A plan to set Roma gypsies to work
The extension of the European Union to Eastern and Central Europe has offered numerous immigrants from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia the opportunity to find employment in Belgium. These countries are historically marked by a strong Roma gypsy population. As they often meet with discrimination in their own countries, they leave abroad. In Belgium currently about 30,000 Roma reside, with half of them in Flanders. These gypsies often struggle to survive and tend to become a nuisance in the larger cities. An action plan initiated by the government of Flanders is set to address this survival mentality prevalent among the Roma by integrating them into Flemish society and setting them to work, finding jobs in scarce skills positions for example. Flemish Integration Minister Geert Bourgeois N-VA wants to make use of some European legislation to force them to integrate. Residents from EU countries are only legally entitled to remain in the country for three months. After that period they have to prove that they are not relying on the social security of the guest country. Officially this action plan applies to all immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, but the Roma gypsy issue is considered “particularly problematic” and calls for special measures. The plan devised by the government of Flanders is based on the premise that by definition the Roma’s future is not necessarily in Flanders. The government of Flanders therefore plans to “rectify the unrealistic expectations of candidate immigrants” in their country of origin, as many of them seem to believe that they could simply depend on social security for their survival in Belgium. Moreover the government of Flanders plans to apply international pressure on their home countries to change their discriminatory policies towards these marginalised people so that there is less desire to leave their country of origin. A course in integration is one option to assist the Roma in their search for employment, although this course is not obligatory for European citizens. The government of Flanders hopes to encourage as many Roma as possible to learn the Dutch language and get their children to attend school without delay. It requires specific measures to raise the influx, keep the children in school and encourage parents towards more involvement in their children’s schooling. In cities like Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, neighbourhood stewards are appointed to promote integration among the Roma. According to Minister of Urban Policy Freya Van den Bossche SP.A, these stewards should guide the Roma people towards socialisation and urgently handle annoying incidents. At the same time, however, they should also inform the housing authorities if rack-renters accommodate these families in dilapidated houses.