On the 31st of May 2011, the Medway Ethnic Minority Forum organised a 'Free Roma Day' in Chatham, Kent. The event was attended by various organisations who delivered workshops including a health and lifestyle team and the waste collection service among several others. The intention of the event was to make the Roma community in Medway aware of the services and amenities available to them through council schemes and deaprtments. After my colleague Zakirah and I spoke to the chairman of the Ethnic Minority Forum, I understood that this was an initiative in its early stages, and one of significant importance as the chairman felt that the forum had done much work with and for other minority communities who were now established, and the Roma community had a long way to go until we could reach the same conclusion.
As visitors slowly trickled in to the Church venue, we approached a group of young men to interview them about their experience in the country and to ask them about life especially as youths.
The questions that were asked was based around how the interviewees were treated, their upbringing and the difficulties they faced/face trying to integrate into society. The questions were few and straight to the point.
The interview was held with two males in their ealy 20's, allowing us an insight into their daily life. Both males went to school in the UK; they complained about teasing and racial abuse. However, now that they are grown the teasing has stopped, but attitudes remain the same they said (The young men claimed that the bullying had only stoppped due to them now being grown and able to defend themselves as opposed to an attitude change in other people). Also, they said they were finding it difficult to find employment due to the current economic climate and ironically blamed it on the high levels of immigration into the UK.
The outcome of interview one was that the youth seem to have integrated somewhat into society. Langauge was still a barrier for some of the boys in the group though they never had any issues enrolling in schools, nor did they have any issues requiring public services such as medical care. From this first interview we learnt that although in some civic sense, integration was possible, but peoples' attitudes had yet to change.
Our second interview was with a parent who came to the UK as an asylum seeker in 1997 from the Czech Republic due to discrimination and racism. He declared that conditions were better back when he arrived and that today, "they don't care", a clear grievance that government shows little support. Also, the father indicated that the government is more supportive of skilled workers, perhaps from the European Union. He spoke about the process he had to endure whilst declaring him an asylum seeker. He was kept in jail as it's the norm whilst the decision was pending. He explained how his family would be kept in hostels or a similar establishment which meant separation from the family. This apparently wasn't the case just for him, the separation of families was common in the asylum seeking process.
Our second interview allowed deeper insight into the processes and conditions of immigrants/asylum seekers. It was a harsher side to reality for those facing the tough decision to immigrate; looking for a better future. It was a less positive description of experience than that of the young men we spoke to. This again shows the sacrifice of one generation to allow the forthcoming one to live an easier life. We hope that the Roma community benefited from the event and that the struggles they face whether they be poor housing, or lack of employment opportunities are not only more widely known, but known enough to trigger positive social action to lift the community out of its strife.
Image from Indymedia.