The situation of Roma communities in the UK
Roma are the largest, most vulnerable and discriminated against ethnic minority group inEurope with an estimated population of 10 - 12 million people. Since their arrival in Europefrom India some 700 years ago, they have been politically, socially, culturally and economicallymarginalised by the dominant population.
Push and pull factors behind the recent movement of Roma to the UK
The research findings of the 2009 study ‘The movement of Roma from new EU Member States: A mapping survey of A2 and A8 Roma in England (Patterns of settlement and currentsituation of new Roma communities in England)’ show that some of the most frequent pushfactors behind the recent movement of Roma to the UK are as follows:
The first Roma from Central and Eastern Europe came to the UK in the 1990s seeking asylum to escape widespread racial persecution and discrimination in their countries of origin. Since the EU enlargements in 2004 and 2007, nationals coming from the new Member States havebeen able to exercise their right to free movement. As a result, many more Roma have movedhere legally to find work, equal opportunities and a good education for their children; and toescape racism, discrimination, and the increasing number of racially motivated attackstargeting the Roma.
The Roma have established significant communities throughout the UK, particularly in thenorth of England, Midlands, Kent and north and east London. There are also sizeablecommunities of Roma in Scotland (Glasgow), Wales (Cardiff) and Northern Ireland (Belfast). These Roma communities originate from the first asylum seekers; newly arriving Roma tend tosettle where they have contacts, family members or friends.
Despite the economic recession and the employment restrictions placed on the new EU Member States, the number of Roma moving to the UK has steadily risen. Although it is notknown how many Roma live in the UK, the best estimate is around 500,000, of whichapproximately 65% are of school age. Many Roma adults, and most Roma young people, whowere born or spent most of their childhood in the UK, view this country as their home and haveno wish to go back to their countries of origin.
The research found that many Roma in the UK work for low wages on temporary contractsorganised by gangmasters and recruitment agencies. Their vulnerability is often exploited. Some agencies charge newly arrived Roma large sums for temporary work placements,completing paper work, arranging work registration cards, bank accounts and findingaccommodation.
Many Roma, including children and young people, live in poverty, sub-standard accommodation, often shared with other families. Some are destitute. Severe overcrowdingoften leads to poor health, and low school attendance and attainment by children, withsubstantial post-eleven drop-out rates. Although the majority of primary school Roma children attend school regularly, at secondary level the picture is different. A high percentage drop outof secondary school to help their families earn an income or simply because the family cannotafford to pay for school meals or uniforms.
The communities have very little support in some areas and they are often unable to accessthe services in place because of their lack of familiarity with the British systems. RomanianRoma seem to be the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable, living in the mostovercrowded conditions, often with 15+ people in one accommodation unit, and the greatestpoverty. Roma adults are generally isolated, mixing only with other Roma.
Employment restrictions imposed on nationals from new EU Member States
Nationals from Romania and Bulgaria do not have an automatic right to take employment andare only allowed to be self-employed or in short-term agricultural work. The current employment restrictions imposed on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals preclude recourse topublic funds until the individual has worked and paid tax and national insurance for a year.They add further disadvantage, especially in the case of the Roma.The employment restrictions imposed on the 2004 EU accession states (and the associatedrestricted access to benefits) were lifted as of 1 May 2011: under European Union law, they could not continue beyond the end of April 2011.
Models of good practice
The research findings show that education through The Traveller Education Support Serviceand the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service has been a major force in fostering socialinclusion. These services are often the first, and sometimes the only contact Roma have withany service providers.The invaluable work done by education officers and schools with Roma pupils and theirfamilies has served as a ‘springboard’ for other agencies to reach out to these communities ina multi-agency approach. In areas where local authorities have used the Pupil Level Annual School Census to count the number of their Roma students, services have been formatted tobetter reflect the needs of the Roma communities. These initiatives are aimed at the whole family; Roma are employed as teaching assistants and outreach staff to engage Roma familiesin their children’s education, family health and other service provision.
