With France recently in the firing line over its forced eviction of Roma people, Euronews went to visit Saint-Josse in Brussels, one of the Belgian capital’s most multicultural neighbourhoods.
There, the local council has employed Florin, a Romanian, as a mediator for Roma affairs.
He tries to help Roma people living in the area integrate into the St. Josse community.
One of his main tasks is to ensure that all Roma children attend school.
Perla, whose parents moved to Brussels six years ago, is one of those youngsters.
“It like it here at school,” she says. “I want to learn how to write and speak French, Dutch well.”
Florin spends most days working with local schools and social services; a link between the 1,300-strong Roma community and the local authorities.
“Every day, I have the same mantra: work for the Roma with the Roma.”
One primary school welcomes around 20 new Roma children each year.
But the headmaster says he never knows if they will stay permanently.
“Octavien was a 12-year-old pupil. He didn’t know how to write his own name. So when we wrote it on the computer and the letters appeared, he found that incredible. Then one day, he was gone.”
Perla’s mother, Maria Sava, lives with her four children in social housing.
Her husband is in jail. She wants to give her kids the opportunities she never had herself.
“I don’t want them to grow up like me. My mother never sent me to school. I grew up not being able to read,” she says.
But getting the different communities of St Josse to live together is a real challenge.
When a large number of Roma settled in four years ago, neighbours and local shop keepers said it was not always easy.
Chand Prem Kapoor owns a restaurant and represents other business owners in his street.
“We had some incidents of shoplifting, but also some bags were snatched. Some remarks directed towards certain people were not very pleasant. But for the moment, things appear to be quite calm,” he said.
Florin explains that, for him, helping the Roma people integrate is a real calling.
Sometimes he struggles to convince them to give up their traditional ways.
“I find that traditional Roma don’t want to change their mentality. They don’t want to stop begging. I really don’t like begging with children. Sometimes I ask the mother who goes begging to give me the chance to send their children to school, to get them educated,” he told euronews.
But Florin insists his work is starting to bear fruit. Perhaps this model of employing a mediator is the best way of helping Roma people integrate with their local communities.
Euronews’ Audrey Tilve spoke with Corinne Torrekens, an expert on ethnic minority integration from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, to ask her how Europe can tackle this issue.
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