European governments are under pressure to focus on Roma integration, and Kavarna in Bulgaria is given as one example of where things are working.
Ten years ago Roma complained to parliament about discrimination in the town, and things dramatically changed when a new mayor came into office. But concerns remain about the overall situation in the country.
Kavarna resident Sebastian Romanov told euronews:
“The animals in Bulgaria are better integrated than the Roma and I will let you know why: because EU funds are not reaching the Roma children.
“In order to achieve successful integration, we need funds. No one is employed. There are no jobs, but they want us to integrate. Please tell me how, explain it to me.”
In Kavarna, though, things look brighter. The Roma are now given help to build new homes and improve their neighbourhoods. The town has set an example in a country that has the second largest Roma population in Europe. The mayor set up a minorities integration service and new facilities are being provided.
“The land we’re on here used to be an eyesore, an illegal rubbish dump,” said euronews’ Seamus Kearney, reporting from Kavarna. “But now it’s been totally transformed. 50 new homes have been built, and there are plans for many more. Roma leaders say none of this would’ve been possible without the financial help from the local authorities.”
Kavarna’s mayor, Tsonko Tsonev, has also made his town famous with heavy metal music festivals. He is not a Roma himself, but seems to be passionate about equality.
“When I became mayor I started to work for all ethnic groups: Roma, Bulgarians, Tatars, Gagauzis, Armenians,” said Tsonev. “There was no differentiation in my work. I simply made a differentiation according to the proportion of the population.
“The Roma are a third of the population and I suggested that a third of our budget should go towards the Roma neighbourhood’s infrastructure – even more, because the condition of the Roma neighbourhood was the worst.”
But while the Roma flag flies proudly in Kavarna, elsewhere it is a different story. Just a few hours drive away, Roma living in poor conditions voice their anger and invite us to film their neighbourhood.
One young man told us: “Come on! Is there no one to defend us? We want to have normal streets. There are no jobs and most of us here are unemployed.”
Another person said: “Our kids can’t go to school. We can’t afford to buy shoes for our children!”
Working in the town of Novi Pazar is one of Bulgaria’s main Roma rights organisations, which voices concern about what it says has become segregation.
Deyan Kolev from Amalipe – the Centre for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance – told euronews: “Roma and Bulgarians live in separate neighbourhoods. The Roma live in segregated neighbourhoods and their children go to schools that are predominantly attended by Roma children. This has an impact on the overall quality of education of the Roma children and also on the overall attitude towards the Roma community.”
European officials are encouraging what they call comprehensive community projects: a combined focus on education, housing, employment and health care. One school we visited has an Amalipe community centre attached to it.
Emilia Aldinova, a Roma community moderator, said: “If there are children in the neighbourhood who are not enrolled at school, we help them to register. If there are children who are enrolled but do not attend classes we visit them at home to see what the reasons are and get them back to school to continue their education.”
15-year-old pupil Bozhanka Nikolaeva told us: “I’d like to follow my dreams and not make any mistakes. After eighth grade I will study in a professional high school for agriculture.”
Pasha Salim, also 15, said: “The Amalipe community centre gives us support. We share our problems with them and ask for support when we have problems with the teachers.”
Spain is home to Western Europe’s largest Roma population, where inclusion policies have been in place for years.
Granada’s Sacromonte district is the traditional Roma quarter, where their culture is celebrated. Well known for its flamenco performances, the area has become popular with tourists.
Euronews’ Seamus Kearney said: “Spain is held up by some as a role model for other European nations wanting to fight discrimination against Roma and also improve social inclusion. But local experts say that while there has been significant progress there is still a lot to be done.”
That work is in more disadvantaged areas, and among Roma immigrants arriving from eastern Europe. Authorities say over the past 20 years the percentage of Granada’s 80,000 Roma deemed to be at risk of social exclusion has fallen from 70 per cent down to about 30.
But that is still too much say Roma rights groups. They are focusing on programmes such as education and employment training, but say there is still a long way to go towards eliminating discrimination.
Francisca Cortés, the Provincial Coordinator of the Fundacion Secretariado Gitano, said: “One of the fundamental problems when trying to improve the situation of the Roma community is the negative image the rest of society has towards the Roma.
“The image is still very stereotypical. When we’re talking about Roma we fall into prejudice, stereotypes, and the negative image of the Roma community results in more cases of discrimination.”
One of those who did a course is José Antonio Corés. Now a newly-employed waiter, he told euronews: “I haven’t always had bad experiences, but I’ve been ignored for being a Roma. When I handed over my CV it was thrown away straight away, simply for being a Roma.”
But thanks to the special training programmes, dozens of job contracts are found every year. The courses are carried out in cooperation with companies likely to have future positions available.
However, with financial problems in many countries, obtaining funding is a big challenge for organisations that help Roma communities.
Magdalena Sanchez Fernandez, the provincial head of equality & social affairs within the Andalusian Government, said: “In the current economic climate, the Andalusian government has given priority to all care-related policies, precisely so that people at risk of exclusion are not left behind.
“If we stop investing in the Roma population maybe they will be at risk of being socially excluded, and of course they would be condemned to live in inhumane conditions and be cut off from society.”
Francisca Cortés from the Fundacion Secretariado Gitano added: “This economic crisis affects the general population but in particular vulnerable groups, and the Roma community in a very big way. The crisis affects them, even if there’s been big improvements in housing. There are only a few pockets of make-shift housing in Spain, but they still exist.”
The music at the start and end of this report is courtesy of Bruno Coffineau and La Cie du petit matin and le Cri du Choeur: www.myspace.com/spectacleexils
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