Current issues: Another view of the alleged removals of Romani children in the UK
In August 2012, the Slovak television channel JOJ broadcast a report on cases of the alleged removal of children from Romani parents in Great Britain. In the Czech media, several articles largely based on the Slovak reportage were then published. Unfortunately, these articles were very unbalanced, both as far as their content was concerned and as far as the type of information they presented. Viewers of the tv broadcasts were not able to learn anything concrete about the circumstances under which the children were taken away in the publicized case of Mr David's family; JOJ did not include interviews with the family's lawyers, nor did it include an interview with the relevant social welfare department in Nottingham as part of its reporting, even though local social workers have been in contact with Mr David for three weeks.
The only relevant piece of information included in the reportage was the fact that the British social service system experienced a great shock in the year 2009 in connection with the case of "Baby P". In the year 2007, a 17-month-old infant named Peter died because of insufficient intervention on the part of social workers in the London neighborhood of Tottenham. Since then, a very radical turnaround has taken place in social services, according to Cafcass (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), an authority that is independent of the courts and defends the interests of children in matters of court decisions on custody in England and Wales. Cafcass has reported an astronomical rise in the number of cases of children taken into care (see the 25 May 2012 article in The Guardian entitled "Thousands more children taken into care in wake of Baby P Case"). The cases of the alleged child removals in England that were reported on by TV JOJ must be viewed in this context.
This is a very complicated matter and any attempt at sensationalized reporting about it benefits no one, least of all the families concerned. From my own years of experience and the experience of my British colleagues, I know that children in the UK have indeed been taken away from Romani parents who came here from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania. This has particularly occurred in cases where the parents have found themselves in such situations of enormous poverty and material distress that they could not afford food and their children were hospitalized with malnutrition or other health problems. Social services take such steps only in the most extreme cases. However, it cannot be ruled out that individual social workers or local child welfare offices might commit errors in child removal cases.
The procedure of removal takes a very long time and involves not only the relevant local social affairs office, but also an independent social worker. The local office files a motion to have the child entrusted into the care of another person through its staff lawyers, and the independent social worker is supposed to independently evaluate, in the light of all circumstances and events, whether the parents are able to care for their child. Lawyers for the father and the mother (should the child have both parents) are also involved in the process, as is a lawyer for each child, and last but not least, an independent expert witness can also be involved in the case. These cases can take two years or longer to resolve, as the social affairs departments even take the time to evaluate the option of whether a child could be returned to the Czech Republic or Slovakia to live with relatives.
One very basic thing must also be stressed here, and that is that there are many cultural differences between people in Britain and people from Central and Eastern Europe, Romani people included, of which we might not all be entirely aware. This has to do, for example, with different perceptions of what constitutes overcrowding, or how many people can live together in one household. While in the Central and Eastern European context social workers would find it acceptable for a family with two children to live in the same household with the children's grandparents, in Britain that would be viewed as overcrowding. The more benevolent standards of upbringing practiced by Central and Eastern European parents are also often perceived as barely acceptable in England.
In this context, it is useful to mention the findings of a study on the situation of Romani communities in England that was published in 2009: "The most negative stereotypes that respondents described concerned the fact not that they were Romani, but that they were of Eastern European origin. Romani respondents who said they encountered these negative stereotypes in England claimed to encounter them at work or to say that their children encountered them at school. In only a few cases did the respondents state that they or their children encountered an initially unfriendly attitude from colleagues/peers/neighbors after they publicly announced they were Romani in a given environment (a job, their neighborhood, in school) or after their colleagues/peers/neighbors determined their ethnic origin.
Respondents, however, pointed to similar cases in situations where complex cultural differences are at play. These are not specifically Romani differences, but are Eastern European differences in general and primarily concern communities of Romanian and Slovak Romani people who have come to England from areas of Romania and eastern Slovakia where they have been 100 % socially excluded from practically all spheres of public life given the high levels of discrimination there.
