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Romani people deported from France say they are starving in Romania
21-11-2012 - Robert Mikoláš

Roma in village of Periam near Timisoara (Photo: Robert Mikoláš) Romani people who have been deported from France to Romania are saying they will die of hunger if they stay there. They blame the Romanian authorities and view the decisions of several EU countries to forcibly deport them back to their native country as based in populism.

Approximately two million Romani people live in Romania today, comprising roughly 10 % of the total population. Most of them live below the poverty line.

In a schoolyard in the Romanian village of Periam near Timisoara about 20 boys and girls are in PE class, but there are no Romani children among them, even though about 500 Romani people do live in the village of 5 000. Half of them are still seeking a better living in France.

"We left because there's nothing but poverty here. We would die of hunger otherwise. Here in Romania the state welfare benefit amounts to just four million old lei, or EUR 90 per month, for an entire family," says Cucilia Estera, who was returning to her settlement after visiting the municipal authorities.

Ms Estera was deported from France and given EUR 300 to return with, which she used to buy wood for the winter. She now lives in a small one-story wooden house on the outskirts of the village.

Grubby children in torn clothing are running along the dusty road. There is no central heating or running water where they live.

"We could never manage on just two million lei. My husband's medicines alone cost three times that, and if we had to pay a million lei a month for electricity, you can see it doesn't add up," Ms Estera complains.

A woman is washing some dishes in cold water while her neighbor hammers boards into the earth. He is building a latrine. A young girl is shucking corn beside him.

"We sell it to get money for food. Two kilos cost about 1.20 lei," says the girl.

Her words are drowned out by a television playing in a one-room outbuilding. A stove is blazing inside it, across from a large bed in which a little boy is sleeping. A puppy, just a few days old, is also napping on the blanket.

"My parents didn't send me to school"

A crowd has gathered outside in the meantime, as the news of foreigners in the settlement has spread quickly. Other neighbors gradually come over and tell their stories. They all agree on one point: The adult men reportedly cannot work. One has heart disease, another problems with his liver.

"If I want to tell the truth, then I don't know how to say this so it doesn't put the Romani people in a bad light. I was raised a bit differently, and I know very well that nothing is possible without work. If you are content with just a little, that's all you will have, but if you want more, you can get it," says Veresan Viorel, who works as a kind of contact point between the local authority and the Romani settlement.

Mr Viorel has lived here for years and knows everything there is to know about all of the occupants of the settlement, which is why he considers education to be of great importance and promotes the idea of as many children attending school as possible. Otherwise, there is said to be no other way for them to leave this vicious circle.

"If I don't have schooling, what can I become? My parents never sent me to school, I don't know what I'm going to do," a 17-year-old boy says, throwing his hands up hopelessly and adding that he will probably go abroad. Everyone wants to return to France in particular, even if authorities deported them from there once before.

"I worked for about three different Romanian firms, but they didn't pay much and now they don't have any jobs for me. There is nothing left for me to do but leave and try my luck in France," admits 47-year-old Bincu Ion.

Translated by Gwendolyn Albert

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