Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Economist: Romania's Roma

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Romania's Roma
Where is Europe’s Roma policy?

Sep 19th 2012, 11:39 by L.C. | BUCHAREST

THE Roma community is beeing chased from countries across Europe.
Romania and France have sent Roma back and forth since 2007, when
Romania joined the European Union, but it seems that the French are
now intending to pursue a harder line towards the Roma from Romania in
their country.

On September 12th, Manuel Valls, France’s interior minister, and
Bernard Cazeneuve, the minister for European Affairs, travelled to
Romania to discuss Roma integration with the country’s president and
prime minister. The visit was expected to bring some concrete
proposals on how to improve the integration of the estimated 400,000
Roma living in France (a large part of whom are from Romania). Yet
they only struck a framework agreement that allows some 80 Roma
families who wish to return to Romania to receive “financial support
for economic reinsertion” by the French authorities.

Mr Valls stressed that the countries’ joint efforts should be focused
on finding a solution for the Roma people to settle in their country
of origin. He has defended the recent police raids to break up Roma
camps in France on health grounds. "France has a policy of evacuating
illegal camps and of escorting them [the Roma immigrants] to the
border," Mr Valls added.

Traian Băsescu, the Romanian president, and Victor Ponta, the prime
minister, said they are willing to co-operate with France in order to
integrate the Roma community into Romanian society. Yet Mr Băsescu
criticised Mr Valls for a remark he made a day ahead of his visit when
he said that “France cannot accommodate all the misery in Europe." Mr
Băsescu stated that Romania is not chasing its Roma citizens out of
the country and added that Romania could send extra police to France,
if needed, to dismantle criminal Roma networks. Mr Ponta said the real
solution to the problem is education and jobs: children from Roma
communities need to attend school regularly and Roma need to find
stable jobs in Romania.

Despite European integration strategies, EU funds and political and
diplomatic efforts, Europe has so far been unable to integrate the
Roma people. Most efforts were focused on dismantling Roma criminal
groups whose activities are widely reported in the media. Yet beyond
this stereotyped image of Roma immigrants, many Europeans know very
little about Roma traditions and cultural heritage and the history of
Roma persecution. Offering Roma citizens €300 ($390) and putting them
on a plane back to Romania, as the French authorities did, is not a
solution, but only a paid vacation. A large category of Roma citizens
emigrated to western Europe because they wanted to work and offer
their children a better life then the one they had in Romania.

The European Commission’s Roma integration strategy points out four
crucial areas such as access to education, employment, health care and
housing. Only a limited number of Roma children complete primary
school and many of them are in special education and segregated
schools. Due to their poor living standards and limited access to
quality health care, Roma people live on average ten years less then
other European citizens.

When it comes to employment, full Roma integration in the labour
market could bring economic benefits estimated to be around €500m
annually for some countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia or the
Czech Republic, according to World Bank research. Their integration
would improve productivity, reduce government payments for social
assistance and increase tax revenue.

Up to €26.5 billion of EU funding is currently available for member
states for social inclusion projects for the Roma. Yet countries like
Romania (which has the highest number of Roma in Europe, more than
1.5m) are having problems accessing these funds. In many cases, the EU
is financing only up to 80% of a project and the government needs to
pony up the rest.

Gelu Duminica, the head of the “Impreuna” Agency for Community
Development, a foundation that supports the integration and
development of the Roma community, says five of their programmes that
are financed through the EU are currently suspended because the
Romanian government didn’t make payments: “The situation is desperate.
Some of our staff had to make personal bank loans so we could continue
to finance these programmes. If the government doesn’t make the
payments by February next year, we will lose all the money and shut
down the foundation.” Mr Duminica believes corruption and bureaucracy
are the main causes for this delay. If the government does not wake up
to the need to support Roma integration much more actively and to give
the Roma a voice before elaborating integration strategies, it will
continue to be haunted by Romania’s biggest societal problem for the
foreseeable future.

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