Posts Tagged 'Roma'

Brexit and domestic borders: lessons from the unspoken rules of citizenship


Rachel Humphris

Whether you’re a leaver or a remainer it is difficult to deny Brexit has had dire consequences for race relations in the UK. Roma are no exception. Families identified as Roma have had a treacherous path to UK citizenship, often despite (or even because of) EU accession rules.

Regardless of legal migration status, many Roma in the UK have had their intimate lives laid bare and opened to scrutiny in order to assess whether they ‘deserve’ to be here. The shifting criteria of ‘deservingness’ are likely to become even more complicated – and challenging to navigate – post-Brexit. Already, the deepening consequences of austerity, with its continual outsourcing of frontline work exacerbating gaps in social support, rising fees for citizenship procedures, and increasingly complex legal statuses within the UK’s ‘hostile/compliant environment’, create bewildering constellations of regulations and processes.

My new book ‘Home-land’ shows how – in the face of regulatory incoherence – the importance of individual discretion and value judgements take centre-stage. For the Roma families I lived with over the course of a year during the lifting of EU accession regulations, the consequences were stark.

Combining first-hand research, detailed analysis and compelling individual stories, I show how apparently legal distinctions were replaced with the surveillance of intimate family relations and domestic arrangements as the criteria on which legal status and belonging was judged. For many (but especially women), their ability – or otherwise – to perform ‘deservingness’ in their own homes, could be life-changing. The book’s insights provide profound lessons for a post-Brexit, late-austerity UK, whatever Brexit may turn out to mean.

‘Home-land’ is based on extensive fieldwork with Roma families living in Luton. Luton, like many places in the UK, felt the hit of the financial crisis leading to empty shops in the high street and rising unemployment. Austerity was sharply felt in local government. Dramatic cuts to local services contrasted with increasing demand for support from residents including high unemployment, exacerbated by declining business rates. The result was the collapse of support services and NGOs. Children’s services were left to bear the brunt of supporting families, while their frontline staff had limited resource or training to deal with the complicated legal statuses of new migrants. Frontline workers tried their best, but quickly had to choose who to support – and how. Under extreme pressure from an audit culture, a habit of formal and informal ‘home visits’ (sometimes going on late into the evening) became the primary mode of engaging these families.

These home visits could put extreme stress on Roma families, already facing many personal and domestic challenges. In one example featured in ‘Home-land’, we follow a young mother called Cristina preparing for a home visit. She lives in private-rented slum housing in Luton with broken doors, windows, damp, rats and leaking roof. From the time she wakes up at 7am Cristina cleans the house. She tidies away the signs that there is another family sleeping in the downstairs room (to help her family pay the rent). She dresses herself and the children in the clothes they wear for church and she gets toys that were in a cupboard upstairs and throws them around the room, placing her children amongst them to create the ‘right kind’ of mess. When the Children’s Centre officials arrive, her demeanour changes suddenly from frantic to a show of stillness, calmness and quiet. When the women leave, she flops down onto the sofa, completely exhausted.

It was at times like this, heard many times from mothers, that they felt a strong reaction: they didn’t want people coming and looking at their kids. Who would? Mothers were afraid their children would be taken into care. Rumours ran rampant throughout families. Families could find themselves faced with the decision to move from the area with their children, or lose their children altogether. Home visits were their only source of securing support from local services; but also came with the weight of surveillance and the potential to become a site of ‘bordering’.

These stories need to be heard, and need to be thought about at all levels of policy-making and research. Already, legal migration statuses are becoming increasingly complex. Brexit seems unlikely to reverse the trend. Austerity is still biting hard; and the privatisation of services is creating complex relationships in frontline provision. Marginalised families, like the Roma in Luton, either fall through the gaps or are subject to compassionate bordering in their homes from frontline workers, who often have the best of intentions but are in a harsh and broken system. In this context, the most mundane everyday actions in the home become crucial for how families can secure a safe status in the home-land. As we prepare for troubled post-Brexit times, ‘Home-Land’ raises fundamental questions about the types of homes – and the type of home-land – we want.

Home-Land, by Rachel Humphris is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £64.00 or get the EPUB for £21.59.

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Roma in a time of paradigm shift and chaos



Andrew Ryder and Marius Taba

A themed section of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice ‘Roma in a Time of Paradigm Shift and Chaos’ is available online and will be officially launched on 19 April 2018 in Budapest.

Here Andrew Ryder and Marius Taba explain how this themed section of the journal explores ideas around Roma communities in times of austerity and change.

“The financial crisis of 2008 created a monumental process of turbulence and dislocation in not only economic structures but also in the fields of politics and culture. Nearly ten years after the financial crisis many of the causal factors and consequences of that crisis have not been solved with Roma among the groups most damagingly affected.

