Commissioner promises EU support for Roma in Ghent

Summary

The City of Ghent has long implemented a policy of tolerance when it comes to Roma travellers, but mayor Daniel Termont wants the EU to investigate the reasons they leave their home countries

Freedom of movement

European Commissioner for social affairs, Laszlo Andor, spoke at Ghent University yesterday about the problem of integrating Roma migrants in local communities.

Ghent has been struggling for several years to deal with Roma migrants, who began to settle in the city after the EU opened its borders to East Europeans. Mayor Daniel Termont wrote to the European Commission earlier this year to point out that many Roma in his city had fled Slovakia because they faced discrimination in their home country and called on the EU to investigate whether this was a breach of their EU rights. 

Andor spoke broadly about the right to free movement in Europe before turning to the specific question of Roma. “Flows of marginalised, often poorly educated Roma are prompted by a combination of extreme poverty and discrimination in their home countries,” he said. “Such marginalised communities face both huge and specific challenges. We therefore need to make efforts to tackle discrimination and to promote their inclusion in society, in mainstream education and in the labour market. Because freedom of movement is one of the fundamental freedoms of EU citizens, our policy response cannot be simply to curtail it.”

Earlier this week, Termont said that he agreed with the principle of free movement to seek work, but that the Roma were moving for a different reason. “It’s important that governments recognise that it is not only about work migration, but that there are also regions in the EU where there is genuine discrimination, and that leads to people making use of the right of free movement to flee to another country, even if there is no real prospect of finding work.”

Termont was strongly criticised recently for allowing three Roma families to stay a further year in a former convent where they had settled in the Muide area of Ghent in the north of the city (pictured). He responded to critics by saying that there were just 12 Roman families in Ghent that caused problems. “The others sometimes commit crimes, but don’t cause any real problems.”

The city's opposition party N-VA has argued that a policy of tolerance would simply attract more Roma.

photo courtesy Het Nieuwsblad