The roundabout Roma were lured to Dublin by relatives' empty promises of easy moneyDaniel McLaughlin in Tileagd and Henry McDonald
Sunday July 29, 2007
Observer'I told them not to go to Ireland, that it would be a disaster - and now they are all coming back again,' says Anna Demian, matriarch of the Tileagd Roma community to which about 100 men, women and children have just returned from an encampment on the M50 roundabout at Ballymun, Dublin.
Demian, 68, mother of 13 children, and grandmother of 140, counted her relatives back into the village this week after they were flown home to north-west Romania, amid Irish fears of an influx of job-hunting Gypsies, and anger at their grim depiction of life in Romania. Claims by some Roma that they had been living beside a rubbish dump where they foraged for food, were false - Tileagd is an extremely poor cluster of cramped houses, with no running water, but it is far less squalid than the fly-infested quagmire they created by the M50.
All of Tileagd's Roma have small houses to live in - though many are in disrepair and are shared by a dozen people - and some of those who have returned from Ireland had given up jobs at home to pursue the promise of a better life in Dublin.
'Augustin Rostas worked as security at our nursery for more than two years, making £120 a month, compared to the national minimum wage of about £80,' said Kevin Hoy, chief executive of the Smiles Foundation, a charity that has been working in Tileagd since 2001. 'He was a well-respected member of his community, with about 12 children, a horse and a good house in the Romanian part of the village. In June he gave up his job and sold his horse to go to Ireland, and took one of his sons, Malin - one of our best pupils - out of school to go with him,' says Hoy, referring to the nursery and junior school run by the charity. 'Now he's back here, he's embarrassed, he's lost his job, he's sold his horse, he's got no money and he's lost respect in the village.'
The Gypsies say that after 1 January, when European Union membership allowed Romanians to travel visa-free across the bloc, relatives who left Tileagd for Ireland several years ago implored them to come to Dublin, where accommodation, jobs and social security supposedly awaited.
Seduced by tales of easy wealth, many men funded the trip by selling the family horse - which they use for transport and work in the fields, and whose offspring they sell for vital cash - and paid a travel agent for a five-hour minibus ride to Budapest and a flight from there to Dublin.
The Irish government now believes that the Roma on the roundabout were under pressure from criminal gangs in their native Romania to settle in Ireland. The group, according to government sources in Dublin, were to send back a large percentage of Irish social welfare payments to the criminal gang had they been allowed to settle in the Republic. The sources pointed out that the Gypsies on the M50 actually flew to Ireland, some via Hungary, others direct from Bucharest, an air fare that would cost more than €200 (£135). There are still between 3,000 to 4,000 Roma in Ireland. While many have settled and found jobs, many others remain dependent on social welfare, begging and petty crime. A group based in Dundalk is sent north on the train every day to Belfast where they beg in the city centre.
In the past five years, the Republic has tightened up its asylum laws. In 2002, 11,634 people from abroad applied for asylum in Ireland, the figure today is around 4,323.
Gyuri Rostas, Augustin's brother and a leader of the Tileagd Roma, is angry that his people fell for the tall stories about Ireland, but cannot confirm claims from some returnees that Romanian Gypsies in Dublin asked them for cash in return for non-existent work and lodging.
He says the Tileagd Roma's main problem is poverty, and a spiral of debt into which they plunge when benefits are not paid on time and they have to buy food and other necessities on credit.
Ireland picked up the tab for the Gypsies' journey home - which for some included a British Airways Club Class flight from London to Budapest - but Dublin will consider it a small price to pay if it prevents a repeat of Ballymun.
Some will head west again to find their fortune. Others, like Cristian Rostas, swear they are committed to life in Tileagd. A brother of Gyuri and Augustin, Cristian travelled to England in March with high hopes. 'I was drunk and people were saying life was great over there, so I sold my horse and took my wife and we flew off,' he recalls, his bravado tempered by lingering shame. At Luton airport, he took a taxi to Rugby, to the home of a sponsor of the Smiles Foundation whose address he had stolen from a charity worker's bag. After a couple of nights in a bed and breakfast arranged by social services, Cristian was sent back to Tileagd. 'It was very bad,' says the contrite Cristian. 'Now I don't drink or smoke and I am not going anywhere ever again.'