Thursday, September 16, 2010

Europe's Romanies: Hot meals for hard cases

September 16, 2010

Preaching to outsiders comes naturally to the European Union’s leaders. They are comfortable castigating Iran for its abuse of human rights or America for its unequal society. They are less happy when outsiders point to their own shameful social problem: the conditions and treatment of the continent’s 10m-plus Romani (or Gypsy) citizens.

On every social index, from income to life expectancy, from illiteracy to health, from criminality to child welfare, the Romanies do worse than any other European group. They are not just poor, but also persecuted. In some countries even allegations of forced sterilisation persist, amid official denials.

Until the European Union expanded eastwards, this was mostly a problem for eastern European countries. But many Romanies have since moved westwards, boosting the numbers of an ethnic group which is rarely welcomed. Rightly or wrongly, locals believe they bring with them dirt, crime, begging and squatter camps at beauty spots.

Some western European governments have a simple solution: deport them. Pioneered by Italy, that approach has now spread to France, which has sent some 8,000 Romani home to Romania and Bulgaria this year, in what it insists are mostly voluntary deportations, aided by cash resettlement grants. The policy is generally popular among voters.