On 14-15 May, the working group Roma inclusion met in Barcelona to learn about the city’s rights-based approach and intercultural strategy to Roma inclusion both concerning domestic, Spanish Roma, as well as the integration of Roma coming from Eastern Europe.
The meeting brought together representatives from 13 different cities (Barcelona, Brno, Cluj-Napoca, Berlin, Ghent, Glasgow, Leeds, Nantes, Toulouse, Vienna, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Rome). At the meeting, Barcelona presented its intercultural strategy to Roma policy. By acknowledging and promoting Roma culture and identity as a valuable part of society, and nurturing a bottom-up intercultural dialogue between Roma and non-Roma residents while fighting actively against discrimination of Roma people, the city aims to achieve equal rights and equal opportunities for Roma people as residents of Barcelona.
Participants had the opportunity to visit the municipality's Service for Social Inclusion to Families (SISFA-Rom) living in settlements, which serves mostly Roma people of Galician-Portuguese and Eastern European origins. A second study visit was held at the cultural centre ‘La Mina’ that seeks to empower the Roma community through a wide range of activities promoting Roma culture, history and language.
The distinctive feature of Barcelona’s approach to Roma inclusion is the focus on children’s rights – “a child is a child wherever they are and they should be helped”. Roma families in Barcelona are registered as city residents (regardless of not having a stable address), and on this basis, they gain access to social services and their children are guaranteed schooling and medical check-ups. Every month, the service helps about 130 families (410 people) who are reached out mostly through ‘street teams’ of social workers. Roma families appreciate the human support and the opportunities opened to their children.
Opening the event, Lola Lopez, commissioner for immigration, interculturality and diversity, said: “We need both targeted policies for Roma as well as a Roma lens in all our mainstream policies on employment, housing and education, to ensure non-discrimination and equal rights”. This was echoed by the deputy mayor for social affairs and chair of the EUROCITIES social affairs forum, Laia Ortiz, who stated: “We need to strengthen our work to defend these vulnerable people who were socially excluded back in their home countries and to ensure that the European Pillar of Social Rights can lead to improved conditions in Eastern Europe”.
The big achievement of the meeting is that it managed to bring together two different departments in Barcelona working on Roma inclusion (the Citizenship Rights’ department working with Spanish Roma and the Immigration & Cultural Diversity department working with Eastern European Roma) that do not usually work together. The meeting also gathered more than 50 Roma people representing Roma civil society in Barcelona, especially the Roma People Municipal Council who is an advisory body to the city council on Roma inclusion policies. The involvement of Roma people in the meeting led to an inclusive and participatory debate about the situation of Roma in Barcelona. The vice-president of the Municipal Roma Council, Maria Rubia, said: “we are co-producing policies with the city thanks to this dialogue between Roma community and the city council. For example, we managed to develop a Local Plan against Anti-Gypyism and a manifesto on Roma building our future. What we take away from this event is that Europe cares about us, Roma, and there are many cities that work towards Roma inclusion”.
For the first time, the event was covered by a radio for Roma people in Sweden (state-funded independent Radio Romano). You can listen to some interviews here: https://sverigesradio.se/sida/sok.aspx?q=barcelona&programid=2122&filter=true
It is estimated that Barcelona has about 6,000-8,000 ‘native’ Roma (Spanish citizens) and 1,000-1,500 Roma people coming from Eastern Europe and Portugal.
The policies for Roma inclusion in Barcelona are developed in two different departments, depending on whether the Roma is ‘native’ or EU-mobile (coming from Eastern Europe). In the first case, policies are managed by the city department for Citizens' Rights and are framed into an intercultural approach with actions towards recognition of Roma culture, intercultural dialogue and fight against discrimination.
Policies for the integration of non-Spanish Roma are managed by the city department for Social Rights and are mainly focused on social care for people who live in irregular settlements on lots or in disused commercial premises. The Service for Social Inclusion to Families (SISFA) living in settlements serves mostly Roma people of Galician-Portuguese and Eastern European origins. Its priorities are to guarantee social rights of the children, to provide guidance on pathways to employment and to provide access to affordable or social housing. SISFA has achieved schooling of all Roma children living in settlements and ensured medical exam for 100% of them.
The meaningful participation and engagement of Roma people is ensured through the Roma People Municipal Council, a consultative body created in 1989 and comprising more than 20 Roma associations. The Municipal Roma Council aims to monitor and input into municipal policies. The Council manages its own budget for self-organised activities to promote a rights-based perspective and visibility of Roma people. This council is in charge of organising the annual programme of activities on 8 of April to celebrate the International Roma Day, being also in charge of promoting political positions such as a recent institutional declaration to demand the inclusion of Roma history and culture in the school curriculum. The Roma People Municipal Council has both budgetary as well as technical support from the Barcelona City Council.
The next meeting of the working group Roma inclusion will take place on 23-24 September in Leeds.