There are over Ten Million plus Romani (or Gypsy) citizens living in the European Union. These are a group of people who certainly are Europe’s most disadvantaged who carry the baggage of extreme prejudice, social alienation and poverty. I was most infuriated by the images of Romany Communities being destroyed in France.
On every social index, from income to life expectancy, from illiteracy to health, from criminality to child welfare, the Romani’s do worse than other European Group. They are not just poor, but are 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 Romani have since moved westwards, boosting the numbers of an ethnic group which is rarely welcome. 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 Eight Thousand Romani to Romania and Bulgaria this year, in what it insists are voluntary deportations, aided by cash resettlement grants.
In July, the French Government, ordered police to clear three hundred illegal camps, with priority to the Roma ones. Imagine a Government ordering that law breakers be rounded up “with blacks as a priority”. The EU’s Justice Commissioner, Vivian Reding, has rightly threatened to take legal action against France, which may lead to large and humiliating fines. Ironically it is very sad because currently we live in what Europe calls “The Decade of Roma inclusion”.
The Christian message, challenges our attitude and our prejudice, to such minority groups. It is interesting that Jesus, spent his life, befriending those who found themselves on the outside. In a time of recession, when so many are struggling, prejudice and hatred towards minority groups has a tendency to raise its ugly head.
None of us like to feel not wanted. This is a fundamental Christian and indeed human right. The right to live in an environment that offers the necessary conditions where we can grow. Ethnic groups often do not have such necessary human rights. The Romany Community may not be at our doorstep but perhaps there are others who feel excluded, not welcomed or put down. For example how do we respect and care for those who live with special needs. It is appalling that those who are most vulnerable, are often the first to suffer when cut backs come. I think of a local teenager, whose Special Needs Assistant has been taken from him in his school. This drastic action places him further on the outside. I think also of cynical comments being made about those who are unemployed availing of social welfare.
The Gospel is very relevant as it continues to challenge a culture, where those who are vulnerable seem to be punished most. Our society can only be as strong as it embraces its weakest member. It is okay to be different. Compassion is the heart of Jesus Christ. He calls us from the outside to come close to his love.
May all who carry the baggage of being different be blessed by the love and gentleness of Christ.