Ma de pr'oda, savi hinmanuces morci, ale dikh, savo les hin jilo.
[Don't look at the skin of a man; look at his heart.]
Eric Pickles, the rather unpleasant Tory communities and local government minster, seems hell bent on making sure that he is not left out of the wave of anti-Roma/Gypsy/Traveller activities that are sweeping Europe. Pandering to apparently nimby but essentially racist sentiment, he is busy drafting a swathe of new laws that will make it easier for the police to evict and arrest people that trespass on public land, the very land that Gypsies and Travellers are being forced to camp on following the increased number of court actions forcing the eviction of the very same families from land that they own but for which they have no planning permission to live.
The most notorious recent example of this phenomenon is Basildon Council's on-going attempts to try and evict the Dale Farm community. Just last week eight families were issued with eviction notices and a further 70 families are under threat of losing their homes. Yet, by European standards, they can count themselves relatively lucky, they may face daily racist antipathy and violence from hostile locals but at least they do not face forced deportation as other Roma and Travellers are.
Across Europe they are being scapegoated for the failures of politicians and economies with apparently ever increasing vigour. So much so that organisations like UNICEF, Amnesty International, the European Roma Policy Coalition and the European Roma Rights Centre have all issued recent stark warnings about the treatment of the Romani and how the EU appear to be "turning blind eye to discrimination against Roma" as the Guardian put it.
These people are EU citizens and should have the right to freedom of movement and protection under the ECHR, but nobody appears to care. Just this year we have had a series of forced evictions of Roma in Slovakia, Serbia, Italy, Romania and the Czech Republic; the forced deportation of 23 Roma from Denmark, with a two-year entry ban, for camping in the wrong place and the city of Copenhagen has requested government assistance to deport up to 400 more Roma from the country; Swedish police had expelled 50 Roma so far this year for begging, which is not illegal in Sweden; the caravan of 700 Roma who were attempting to hold an evangelical rally on squatted land forced out of the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium but managed to negotiate temporary permission to camp in Dour, in the French-speaking Wallonia; Sarkozy announced plans to dismantle 300 or so 'illegal' Roma and Travellers camps and expel them from the country in response to the recent riots that followed the shooting dead of 22-year-old Luigi Duquenet in the quiet French village of Saint Aignan*; and German plans to forcibly return 12,000 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians to Kosovo, more than 5 000 of whom are children, including a majority that were born or grew up in Germany and speak no language other than German.**
One small piece of welcome news has been the success of a test case brought in the Hungarian supreme court against the segregation of schools in Miskolc, Hungary's third-largest city. Five Roma children were awarded damages for the detrimental effects they suffered from this form of persecution. The 100,000 florint (about £300) damages may not be much but it remains an historic decision that hopefully should bring to have an effect in the Hungarian educational system.
* "France's estimated 400,000 Travellers already have to undergo regular police checks and critics fear they are at risk of becoming the scapegoats of a government in need of a populist boost."
** There are numerous stories of the persecution of returnees and the particular problems faced by the children. Germany is not the only EU country returning Kosovans as it has been the policy of a number of Western European countries to deport refugees back to what they now consider a 'safe' country, whatever the consequences.