Better integration at home could solve Western problem

22/05/2013

The social tourism issue in the UK and Germany can be reduced by better integration policies for Roma communities in Romania and Bulgaria, experts say.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 22/05/13

photo

Many Romania and Bulgaria Roma live illegally in Germany. [AFP]

More concerted efforts to socially integrate Roma ethnics into home societies in Romania and Bulgaria would solve the rising social tourism phenomenon, experts told SETimes, amid a debate in Germany and Great Britain on the practice.

Bulgarian and Romanian Roma have stirred much frustration by living illegally in makeshift settlements in the Western European countries and relying on social benefits.

Stronger co-operation between social services and law enforcement bodies of the two Balkan countries, and those of the host nation, could help resolve the issue, according to Lubov Panayotova, director of the European Institute in Sofia.

Panayotova said Bulgaria and Romania "need to make stronger efforts to integrate their Roma communities into their societies in order to improve their countries' image," among their Western European partners.

Bulgaria and Romania "are full-fledged members of the EU and should be treated as such," Panayotova told SETimes. "The ongoing campaign in Britain is simply inappropriate and unacceptable. It is rooted in the problems brought about by years of flawed immigration policies in the old EU member states."

Germany blocked Romania and Bulgaria's efforts to join Schengen early March by voicing fears that open borders would lead to an influx of poor Romanians and Bulgarians seeking social benefits.

In Britain, the perspective of labour liberalisation for the citizens of the two countries as of 2014 has sparked a similar debate. With elections in Germany looming and a rise of British nationalists in the polls, these debates are far from being over.

The European Commission has played down the fears.

"There is a wide perception in several member states concerning this problem of immigrants coming not to work, but to benefit from social indemnities. But so far no member state has presented the European Commission with evidence supporting this accusation," Laszlo Andor, European commissioner for Labor, Social Affairs and Inclusion said last month.

In Romania, some Roma leaders are enraged.

"Roma have once again become Europe's black sheep. We do not want such speeches to become normality, with every foreign politician speaking about Roma people so candidly," Marian Daragiu, head of the Ruhama Foundation and president of the Democratic Civic Alliance of Roma, told SETimes.

More than 200,000 Roma are believed to be living in Germany, and many expect the number to increase in 2014 when labour barriers will be lifted for Romania and Bulgaria.

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"They will only heighten this phenomenon of migration if they stick only to increasing social assistance budgets. They will have to come with European solutions in return" Daragiu said.

"They will have to implement integrated social-education programmes for the Roma people and they have to put more pressure on the Romanian and Bulgarian governments to boost Roma integration efforts," he added.

Correspondent Svetla Dimitrova in Sofia contributed to this report.

What can be done to foster the inclusion of Roma communities in their home countries? Let us know what you think.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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