Sandra Heredia is a labour consultant at the Roma organisation Hamuradi-Falaki in Seveille: “I’m proud of being Roma. I don’t say “Hello, my name is Sandra and I’m Roma”. I just say “Hello I’m Sandra”. Although you know, it’s quite a common name amongst Roma, so of course I am telling them I’m Roma and usually people say, “Are you really Roma?“ They don’t say “But you’re not dark enough and you live in a modern way…” but still…
Sandra Heredia, qualified in business management, doesn’t conform to stereotypes either inside or outside her community.
The news of the Roma expulsions from France has provoked universal condemnation from Spanish Roma organisations. On 4th September, Sandra took part in a demonstration in Paris, representing qualified Roma women in Spain. SHe commented: “It was incredible, it was an extraordinary experience because we were demonstrating as representatives of a State Council for the Roma. We had our banner, and the Spanish flag, so people came up and asked us why we were there. We marched from the Rue de la République to the Place de la Bastille. People thanked us for being there, for supporting them.”
Manuel García Rondón, the General Secretary of the “Unión Romaní” was also there: “It frightens us. We disagree with Nicolas Sarkozy’s attitude and the French government, but the worst for me is that this is happening in a country which calls itself the father of democracy… fraternité, egatité et liberté. And the problem isn’t being Roma as such, it’s being poor.”
The first documented mention of Roma in Spain dates from 1425. Currently it is estimated that up to half a million Spanish people are ethnic Roma. Nearly 40% of them live in Andalousia.
Manuel García Rondón said: “For the Roma, Andalousia is the promised land. The key to this is cohabitation, mutual understanding between the two groups in the population. Because of this, we have eliminated all the barriers and we live side by side.”
Andalousia has always been a melting pot of civilisations and cultures: Roma, Arabs, Jews and others contribute to the region’s identiy. Both the faces and the music reflect this mix.
As everywhere, in the past the Roma weren’t always welcome on Spanish soil. But recent policies have focused on helping Roma and specifically targeting their needs. Now the challenge is to build on tolerance to achieve real integration.
Ana Gómez is the Managing Director of Social Services in Andalucia: “The key to success is to have policies in place which increasingly promote access to rights and duties, like all other citizens and all other Andaloucians.”
The Roma arrived in Spain during another era, another political, economic, and social context… But can the Spanish experience serve as an example elsewhere?
Juan Manuel Reyes, the regional director of the “Fundation Secretariado Gitano” told Euronews: “Is this policy exportable? Of course, here, the philosophy and the participation of Roma in public administrations is remarkable. And in fact I think that Europe is increasingly looking at Spain when drawing up policies supporting Roma integration. There has been great progress in the past few years, especially as regards their access to goods and services, accommodation, education and employment. And that, of course, has benefited most of the Roma, even if there are still some big problems to resolve.”
At the age of 75, El Vacie, a few minutes from the centre of Seveille, is the oldest shanty town in Europe. When Francisco Franco came here, he promised decent housing for the inhabitants. But after decades of disappointment, 900 Roma still live there.
One of them, Lole del Campo told us: “As soon as you say you’re from El Vacie, they won’t give you a job, and I’ve passed exams. I have my CV, but it’s useless. They won’t give me a job just because of where I live.”
Some of the Roma here are newly arrived from eastern Europe. But the Andaloucian authorities, determined to eradicate all shanty towns, will not authorise further construction.”
Said another resident: “Let me be clear, I don’t see them as brothers. But I’m Roma like them. And they have rights like I have. And I have a plot, and a hut – they also have the right to live.”
On Tuesdays and Fridays, the police comb the shanty looking for new huts, built for the most part by eastern Europeans. The aim is to eradicate the remaining shanty towns in Andalousia, and to prevent any new ones beng built. But as soon as they are dismantled, they are rebuilt. And the regional government realises that that still haven’t found a permanent solution for the Roma from the East.
Having been expelled on various occasions, the Mihalache family has special permission to park their caravan here. They have been in Spain for four years, and in Seveille for the last two. A few months ago, the father found a job as a mechanic and the family’s three daughters now go to school.
Petru Mihalache explained: “In Romania, we have nothing, so everyone comes to Spain, France, or Italy to earn some money.”
His wife Patrita added: “Lots of people came despite the quota system, to make money, to look after their children, and to get them into school. To build or re-build a house because there have been so many floods.”
One of their daughters, Crina Mariana Mihalache commented: “In Romania, we can’t work. We haven’t got houses there, or here either. But now my father has a job and he goes there every day.”
The Mihalache family have been supported by the Spanish organisation Romani Union which has set up an information centre for the community. José goes to see them regularly to see how they are doing.
He says: “The Romani Unión is a 100% Roma entity and considers the Roma people as universal. So when we see this increased migration from the east of Europe, we realise that this newly-arrived population has certain needs. The links between all Roma mean we have to help, we have to intervene to improve their standard of living.”
But Manuel García Rondón is convinced that the Roma’s finest hour is still ahead of them: “Europe is aging and there are 12 million Roma in Europe. We are a very very young people. And they are going to need us to work. So they should treat us right because very soon they will need us… Please don’t be mean to us.”
And so we leave the Roma here in Seville. The next report in this series about the Roma will come from Hungary, in the heart of Europe.