Sunday, July 22, 2007

Motorway Romas' plea for housing

By Diarmaid Fleming
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

A group of more than 50 Roma people living on a motorway roundabout near Dublin airport since May are urging the Irish government to grant them housing and allow them to stay in the country.

The group from Romania are not entitled under Irish law to work or stay more than three months, but say their squalid conditions are better than home.

On Saturday morning, Garda officers served immigration documents on a total of 86 foreign nationals at the site and at a derelict house on the Old Swords Road.

The motorway roundabout on Ireland's busiest road has become home to a group of Roma people who have come to Ireland in the hope of a better life.

As cars and juggernauts thunder past relentlessly on the M50 near Ballymun close to Dublin Airport, inside the roundabout covered in thick bush and scrub, the group sits around tents, some made from bin-liners and shopping bags.

But their new home without sanitation resembles more the Third World than Ireland, although some who say they lived on a rubbish tip in Bucharest claim conditions are better here.

Daniela Rostafa explains why he made the long journey to end up on Dublin's M50 motorway.

"I have come to Ireland to provide shelter over the heads of my family and have some kind of minimum existence, get a job and have a better life," he said.

"There are better conditions provided here than in Romania by the support groups who have looked after us and we have a good impression of Ireland from these people. We hope the future situation may improve," he adds.

Ireland has laws barring anyone - including Irish citizens - from claiming social welfare unless they lived legally in the country in the two years preceding a claim.

'Roundabout Roma'

Romanians and Bulgarians, even though they are European Union citizens, are not allowed work in Ireland and can only legally stay for three months at a time.

The "Roundabout Roma" as they have become known, want accommodation and support, but without state help are depending on Irish and Romanian support groups in Dublin for food and help.

Crosscare which is run by the Catholic Church in Dublin has been providing food for the group.

A Romanian musician living in Ireland for several years, Carol Aflat, is one of several compatriots in Dublin who visits the roundabout to help.

"We ask them why they come here and they say they would rather to come here, instead of being in Romania living in the most horrible conditions. So they would prefer here to begging.

"They like it better here than Romania," says Carol, who says that the Irish authorities should provide humanitarian relief.

Their presence and abject poverty contrasts with Ireland's image as one of Europe's wealthiest nations, a transformation from being one of its poorest two decades ago.

There are contrasting public attitudes too: just as one man shouts abuse from an expensive car travelling around the roundabout, complaining about people looking for free homes, a taxi driver pulls up with some clothes for the group.

Some of the young children play with toys caked with mud, their smiles oblivious to the squalor.

There are more than 20 among the group and three have already been taken into state care.

Critics of the authorities' handling of the situation say that taking children into care should be the last resort for social workers, and that providing humanitarian aid instead should be the priority.

Sarah Russell, of the Irish support group for Travellers Pavee Point, is unhappy with the official response so far.

"As regards these people living in horrific conditions on the M50 motorway there needs to be an immediate humanitarian response.

These people need to be given accommodation away from this really dangerous situation they're living in.

"It's dangerous as regards public health and it's dangerous as regards the traffic hazard that they're living right beside, one of the busiest motorways in Dublin.

"The authorities need to get these people out of there before there's a fatality," she said.

Ms Russell who works with Pavee Point's Roma support programme argues that millions of Roma people suffer racial abuse across Europe, and that the problem must be tackled across the European Union.

"This is a European Union problem, we are members of the EU as are Romania and Bulgaria.

"The issues and challenges that face the millions of Roma in Europe have been widely written about by international human rights organisations, the United Nations and the Council of Europe for example.

"This problem is not going to go away and the Irish government should take a lead in ensuring that there's a pan-European response for the challenges and issues that face Roma at an EU level," she added.

A spokesman for the group on the roundabout confirmed they had been offered free flights back to Romania by the Irish Government, but none of them wanted to return there.

The Irish Department of Justice said the group's situation was being reviewed by the relevant authorities.

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