It was announced this last weekend that a €50,000 fund has been made available to support the National Roma Communities Integration Strategy 2013-2020 (ENICC), which will finance “experimental and innovative” projects that encourage the incorporation of Roma communities into local folds.
To be eligible for funding of up to €5,000 each, projects should have a maximum duration of nine months – to be implemented between 1 April and 31 December 2015 – and comply with goals set by the ENICC.
The projects must be submitted in a partnership made up of at least one financial or non-financial partner-entity and a representative group of local Roma communities.
“The representative group of local Roma communities should be involved in all phases of the project and should take an active role in the design, implementation and evaluation of the project”, the fund guidelines state, elaborating: “Projects must contribute to the achievement of targets set by the ENICC, with action to promote the fight against discrimination, to engage in training, and encourage the participation of Roma communities.”
Evaluation and approval of the projects, which can be submitted until the end of this month, is the responsibility of the High Commission for Migration.
Portugal’s National Roma Communities Integration Strategy (ENICC) is the first national plan specifically addressed to Roma communities and was drafted after the European Commission asked Member States “to prepare national strategies for the integration of Roma communities, with a view to fighting exclusion and acting in accordance with European values and the economic model adopted in the European Union.”
According to the ENICC, the Portuguese government is “aware of this sensitive issue and recognises the difficulties faced by Roma communities, which are still relegated to the fringes of Portuguese society, despite having arrived in Portugal over 500 years ago.”
The document goes on to state that “intercultural communication” is essential, as is finding a “solid, coherent, all-encompassing solution to this problem, by initiating a journey that, albeit slow, will be crucial to promoting social cohesion.”
“Despite recent progresses, additional efforts still need to be undertaken in what concerns Roma communities.” The ENICC elaborates; “It is imperative to overcome the feeling of mutual mistrust between the majority of the population and Roma communities. In this sense, the majority must embrace diversity and adopt a more inclusive attitude, by respecting Roma traditions and values, while Roma communities must be made aware of the need to observe the essential principles and obligations entailed by living in a state governed by the Rule of Law, in order to fully benefit from Portuguese citizenship and all the rights associated therewith.”
In the summer of 2012 a programme was launched in the Algarve by the Peta Birch Community Association to aid Roma family welfare.
The association currently provides help for up to nine Roma families from camps in Albufeira and Boliquieme as well as offering support to transient camps in Ferreiras, Quarteira, Lagoa and Portimão.
Samantha Birch, who runs the association and is actively involved with the families, told The Portugal News, “There is such a huge need, mainly for medical support, but it is not a one-man job.”
She says the association is currently struggling to find funds to support their work with the Roma communities, and therefore is “re-evaluating the best way forward.”
Over the past two years the Peta Birch Community Association has helped Roma families with a vast array of necessary basic goods and financial support. This ranges from baby packs for newborn babies to eye and ear checks as well as dental, doctors and specialist medical appointments and equipment.
It further provides monthly budgets for medication and staple food shops, as well as helping with animal welfare and children’s school supplies.
“I have met some very intelligent children,” Samantha Birch says, adding: “One of our goals would be to send a few teenagers to University to become qualified for decent jobs, and the parents say in theory they would like that, but changing their way of life and the children’s hopes to follow in their parents footsteps will take many years and persistence.
“It would not cost that much to send a teen to University, but it’s whether they would stay away from their strong family bonds for that time”, she explains.
Ms. Birch believes local organisations and institutions could further help welcome Roma communities into their immediate environs by inviting them to take part in events, programmes, courses or work opportunities.
But, despite the association’s efforts over the past two years, she feels long-term change for Roma communities will be slow to achieve.
Poverty combined with a lack of skills and prejudices against them are obstacles that first need to be overcome for Roma communities, to bring them from the fringes of society into its core.
“I do see long-term change being possible with more funding, more on-the-ground help and a very structured, organised system whereby families in need have to apply for help based on their current means, which they are also made accountable for through reporting and signing off on help received. Taking responsibility for their own families and earning their own income will reduce their dependence on others. If we could focus on building their own capacity to help themselves through skill-building, employment opportunities, and higher education for the children, even if it takes years, I believe it is the best way forward”, Ms. Birch concludes.
Meanwhile it has been announced that a controversial class created last year at a school in Tomar, made up solely of Roma gypsy children, will be discontinued.
At the time, last September, the class was created amidst accusations of segregation and
The High Commission for Migration says that while there has been no absenteeism by students, the class was not “good practice.”
The school, the Escola Básica do 1.º ciclo dos Templários, in Tomar, says the class has “exceeded expectations.”
In a statement sent to newspaper Público the High Commission for Migration said “the students who initially made up the aforementioned class have gradually been integrated into other classes in the school; the class in question will not be kept, and it is expected that at the start of the next school year it will no longer exist.”
However, while acknowledging that the class of Roma children was not an example of “good practice”, on the other hand the High Commission said that “the children in it have shown good results and have improved their behaviour in the context of the classroom.”
Carlos Ribeiro, director of the group to which the school belongs, argued that segregation was not the objective, and the class – made up of 14 Roma girls and boys aged seven to 14 and from different levels of schooling – had been designed for children who failed to pass the school year, to make progress instead of being left behind.