The situation of Bulgarian and Romanian Romani people, moreover, is made more difficult by the restrictions on work for citizens from those countries that were instituted when those states joined the EU in 2007. In practice, these restrictions make it impossible for Romani citizens from those countries to enter the formal work process in Great Britain. In extreme cases, such a family's survival strategy may depend on semi-legal and/or illegal activities such as begging or petty theft. In certain areas of England where large Romani communities from Romania and Slovakia live, a very tense atmosphere has arisen with respect to community and race relations."
I have been following the situation of Romani communities in Great Britain very closely for the past five years. During that time, several similar rumors have previously spread through England. For example, last year someone spread the disinformation that the United Kingdom had left the European Union and that Britain would therefore be deporting everyone. I spent entire days responding to the e-mails and telephone calls from families who contacted me in desperation over this "news".
To return to the cases of these allegedly arbitrary removals of children: If anyone knows of concrete cases of children who have been arbitrarily removed from their families in the UK, please notify the local social workers with whom you are already in contact, or contact the International Association of Roma Professionals, or contact me personally. It is absolutely essential that any such case be properly and thoroughly investigated.
I have recently contacted various social workers, non-Romani and Romani, at the local level throughout England to ask about the JOJ allegations, and in only one place (Leicester) did someone know of the temporary removal of two Romani children, who had since been subsequently returned to their families. None of the other people I contacted knew of any concrete cases, but all of them are facing the results of these rumors, which are spreading at the speed of light. One social worker in Bolton said the rumor is now having a negative impact on the work of her team at this particular moment, i.e., just before the start of the school year. Romani parents have asked her to call them before she pays them her regular visits, because they are not opening the door for anyone now and are pretending not to be home. It is evident that the results of these rumors could, in the final analysis, harm those Romani families most who decide not to let their children start school again. They could place themselves at risk of criminal prosecution for such a choice.
The arbitrary removal of children of any kind in the UK cannot take place across the board and such a practice cannot target just a certain community. It is far more likely that this untrue information has been broadcast by this commercial television station in Slovakia with the awareness that it would very quickly find its audience and harm them.
It is regrettable that the media do not do the work of seeking out all the information that is available on these issues. Instead, they prefer to choose the tactic of spreading disinformation and panic.
You can contact Dr Lucie Fremlova using the contact form.
Lucie has successfully started her PhD at the School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Brighton, after being awarded a three-year scholarship to do her PhD research on transformations that have occurred in LGBTIQ GRT communities.
On 29 May, 2014, Lucie will be one of the presenters talking at the specialised seminar "Equal access to quality education for Roma chidren in the Czech Republic" as part of the World Festival Khamoro. The seminar is convened by the OSCE ODIHR Contact Point for Roma and Sinti issues, Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation of the Government of the Czech Republic, and Slovo 21.
Between 31 March and 1 April 2014, Lucie participated in a preparatory meeting for United for Dignity: Conference on the specific situation of young Roma affected by multiple discrimination The conference will take place at the Council of Europe's European Youth Centre in Strasbourg between 24 and 26 June, 2014. Lucie has contributed to conducting the desk and field research for the study and has been the main editor of the final report.
On 14 March 2014, Lucie was one of the main speakers presenting the issue of Roma education at the University of Essex Human Rights Society Roma Awareness Week. The other speakers include Grattan Puxon, Dr Julian Burger, Rita Chadha and Angel Lilkov Ivanov.
On 13 January 2014, Lucie succesfully submitted Section 7: Roma integration of FRA's Annual Report 2013 to the Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Nottingham, FRA's UK Focal Point.
On 3 December, Lucie delivered a presentation called "Every child matters: promoting access to quality education for Roma children" at the conference "Perspectives on Inclusive Education. Safeguarding the Equality of Opportunities?"organised by Amaro Foro e.V., Berlin, with financial support from the Senate Administration for Labour, Integration and Women.
On 17 October, 2013, Lucie presented at a CAFCASS event entitled "Working with Eastern European Children and their Families through Court Proceedings". His Honour Judge Polden and Mrs Justice Theis are among the presenters.
