Europe’s Unwanted People

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Uncategorized, Weekly news

As we celebrate the UN Day of Diversity for Dialogue and Development I once again started following all the talks regarding diversity and inclusion. There is even a UN body known as UN Alliance of Civilizations promoting integration and peaceful coexistence. 21st Century is a century of peaceful coexistence and it is better to acknowledge this fact sooner than later.

The other day I was watching a very nice documentary Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which was on evolution,  I don’t want to go into the detail of that documentary but one striking part was definitely when the scientist was explaining that we are all connected in the tree of life; the plants, animals, humans, everything therein. I was enamored by that fact. Indeed we all are connected and are affected by each other’s behaviors and actions.

Visiting various places and meeting people from diverse cultures and backgrounds always made me believe that we the human race are similar. There is a universal language which we all speak and that is the language of love.  Strangers helping you in finding the way in their own language which you hardly understand or a passerby stopping by seeing the troubled look on your face when you are stuck trying to explain to the taxi driver where you have to go, have been some experiences that made me believe in humanity. I felt at home when I was in Brazil and similarly in other places. I can’t deny the fact that I have a passport with a specific color but global citizenship is more than that, a phenomenon which makes you feel at home in the new places, finding it easy and fun to connect with new people. Sadly I do understand that everyone cannot relate with me. But I wish everyone have had a chance to experience this amazing feeling where you consider the globe, your home.

This approach to living known as global citizenship is not just limited to extensive world travel rather it is a philosophy that appreciates diversity, inculcates empathy and compassion for people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds and as a result promotes peaceful coexistence. Coming from a country where religion has been politicized for many years, where many people are persecuted in the name of religion, I can relate to the religious divide. The intolerance which I get to see every day, reading bizarre news stories on blasphemy laws where many people have been targeted because they belong to a minority community makes me cringe. Pakistan is a diverse country where people belong to various ethnicities and religions. Instead of cherishing our diversity we end up being hateful, blindly following the political propaganda. It is interesting to see in Lahore a mosque that has a shrine in it’s precinct where Sikhs go for worship. For me it is not about religious tolerance, I don’t like that word as to me it suggests that you don’t like someone but have to tolerate him or her. I think it should be about religious harmony. And when I talk about harmony it should be practiced in the truest sense among various ethnicities, cultures, race, gender etc.

In many place across the globe the divisions are evident resulting in unrest around the world. Sometimes I don’t decipher why this has been going on for years, human beings do understand that they are here for a brief period so why to waste time and money in waging wars and creating unrest. We have so many other issues to deal with and if we channelize our resources and time into those productive inputs we can try to contribute positively to this world before leaving this pale blue dot.

The common heritage of humanity is cultural diversity.  Across time and space culture takes diverse forms. The uniqueness and plurality embodied in diversity makes up humankind. Cultural diversity is a source of inspiration, innovation and exchange thus necessary for humankind just like biodiversity is for nature. Hence for the benefit of present and future generations it should be recognized as the common heritage of humanity. In our increasingly diverse societies it is important to ensure harmonious interactions of varied groups with the willingness to live together.

When it comes to integration and rejoicing in our diversity there are many ethnic groups even today that struggle for inclusion, among these groups are the Roma people also known as Romanis. This ethnic group of Indian origin, originated almost 1000 years ago lives mostly in Europe and Americas. Roma are one of the Europe’s largest minority groups. Roma people occasionally in the news are the focus of prejudice and criticism. There are many stereotypes associated with them from allegations of criminal activities to age old one of children being stolen by the Roma people commonly known as Gypsies. France’s expulsion of Roma on the basis of how Roma are “a drain of resources” did receive international criticism. But this doesn’t stop the hate groups from labeling them as criminals and undeserving. The news coverage about how Roma people are unworthy is more common in mainland Europe. This disadvantaged and marginalized group has suffered for the past many years and is still being persecuted.

people-roma-community-walkPeople from Roma community expelled from their camp in France

Photo Source Google

Having a long history of living in Europe estimated to be living since 13 century, there are more than 10 million Roma living in Europe recognized as one of the European Union’s largest minority groups. During the inaugural World Romani Congress which was held in London in 1971, the term “Roma” was chosen and accepted across EU to describe diverse communities and tribes. There are four different types of Roma communities identified by European Commission.

Given the limited data collection on Roma people it is estimated that varied numbers of Roma populations live in nations across Europe. The most significant Roma populations live in Central and Eastern European states of Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Roma makes up between 7 to 10 percent of the total population in these countries. It is interesting to note that the estimates provided by non-governmental organizations active in this field vary from the “official” population estimates.

