The immigration of Romanian Roma to Western Europe: Causes, effects and future engagement strategies. 2013-2017.

Project background

The Roma population of Europe is attracting the attention of policy-makers at the European level, as it suffers disproportionately from poverty and social deprivation, marginalisation, and not least a lack of spokesmanship. It is also Europe’s youngest population, with the highest fertility rate. One of the key issues that has drawn public attention to the plight of the Roma has been the migration of Roma from eastern European states to more prosperous, western member countries of the EU. Especially the presence of Roma migrants from Romania on the streets of major western European cities has triggered fierce public debates. These have grown stronger since EU enlargement in 2007 and the extension of freedom of movement to citizens of Romania and Bulgaria. It is the presence of Romanian Roma migrants and the reactions to it especially in France in the summer of 2010 that brought about intense discussion which led to the launch in April 2011 of the EU Framework for National Roma Strategies, within which member states are expected to report by the end of 2011 on strategies for Roma integration. Our focus on the migration of Romanian Roma to western Europe, its causes and its effects is therefore timely and accompanies the priorities set on the EU’s political agenda.

Romania has the largest Roma population in Europe. Compared to neighbouring countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria, Roma in Romania have suffered a particularly harsh history of marginalisation and deprivation, including generation-long slavery which was only abolished in the later part of the nineteenth century. Many Roma in Romania continued to be nomadic until recent decades. At the same time traditions are particularly strong among the Romanian Roma, and as a result they are often more visible as an ethnic minority than Roma in other societies. As Romanian citizens, they are subjected to various restrictions on immigration and employment in most western EU countries. This limits the options available to them as migrants, and puts them at a disadvantaged situation when compared to Roma migrants from ‘first EU enlargement’ countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland or Slovakia. The case of Roma migrants from Romania therefore deserves special attention, which is the reason they are singled out in this proposal.

Considerable access restrictions have been placed on Romanian and Bulgarian citizens by countries like Germany and Denmark for a period following the 2007 EU enlargement. Consequently, the principal target countries for Romanian Roma migrants in recent years have been Italy, France, Spain and the UK – those countries offering greater economic opportunities and to which access has been easier. For this reason, the proposal focuses on the migration of Romanian Roma to these countries. The arrival of Romanian Roma in these countries has been regarded by many as a challenge to social integration, law and order, human rights, and EU mobility principles. In Italy and France, measures taken by the authorities to reduce the number of Roma migrants have sparked intense public debates as well as condemnation within the EU political arena. They illustrate a political mood in some societies that strives toward the removal of Roma migrants rather than offer them the prospect of integration. To justify such measures, authorities and public figures have often referred directly or indirectly to aspects of Roma culture or “behaviour”, suggesting that Roma lifestyle, social organisation, and social aspirations are somehow incompatible with those of the host societies. In the UK and Romania, joint police operations have been mounted to investigate allegations of human trafficking and organised begging among Roma migrants arriving from Romania (so-called ‘Operation Golf’). Many of the measures criminalising Roma are presented as measures defending ‘security’.

There is little doubt that public discussions surrounding Roma migration are strongly influenced by deeply entrenched negative images and suspicions. There is a danger that as a result of measures aiming to exclude and remove them, Roma are being pushed even more deeply into a vicious circle of deprivation and marginalisation making them even more vulnerable to exploitation and prone to take significant risks in order to try and escape destitution. So far, policy has focused on ways to prevent or restrict movement and to facilitate expulsion of Roma migrants. The prevailing assumption in the public discourse has been that Roma migration is primarily economically motivated. Issues of human rights have also been addressed (see below), suggesting that Roma leave their countries of residence to escape racism. A coherent, comparative investigation of the complex motivations to migrate is, however, still missing.

A key issue that is lacking from the debate on Roma migrations is the perspective of the Roma migrants themselves: their motivations and aspirations, their view of what are useful survival strategies and which risks are worth taking when re-locating, as well as their view on how best to manage their relations to their home communities while developing an attachment to new host communities. Since very few investigations have been carried out with these questions in mind (the Manchester survey among Romanian Roma in the Gorton district, conducted by the lead applicant in 2009, being a rare exception), little is known about the intentions or even the internal world-view of Roma migrants or about the social, economic, cultural and even linguistic changes that migration is generating in Roma communities in Romania and abroad. In the absence of this information, little can be done to accurately assess this population’s readiness to make sacrifices, to take risks, or indeed to forge new social links and invest in the development of new skills in order to secure a better future either in their countries of immigration or in the origin community. Social, educational, and indeed even law enforcement policies targeting the community of Roma migrants are seriously disadvantaged in the absence of such information.