On 13 September, 2013, Lucie delivered two training sessions for the British Transport Police officers, entitled Working with Eastern European Roma settled in the UK.
Lucie was among 4 presenters opening a training session entitled "Defending Human Rights of Roma and Travellers on the basis of European standards", organised by the Support Team of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma issues (Council of Europe), the Cardiff Law School and the AIRE Centre.
Lucie has been selected as one of five experts to participate in the Council of Europe's project on the Lifestories of young Roma facing multiple discrimination.
Lucie gave a presentation entitled "Every child matters: promoting access to high quality education for Roma children" at the conference Quality education for Roma: Sustainability of Education Policy Developed within the Decade on European level, held on April 22-23, 2013, in Zagreb, Croatia.
Lucie has been commissioned by the University of Nottingham Human Rights Law Centre, the UK national focal point for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), to contribute to FRA's current survey entitled "Mapping sources of data on Roma".
On 18 March, 2013, Lucie opened the Human Rights Film series regularly held at the Human Rights Law Centre, School of Law, University of Nottingham. Since 2006 HRLC has run a Human Rights Film Series. This time, it is dedicated to Roma issues and the current challenges faced by Roma in Europe.
Between 3 and 6 March, 2013, Lucie accompanied a delegation of school management and senior teaching staff from Primary School Trmice to Babington Community College and other schools in Leicester as part of the Roma Education Support Trust's project Every child matters: High quality education for all. The delegation is headed by Trmice's Headteacher.
Between 11 and 14 February, 2013, Lucie led a delegation of school management and senior teaching staff from Babington Community College, Leicester, who will be visiting Primary School Trmice as part of the Roma Education Support Trust's project Every child matters: High quality education for all. The delegation is headed by Babington's Vice Principal.
Lucie presented the issue of school desegregation measures and the pilot study From segregation to inclusion: Roma pupils in the UK as a trainer at the Council of Europe's three day seminar entitled The role of youth work in combating segregation in school environments, held on 21 – 24 November 2012 at the European Youth Centre, Strasbourg.
Lucie completed a report on the situation of Roma in the United Kingdom for the University of Nottingham Human Rights Law Centre, the UK national focal point for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
From 22 to 25 October, Lucie and the Roma Education Support Trust implemented the first stage of their project Every child matters: High quality education for all at Primary School Trmice. Babington Community College got an excellent response from their project partner. The three days were concluded by a visit by the British Ambassador.
On 4 October, Lucie gave a presentation on models of good practice in working with Roma communities in the UK at the Czech Interior Ministry's conference entitled "We live here together: Examples of successful practice in socially excluded localities".
In partnership with 198 Contemporary Arts and artist Eva sajovic, Lucie is providing supervision to DreamMakers - UK wide project with young Gypsy, Roma, Travellers, supported by the PAUL HAMLYN FOUNDATION.
Lucie has been commissioned by the University of Nottingham Human Rights Law Centre, the UK national focal point for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), to produce a FRANET report entitled Social Thematic Study: The situation of Roma in the EU.
Lucie has been appointed member of the World Roma Organisation Commissariat for Human Rights.
From 26 to 29 June, Lucie accompanied a delegation from the Karlovy Vary Region, led by OSF Prague, on a study visit to Leicester, designed by Lucie and Leicester City Council. The aim of the study visit was to familiarise members of the Czech delegation with inclusive strategies and mainstream education for Roma pupils at UK schools.
From 21 to 22 June, Lucie participated in an event organised by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Italian government in Rome, entitled Human Rights Based Policies and Roma Active Citizenship.
Lucie presented the study From segregation to inclusion: Roma pupils in the UK to the Council of Europe Ad Hoc Committee on Roma (CAHROM) in Skopje on 22 May 2012.
Lucie completed the Ad hoc information request on issues concerning Roma for the University of Nottingham Human Rights Law Centre, the UK national focal point for the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)
On 13 April, Lucie gave a presentation at a Transport for London, British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police event entitled Engaging with Central and East European Roma Communities.