The multilayered and entrenched issues faced by Roma people do look like a description of communities living in the developing world. Poor living standards, low levels of literacy, unemployment, lack of health and education facilities and above all the discrimination are prevalent in the places where Roma people live. There are intricate communities of people classified as ‘Roma’ in the UK. According to the definition of Roma by the Council of Europe it includes travelers and gypsies. However in the UK the term Roma is mostly used for migrants coming from Central and Eastern Europe. Roma people have been migrating to UK for decades. The Roma people in UK are split between those living a nomadic life in caravans and the ones with poor and precarious housing which reflects the situation almost across Europe.

malmo-protests-against-racist-police-0Photo Source Google

The European Union is stepping up to resist the Roma being scapegoated as outsiders. The European Commission encouraged the development of National Roma Integration Strategies to consolidate the efforts of member states to improve the lives of Roma community. But there is still confusion on how to tackle this politically charged and complex issue. Unfortunately it is not an easy task made even more difficult by the arrival of newer members in the East like Romania. Right-wing politicians continue to demonize Roma despite the dark lessons of Nazi history. To wall off Roma communities some 400 mayors in Slovakia have created a movement by using safety and health regulations. Hence Roma people still occupy the position of a vulnerable minority.

The only solution to this problem that press for segregation of communities on the basis of ethnicity, race and religion etc is a more humanized approach. It requires us to differentiate between criminality of a few and an entire ethnic group whose future is tainted by the wrongs done by those few. It needs an approach where we look for a greater common good. An approach that instills in us the humanity needed to live together as a human family.

In Slovakia the segregation of Roma and non-Roma students is a common practice. During the early 1990s 7% of Roma students were taught in segregated classrooms or schools. To see communities being segregated even today make me lose hope in humanity. But it is rightly said that at the end of every tunnel there is light. In Slovakia, principal of Šarišské Michaľany junior-elementary school, Jaroslav Valastiak has been trying for gradual integration of classrooms. After a long legal battle it was decided that the segregation violates anti discrimination laws in the country and it was made mandatory for the school to integrate students. Roma minority do face marginalization and exclusion across Europe but some activists note that in Slovakia it is at its worst. For better reforms it is important that government bodies come together and take action. The first Roma-elected Member of Parliament in Slovakia, Peter Pollak called the situation in Šarišské Michaľany junior-elementary school complex drawing similarities between this and Supreme Court ruling of 1945 in US “Brown v. Board of Education” in which the court declared separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.  This however seems like a scratch on the surface as Peter Pollak believes that though the court has taken a right decision, the government has practical challenges making it difficult to support integration efforts.

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO) states that cultural diversity is one of the roots of development not just in terms of economic growth but also in terms of achieving a more satisfactory emotional, intellectual, spiritual and moral existence. It inspires genuine dialogue enabling communities to get to know and understand each other. It is important that all cultures get freedom to express and make themselves known. Here media also plays a vital role by acting responsibly in portraying the truth without taking sides and influencing the opinion of people by misrepresentation and miscommunication. Article 9 of Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity states that each country should have a cultural policy that incorporates international obligations. The implementation of that policy should be done by suitable support and regulations which it considers fit.

 kalderash-rom-maria-mercedes-chiciu-3-shows-off-her-belly-dancing-skills-as-her-grandmother-exspertiza-dumitru-sitting-looks-on-at-the-field-near-the-bistrita-monastery-where-thousands-of-mostly-kalderash-roma-have-gather

A Roma girl dancing in her traditional outfit

Photo Source Google

All these declarations, just like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that everyone is born equal, are full of hope. These declarations talk about well being of everyone. However the important task ahead now is making all these declarations a reality. It is important that the countries pay heed to the clauses and act on it ensuring freedom and well being for all. The resilient Romani people have survived the horrors inflicted by Hitler in postwar Europe but still face prejudice and exclusion. It is not just the Roma people but other minority groups too that are segregated and considered as an outcast in many places around the world. By helping and supporting the marginalized groups in fact strengthens the country. These segregated communities here Roma people who have been denied employment and are forced to live in settlements just because of their ethnicity should be considered an asset not a burden that adds a new color to the cultural diversity.

Roma people who suffer intolerable rates of poverty and unemployment need support. A change in the politics of fear will be a step forward that can bring change. There is a need for policy change regarding Roma people that consider them equal, many politicians have admitted that there is a dire need for better welfare programs but they fear voter backlash if they will speak up. However we can still be optimistic about the future of Roma people. Many international organizations, United Nations and European Commission are pressurizing the countries to end their exclusionary policies and give Roma people equal opportunities to participate in a better way. Moreover the European Romani have formed their own organizations like Roma National Congress that represents the interests of Roma people and press for change.

It is true that we are not born with hate, we are taught to hate. So if we are taught to hate we can also learn to love. Nelson Mandela was right when he said that not knowing that the apartheid did not die it just took a different size and color.

romove-khamoroPhoto Source Google

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Anam Gill

Believes that empathy and compassion can trigger change. A media professional passionate and committed towards issues of human rights and social justice.