkett made some comments about racial tensions in the area, The media reported that if the Roma didn’t change their behavior, there’d be riots. The anti-Roma rhetoric favored by the British tabloids has been feeding off stories such as Colin’s, a local chip shop owner who made a lurid claim about some of his Roma neighbours. His story was picked up by papers and TV across the country. “What do you say, maybe to the media, who would describe your attitude to the Roma as racist?” “Do you know much about where they came from?” “I don’t think we should let them in. We all pay taxes,” “and we pay into the system. These Slovakians and Romanians are already here,” “If they’re taking out of the system and are not putting anything back in -” “when they first came over, they used to knock on the doors and ask if you wanted your gardening done” “and they did do a good job. But the same night,” “they came back and pinched all my shovels and my tools.” “So it feels like what was once a White working-class area,” “then some generations ago became a South Asian working-class area,” “is now just going through another societal change.” “The arrival of the Roma is causing problems stemming from people who aren’t ready for change.” “Calling on Roma to change their culture and change their behavior,” “now we don’t do that in relation to any other ethnic group, that would be completely unacceptable,” “and the Roma are considered fair game because they are the weakest in society,” “and because we have a history depicting the Roma, in a way, as outsiders, as a threat to the community,” “and often as a threat to themselves.” “They’re issues of perception.” “They’re not problems that are caused by the Roma.” “The Roma are not a threat, not to themselves, not to others.” “The threat is the prejudice that exists against Roma.” I was invited into the home of a Slovakian Roma who’d moved to the UK with his family to escape discrimination. Page Hall wasn’t exactly prime real estate, but I’d heard it was a far cry from life in Slovakia. “Can you tell me about why you moved from Slovakia?” “How are you managing to support your family?” “Is there anything that you miss about Slovakia?” How terrible can life be for Roma in Eastern Europe, that some of them have already chosen to come and sleep rough in London, and migrate to the UK’s rundown inner cities? “Roma have a very difficult history in Romania:” “the Romani population was enslaved as late as the second half of the 19th century,” “and the marginalization and discrimination of Roma continues.” We’d heard about a growing trend of forced evictions of long-established Roma communities across Romania. There’d been a new eviction case in the black sea town of Eforie. After a 6-day notice, authorities removed 100 people from homes they’ve been living in for 30 years, demolished them, and left the families to fend for themselves on an open wasteland. Amnesty international have called it a violation of human Rights. I met up with an English-speaking Roma called Elvis, who agreed to take me to a derelict high school where half of the evicted community have been told to go by the mayor. “How many people are living in here?” “And how many people per family?” “Something fell off the ceiling on the baby?” “Did they say you can come here?” “What’s this?” “How can the Mayor claim that these are fake?” They’ve got a newborn baby in there. When they say ‘we feel that we’re treated like dogs,’ I can see that. “and I’m really sad.” Elvis took us to the address the woman had showed me. One family remained. They couldn’t bear to leave the land they’d inhabited for 30 years. So they built a makeshift shack where their old house used to be. “What’s to stop the mayor tearing this house down?” “What about the inheritance papers they were showing us, and the ID’s that were registered to that address?” The mayor then showed me his dossier that built a broader case against the Roma, which boiled down to illegal rubbish dumping, and unlicensed food selling on the beach. These low-level crimes seem to have no connection to the Roma’s legal right to live on the land, and the mayor’s arguments seem to contradict themselves. One one hand, he says the Roma should go home to the addresses on their ID cards, but then he also says the ID cards are worthless but then he also says the ID cards are worthless. To find out more, he headed to Romani CRISS, an organization dedicated to defending the rights of Roma. “It’s not only the Roma who are in this situation, but it’s always the Roma who get demolished,” “because if this so-called ‘law’ would be applied to to the others,” “probably half the constructions in Romania would have to be demolished.” “The land in Romania is not being probably registered, and that’s the fault of the state,” “so the State said, ‘We’re going to issue ID’s for people who lived there for many years’,” “these people have lived in those localities since before World War II.” “How much time you want to pass before you are considered a resident of that, of that town?” But it’s not all doom and gloom, the mayor has come up with a low-cost alternative to the community’s post eviction housing needs. He’s providing them with four walls and a roof on a spacious plot of land. “And this is for one family to live in?” “All together, the parents and the children?” “Yeah.” “It’s better than what they have before but it’s definitely not great.” “What do you think of this, is this going to be your new home?” What’s worse is this is not an isolated case. Evictions like these are happening to Roma all across Romania. “What have you heard about these containers?” To add insult to injury, plans are afoot at a national level to enshrine Roma marginalization in law. “So I’ve come here, to the corridors of power, to meet a Member of Parliament called Mircea Dolha,” “who is trying to make a questionable amendment to the Constitution,” which will state that ethnic Roma can no longer call themselves Roma,” “because apparently it’s confusing Europe, who are assuming that all Roma are Romanian.” “Why are you proposing this amendment to the Constitution?” From the Parliament to the streets, there was widespread hostility towards the Roma. It turned out Elvis had already been to the UK and hadn’t had the best experience. “So Elvis how long have you lived here?” Elvis was arrested, but with the help of human trafficking NGO, he was able to return to Romania. Faced with eviction and marginalization at home, it’s hardly surprising that, given the opportunity, Roma would want to try living in the UK. For Elvis, the EU law change couldn’t have come any sooner. He can’t wait to pursue an official route to the UK to start a new life with his new wife. “A lot of the people in UK, they worry that Roma don’t want to work,” And they’re just going to come to the uk to take advantage of the welfare state any of that true. [I] will answer very “What have you got in your jacket?” “It’s so cute!” My time with the Eforie Roma was nearly up. Before we left, they wanted to show me how they scrape a living. They pick scrap metal from rubbish dumps to sell for pittance, but this practice is illegal, meaning that one of the few things helping them survive is the same thing reinforcing their bad reputation. “Do you like doing this?” Having spent time with these Roma in Romania, it was clear to me that while moving to the UK would undoubtedly provide anyone the opportunity to live beyond a life of poverty, unfortunately for the people I met, who have no access to basic health care, education, employment, or even food, whilst they may dream of a better life in the UK and many Brits might fear their arrival, it seems highly unlikely they have much chance of getting there.

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