Volunteering Stories: Segregation between Roma people and Romanian people? – by Hattie

I’m a french volunteer in Baia Mare. I’m a girl who lives in (the suburb of) Paris and I chose to be a volunteer in Baia Mare, Romania, for Team for Youth Association. I work in the « PLAY project », where I help kids from families with disadvantages (principally gypsy families) to not drop out from school, to fight against violence and to live a healthy lifestyle.

In Paris and the suburb of Paris there are some Roma gypsy people who lived in slums near the train station but not inside the city. Some of them beg for money while others play music in the train to receive money. In Paris, Roma gypsy people usually beg in the train but not really in the streets. Unfortunately, there are some stereotypes about them, some French people think that all of them are thieves but the biggest stereotype is probably « they will always beg for money ».

When I was in Paris and I saw Roma gypsy people begging for money i thought « It’s so bad for them to feel unwelcome because they beg for money in the train. I think in their country [Romania] they are welcomed and not discriminated because it’s their home ». But I discover the truth when I arrived in Baia Mare, Romania.

It’s important to know that Roma people and Romanian people are both Romanian citizens. Roma is a specific ethnicity, the ancestors came from India a thousand years ago. For 500 years, Roma people have been slaves in Romania. Despite the fact that slavery has been abolished in Romania in the 19th century, it looks like there is still some discrimination towards Roma people coming from Romanian people.

Actually, in Baia Mare there is a lot of Roma gypsy kids and adults who beg for money in the streets, in front of supermarkets, in front of gas stations, etc (not only in the trains like it is in Paris). I was surprised because I thought that Roma gypsy people were only begging in France and they didn’t need to beg in their own country.

I saw a lot of slums in Baia Mare where the gypsies live. Slums where they have no electricity, no showers etc…

In these slums, I realize that there are not only Roma gypsy people but also people from Hungary and Ukraine. There are also ghettos, entire streets and neighbourhoods reserved only for gypsy people (in majority Roma gypsy).

I discovered that there are more stereotypes in Romania about Roma gypsy people than in France! Even in Romania, there is a verbal separation « Roma people » and « Romanian people ». The main stereotype is that « Roma people are lazy, dirty, thieves, dangerous, beyond the pale, disgusting ».

I realized that there is a segregation between Roma (Hungarian, Ukranian) gypsy people and Romanian people. I use the term « segregation » because for many years already the municipality has decided to put Roma gypsy people only in a specific neighborhood. It was decided not mix them with the rest of the population. For example, the Craica or Cuprom ghetto in Baia Mare. I realized that this segregation turns into discrimination.

Indeed, I worked in Baia Mare with social workers, teachers from « Caritas » and associations like « Asociația Pirita children ». They work especially with kids from these disadvantaged Roma gypsy communities for many years. They explained to me that when they fought to put some kids from these poor gypsy communities in schools But directors of schools refused to accept them because they come from those slums, ghettos and very poor communities. They explained to me that Romanian parents threatened some directors to take out their kids from school if they would find out that Roma gypsy kids are present.

In Paris and its suburbs, I never heard or seen anything like that, when I was in primary school there was a Roma gypsy kid in my school and he was accepted into my school and no one complained about it.

In Romania, it’s still difficult for Roma gypsy people to find a job and the covid-19 situation worsened the situation. Some of Roma gypsy people worked for garbage industry and because of the pandemic they lost their jobs. A majority of gypsy people lived in slums illegally and they don’t have a legal address and without that it’s very difficult to find a job.

I interviewed Romanian people in the streets I asked them what they think about the living condition of Roma gypsy people who came from these very poor communities. The majority said that they have nothing against Roma people. But even though they think that if they live in such bad conditions it’s their own fault. However, some Romanian citizens think that the Romanian government is a partly responsible for this segregation and discrimination.

The volunteer is hosted by Team for Youth Association in the PLAY project. The project lasts 5 months of European Solidarity Corps project in Baia Mare. The content of this testimonial does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. The responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article rests entirely with the author.