This themed section of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice explores notions such as securitisation and how political elites are using the Roma to frame monocultural and xenophobic visions of society. Such trends are leading to the fragmention of the social contract and framing of the Roma in a moral underclass discourse leading to cuts in welfare, workfare programmes and pushing Roma communities further into precarious economic activities. Growing poverty leads to isolated and ghettoised Roma communities which in tandem with racism creates segregated schools and low participation and attainment. These economic drivers in exclusion and segregation have been accentuated by welfare cuts and economic downsizing prompted by recent austerity drives in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“…the themed section considers how the Roma might fare under bolder, redistributive and interventionist policies by the state and the potential of critical forms of multiculturalism.”

As well as detailing the negative impacts of such societal trends on the Roma, the themed section considers how the Roma might fare under bolder, redistributive and interventionist policies by the state and the potential of critical forms of multiculturalism. The themed section explores a number of different questions, as follows:

How might EU policy be reorientated to raise the inclusion of Roma communities? How might the concept of a Social Europe impact upon EU policy and Roma communities? 

The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) was launched in 2011 by the European Commission. The Framework is based on open method coordination and EU member states are expected to devise National Roma Integration Strategies, which address exclusion in the spheres of employment, health, education and accommodation. Critics claim Roma civil society has either been ignored in the formulation of national action plans or has been accorded a tokenistic say in design and delivery. Moreover, targets have been weak or limited. The European Roma Rights Centre in 2016 concluded “Five years on, the EU Framework has hit ’a mid-life crisis’. The NRIS have yet to deliver in terms of concrete change to the lives of millions of Europe’s Romani citizens; the implementation gap is more pronounced than ever; discrimination and segregation remain pervasive and human rights abuses against Roma are all too frequent”.  Critics have argued though that open method coordination, upon which the NRIS is based, supports neoliberal tendencies as its emphasis on dialogue and flexibility deters bolder actions.

What might the implications be if the EU project were to fragment and unravel? 

The European project appears to be in jeopardy with critics questioning its relevance with those on the right of the political spectrum wishing to see a focus on market rather than social matters, and questioning the degree and level of European integration. Recently such sentiments led to the UK electorate opting in a referendum to leave the EU. There are fears that other countries may emulate the UK or that it will bolster those who wish to see the EU reduce its social dimension.

How grounded are new trends in Roma Identity?

Within Roma communities important questions and new directions have emerged in the performance and articulation of identity. Whilst poverty and xenophobia have led to Roma communities accentuating tradition through bonding networks others have taken radical departures as reflected by the growing Roma LGBT and feminist movement.

Is the ’Roma Awakening’, a growing cadre of Roma scholars emerging within the academy who are challenging the positivism of the established academic establishment, some of whom support a European Roma Institute to counter anti Gypsyism, merely a reflection of narrow identity politics and the emergence of a new Roma elite or does it present a fundamental shift in knowledge production and Roma empowerment?

Kuhn (1962) described as a paradigm shift, a situation where the anomalies of an established and dominant paradigm are exposed through critique and seeming inability to meet present challenges. On occasion and in the absence of credible responses, there can appear a crisis of confidence in the now vulnerable paradigm (revolutionary phase); if unable to adapt, the old paradigm is consequently replaced with a new conceptual world view, which for a period of time is sovereign in its assumptions, at least until the cycle repeats itself. The emerging paradigm takes as its starting point the theorisation of ethnic and intersectional oppression.

Given the economic and political challenges confronting Europe Roma civil society may be facing its greatest ever test.”

The themed section also asks: How effective has Roma civil society been in promoting social justice and how has it fared as a consequence of austerity and contracting funding bases, alongside heavy dependence on a few donors?

Critics have highlighted fears of a ‘Gypsy industry’ where civil society offers narrow, outsider-driven and ill thought-out initiatives. However, a dynamic civil society can play a critical role in empowering communities, and shaping policy and forming the bedrock of effective national and European advocacy campaigns, by ensuring that advocacy is grounded in the needs and aspirations of communities. Despite the weaknesses of Roma civil society it has often provided the training grounds and platforms for the handful of younger progressive Roma lawmakers, activists, thinkers and artists that are now taking the political and cultural stage. Given the economic and political challenges confronting Europe Roma civil society may be facing its greatest ever test.


JPSJ_OFC_Feb2016_72.THINBORDERExplore the themed section: ‘Roma in a Time of Paradigm Shift and Chaos’ from the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice:

Introduction: Roma in a time of paradigm shift and chaos
Author: Matache, Margareta

Roma and a Social Europe: the role of redistribution, intervention and emancipatory politics
Authors: Ryder, Andrew Richard; Taba, Marius

Gender, ethnicity and activism: ‘the miracle is when we don’t give up…’
Authors: Daróczi, Anna; Kóczé, Angéla; Jovanovic, Jelena; Cemlyn, Sarah Judith; Vajda, Violeta; Kurtić, Vera; Serban, Alina; Smith, Lisa

Blame and fear: Roma in the UK in a changing Europe
Authors: Richardson, Joanna; Codona, Janie

Policy & Practice: EU policy and Roma integration (2010–14)
Author: Andor, László

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