European conference

The Roma population is the largest ethnic minority in Europe today. However, the majority of the 10-12 million Roma who live in Europe, 6 million of whom reside within the borders of the European Union, remain marginalised, socially excluded and live under very poor socio-economic conditions. On 16 October Dynamo International, the network for street workers, organised a conference in Brussels discussing the persistent challenges of the social and economic integration of Roma population in Europe. The event, hosted by the Vice President of the S&D group Veronique De Keyser in the European Parliament, aimed to encourage discourse between the representatives of European institutions, key experts and grassroots actors about policy and practice areas of Roma inclusion in Europe.

The conference facilitated the presentation of two video-reportages which aimed to increase the audience’s understanding of the complex challenges the Roma population are currently facing. The first video, entitled ‘De Charybde en Scylla’ (watch in French here), followed the journey of a Roma family from Serbia in their quest to gain asylum status in France, Kosovo and finally Belgium, in the hope of providing a better life for their 11 year old disabled daughter and escaping the discrimination they face in their home country. The family’s failure to gain asylum status, or even housing, as a result of bureaucratic misgivings reveals the Roma’s struggle to find their place in Europe.

During subsequent panel discussions, European Commission representatives from both DG Employment and DG Justice emphasised that it remains the joint responsibility of the European institutions and Member States to improve the social inclusion and integration of the Roma population. The EU’s Framework for Roma Inclusion, launched in April 2011, has required Member States to commit to developing national strategies, while National Reform Programmes within the European Semester will also be scrutinised for coherence with national Roma strategies.

Verena Knaus (UNICEF) underlined the harmful effects and psycho-social trauma Roma children are likely to be facing as their families struggle to migrate and later integrate in another European country, often living on the streets in the process. She argued that a combined approach is needed in Europe, which has at the forefront both policies aimed at integrating Europe’s Roma population and measures tailored to addressing the issue of child poverty.

The second video based on the Transition pilot project deals with the housing problems encountered by Roma and Sinti populations in Italy, Greece and Romania, in particular families finding themselves being repeatedly relocated to areas of the country where they are isolated and live in degrading conditions (watch with English subtitles here). The personal accounts presented in the video also indicate that for these communities having a place to live is not just about having a roof over their head, but about being part of a social fabric and having the possibility to make choices about how and where they want to live their life.

In the course of discussions, Etienne Liebig, a street worker (read social worker) in France, noted that it was important to understand that the Roma people are a heterogeneous group. In this way Roma culture is not specific to the Roma population, but the community the people come from. This diversity needs to be taken into account when decisions are taken by social workers and policy makers alike.

The Roma “need to be able to speak for themselves; they need to express their views and explain their problems”, highlighted Luigi Chiesi, a Sinti representative from Italy. Echoing this sentiment, Ivan Ivanov from the European Roma Office noted that it is essential that self-advocacy for Roma people is developed, so that Roma population is able to contribute to the integration process rather than simply being ‘passive beneficiaries’ of outside decisions.

ESN wishes to highlight the role of local authorities (social welfare and social work services) in the delivery of the national Roma strategies. It also hopes to raise awareness of the particularly difficult situation facing Roma children in Europe today.