Page last updated at 09:01 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 10:01 UK

NI Romanians face uncertain future

By Petru Clej
BBC News

Romanian refugees leave Belfast
The Roma community officially makes up 2.5% of the Romanian population

Up to 100 members of Romania's Roma community who fled their homes in Belfast after attacks and intimidation have begun returning to Romania - and an uncertain future.

As they trickled in small groups towards their destination in western Romania, the media in their home country reflected on their fate in an unusually sympathetic manner.

They were called "Romanians" by most media outlets, as opposed to "Roma" or even "Gypsies" - a reference to their ethnicity which is often used to distinguish them from the Romanian majority.

"Romanians take refuge in a church after being attacked by extremists", "The church which shelters Romanians is vandalised" and "One hundred Romanians determined to return home", are just a few of the headlines on Romanian media websites.

One newspaper, Evenimentul Zilei, published a special report called "The extremists' neighbourhood" in which aggressive youngsters from a Belfast housing estate hinted that attacks were bound to reoccur.

They are going back to a hole. Local authorities have no power to integrate them and central government has run out of money for this

Vasile Ionescu
Romanothan

But if Romanian journalists displayed sympathy, some of their readers voiced prejudices against the Roma minority - under the anonymity of the internet.

Many objected to the Belfast migrants being called Romanians, and others congratulated those who intimidated the immigrants into leaving Belfast.

"The Irish have won a battle; the Romanians have lost. Congratulations, they did the cleaning," reads one website posting.

"From a Romanian curse, the [Roma] have become a European curse" said another.

But most Romanians have shown little interest in this story.

Andrei Badin, a leading TV talk show host and author of a well known internet blog, said it was unfortunate civic sense in Romania was "much lower" than in developed countries.

He said: "I would like to pay tribute to the Northern Irish people who showed solidarity with the Roma hunted by a fascist group.

"Regrettably, Romanians show little solidarity towards their compatriots, irrespective of their ethnic group."

The president of Roma community group Romanothan, Vasile Ionescu, noticed the change in tone of the Romanian press, but still considers the reaction of the authorities to be ambiguous.

A Romanian man stares from a window broken in a racist attack
Romanians in Belfast have suffered attacks, vandalism and intimidation

The Romanian ambassador to the UK, Dr Ion Jinga, has travelled to Belfast to meet with the Romanians and the Northern Ireland authorities.

But Mr Ionescu said the Romanian state had no strategy of integrating the Roma, which officially numbered 535,000 - about 2.5% of the population - but was thought to total over a million.

Many members of the Roma community are poorly educated - UN figures quoted by the Open Society Institute indicate that in 2005, 94% of the general Romanian population was in primary education (7 - 15), compared to 76% Roma, 69% in secondary education (16 -19) 17% Roma and 5% in tertiary education (1% Roma).

As a result, increasing numbers of Roma end up in other EU countries in search of a better life.

In places like the UK they discover that although they are allowed to stay legally, they are not entitled to work.

A lack of education, and not being able to speak English, can limit job prospects for some Roma migrants, leaving them no choice but to work in the black market.

Hostility towards the Romanian Roma in the UK has been far less noticeable than in other EU countries.

In 2007, the murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian Roma man in Italy created deep tensions in a country where over half a million Romanians live and work.

So what is in store for the 100 Romanian Roma, as they make their way home? There is not much to cheer about, says Mr Ionescu, who believes their European citizenship is mostly on paper.

"They are going back to a hole. Local authorities have no power to integrate them and central government has run out of money for this," he said.

"I'm afraid without European pressure nothing will be done. We need a European Roma Agency. We are chasing the Roma from one country to another and in Romania their situation has worsened after 20 years of democracy."



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SEE ALSO
Romanians leave NI after attacks
23 Jun 09 |  Northern Ireland
Racism in Northern Ireland
17 Jun 09 |  Northern Ireland
Police defend Romanian response
18 Jun 09 |  Northern Ireland

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