News / Europe

In France, an Experiment in Integrating Roma

Simona (R), a 11 year-old Roma schoolgirl who has been living in France for 6 years, plays with children near shelters at an illegal camp on the banks of the Var River in Nice, southeastern France, Nov. 6, 2013.
Simona (R), a 11 year-old Roma schoolgirl who has been living in France for 6 years, plays with children near shelters at an illegal camp on the banks of the Var River in Nice, southeastern France, Nov. 6, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
Last month, the European Union lifted work restrictions on citizens from Romania and Bulgaria - including the hundreds of thousands of Roma people. Europe's largest minority has not exactly been welcomed with open arms. That's particularly true in France, which has been widely criticized for its evictions and deportations of Roma. But today, a growing number of communities reject the national government's tough stance and are trying a new approach.

These rows of battered camper trailers seem like an unlikely testing ground for social integration.  It's afternoon and the compound is filling up. Men and women are coming home from work. Children are coming home from school.

People come over to say hello to Marie Louise Mouket, a big woman who wears a colourful scarf. Mouket heads a local association called ALJ93. It's working to carve out a future for the Roma community here in Montreuil and other working-class suburbs of Paris.

The aim is to help families realize their goals - which may change over time. So far, Mouket believes, the association has achieved positive results.

In some ways, the goals seem modest. Learning French and sending the children to school. A job. A place to live. But for the estimated 20,000 Roma in France, they are enormous. Many live precariously in squalid camps.

At her office, Mouket points to a map of Romania. This group of Roma come from a village in the western part of the country. In 2008, a fire destroyed their squatter camp in Montreuil. That's when the city began a program to find them housing and jobs through the IPJ93 association.

Richard Zamith oversees the program for the city.  Zamith says the Roma families must agree to send their children to school, get health checkups and look for jobs with the help of social workers. They can't be in trouble with the police. If they don't respect these rules, they're out of the program.

Today, about 62 families are enrolled. Of the families in the trailer park, roughly half have at least one member with a job. And some have found housing outside of the camp.

Twenty-five-year-old Gavila Cirpacie works in the hotel industry. He says he likes the program. He's treated with respect. France is better than Romania, because he can find work here.

Many of these Roma work in the hotel or restaurant business around Paris. Twenty-four-year-old Gabriella Cripasi works at a canteen in the suburb of Aubervilliers.

She says she wasn't able to find a job until now. She really likes the restaurant business. She wants to become a cook.

Canteen manager Laurent Vidaller has hired five Roma from the integration program. He says they're hard working and punctual.

Vidaller acknowledges Roma tend to be associated with illegal immigration and foreign customs. But, he says, these perceptions change once you get to know them.

Changing perceptions of this ethnic community, which has ancient roots in India, isn't easy. Many French, and other Europeans, who may see Roma scrounging in garbage cans and begging in the subway, and stereotype them as beggars and thieves.

The Roma and human rights groups say those stereotypes are false, and they face discrimination in education, jobs and public services.

France has deported thousands over the years, earning sharp criticism from the European Union. As of this year, Roma from Romania and Bulgaria no longer need work permits in Europe. Even so, they can be deported if they can't find jobs.

Nor has France changed its policy of razing squatter camps. Philippe Goossens, Roma expert for the French Human Rights League, says French authorities evicted nearly 20,000 Roma from camps last year - double the number in 2012. 

"It is crazy, because this eviction[s] doesn't solve anything. They just put the people on the street, and of course they go to another place and rebuild the slum. It's ridiculous," he said.

Now, some municipalities are taking a different approach - embracing the Roma, not rejecting them. Most are in the Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the poorest areas of France, which also has one of the highest Roma populations. Bordeaux, Nantes and Lille, have similar programs.

Zamith, the Montreuil official, says once these programs are widely adopted, people will stop talking about a "Roma problem".

For now, however, they are costly and limited in scope. And unless the state changes its tough policies, says Goossens, local efforts are unlikely to work.

"Today, we have a national policy of rejection..if, at the national level, there is no real will or policy of insertion of these [Roma] communities, it's difficult to put in place action at the local level," said Goossens.

But Montreuil's Zamith believes integration is the only option.

If France deports the Roma, they'll only return - and the problems will start again. All the more reason, he says, to address them now.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs