Fear and contempt is increasingly the way the ever more marginalised Roma are viewed in Europe.  Some argue that the two trends are worrying and mutually reinforcing: marginalisation breeds contempt, and vice versa, and that the only escape from this trap is to invest in the education of the Roma people.

Citizens of the United Kingdom are getting anxious that they will be overrun with migrants from Romania and Bulgaria when border controls lapse in the New Year.  From then on migrants from within the European Union will begin to have the same working rights as Britons.   As a result of pressure from within the UK, David Cameron has now promised to introduce tighter controls around the receipt of benefits and social welfare by immigrants; although he will have to be careful such rules don’t contravene EU law which are based on the principle of the free movement of workers. 

Within the United Kingdom tensions are so high in some suburbs between Roma migrants and locals that many fear the situation could escalate into rioting if something is not done to resolve the issues.  The UK newspaper The Daily Express has even launched a “crusade” against EU immigration, reporting regularly on various criminal activity.  For those who feel they have now have criminal activity in their backyards I can imagine the situation is indeed highly frustrating. Many point to cultural differences, such as congregating in large groups on the street, as being annoying.  Others suggest compromise is needed on both sides.

A recent study undertaken by Salford University estimates conservatively that there are about 200,000 Roma migrants in the United Kingdom – a figure significantly larger than what the government currently acknowledges.  The study’s findings, released in October, include the following:

Migrant Roma were often seen as arriving with varied and complex needs. Particular issues discussed related to the presence of poverty, experience of entrenched discrimination resulting in an absence of trust and lack of literacy abilities (in any language).  Local authorities reported that they found catering for the diversity and complexity of needs challenging.

The transience of the Roma people has long been an issue for Europe.  It seems that they generally remain either largely unacknowledged as a minority group or perceived as a criminal nuisance.  I imagine that their transience is part of the reason for this attitude – people expect that they will soon move on so don’t take responsibility for them in the same way they would their citizens.  But should more be done to help solve the problems that people feel they cause? 

George Soros argues that education programmes and the chance of employment to create a Roma working class and help to break stereotypes is one answer:

Let’s be honest: there is a Roma problem in Europe, and it is getting worse. But both the problem and its worsening reflect a toxic combination of deep-seated hostility and persistent neglect.

In fact, Europe’s educated Roma are proving every day that the problem is eminently solvable. But solving it will take more than a generation, and Europe cannot afford to wait for economic recovery. On the contrary, given the increase in its Roma population, Europe’s long-term prosperity depends on reversing current trends – and getting started right away.

If you are feared by society and feel you have no place, it is certainly a recipe for crime and nuisance.  As there is now a joint EU, perhaps it is a good chance to take joint responsibility for this issue (the European Union strategy to improve Roma integration can be found here).  Whether the Roma people want to ‘be solved’ is a potential barrier and a problem for those who feel that immigrants to a country should attempt to take on some of the receiving culture’s social norms.  However, to offer opportunities within society to those who are willing to work for them within all minority groups must certainly be a better way forward.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...