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Roma made scapegoats for the crisis

As unemployment rises and austerity measures bite, the scapegoating of minorities is growing across Europe. High up in the firing line are, as always, members of Europe’s 12 million-strong gypsy and Roma communities.

Small surprise then that a new report commissioned by Oxfam outlines the scale of discrimination levelled against the Roma community in Glasgow.

Having left their native countries in eastern Europe where they face rising levels of violence, sometimes aided and abetted by local politicians, Roma and gypsies from eastern Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania have settled legally in Scotland, many of them in Glasgow’s Southside.

But Scotland’s Roma have discovered their reception is sometimes worse than the conditions they left behind. A whistleblower at the Laurieston Jobcentre Plus (JCP),  who has chosen to remain anonymous, was shocked at the levels of prejudice that prevailed.

Staff routinely referred to Roma people as “gypos, scum, beggars, suicide bombers and paedos”, she told the report’s author. They were blatantly discriminated against and not provided with benefits to which they were legally entitled.

Using evidence provided by more than 60 families about treatment by the job centre staff, the authors say that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) often treated claims by Roma as fraudulent. Sometimes it held on to passports and birth certificates for several years. The authors found that more than half of all Roma-related benefits decisions were subject to unreasonable delays. The result was that some one in five claimants faced homelessness.

The Govanhill report’s findings bears out the harsh truth about the treatment of Roma throughout western Europe which are detailed in a major new survey carried out by the European Union and the United Nations. The researchers found that:

And their situation is worse than that of their neighbours regarding jobs, education, housing and health. All in all, "the results present a grim picture of the situation of the Roma surveyed," the report said.

Disadvantages for Roma were apparent across all 11 countries included in the surveys, which polled more than 22,000 households. "That is precisely what we find most shocking. We would have expected to find significant differences, but from the responses of the Roma people themselves and their neighbours, we see few differences,” Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos of the EU Agency on Fundamental Rights said.

Earlier this month, Roma were forced out of a Belgrade settlement by masked attackers who shouted: "Serbia for Serbs! Roma out of Serbia!". Blatant persecution against travelling people has seen the French government defy European law by forcibly deporting Roma back to Bulgaria and Romania.

In Italy, leaders of the Northern League have encouraged attacks while city authorities bulldozed a gypsy camp outside Rome. Meanwhile, in Essex, Basildon council is defying the EU’s commissioner for Human Rights with a new round of evictions.

History is full of ugly examples of how in times of economic crisis, high unemployment and political bankruptcy, racism is the name of the game. We urgently need to develop alternative economic and political solutions to dislodge the 1% who exploit society as a whole and target those at the bottom of the scale seeking safe havens from racism and discrimination.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
29 May 2012

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