On 28-29 September, the working group Roma inclusion met in Cluj-Napoca to visit the Pata Rât community, the most important Roma community in Romania.
The meeting saw 45 participants from 10 cities and representatives from the European Commission, the Fundamental Rights Agency and the Roma Education Fund, discuss and learn from the ‘Pata Cluj’ project. Roma people from the host city and two other cities (Gothenburg and Barcelona) were also present.
Speaking at the opening of the event, the mayor of Cluj-Napoca, Emil Boc said, “There is no us versus them. Cluj represents a small Europe where we are all part of one community. Inclusion is a key component of our city’s strategy for development as we believe no one should be left behind. Our integration policy is based on social housing, employment, culture and, most importantly, education as the long term solution for the social inclusion of Roma people. All efforts at local level are directed towards the education of the younger generation. We still have a lot of work to do with the Roma community as well as with the majority population to change their mindset. We need more support from the EU to be able to do more for Roma integration at local level.”
Representing the European Commission, deputy head of disability and inclusion unit at DG Employment, Raquel Cortes-Herrera, reiterated the Commission’s commitment to creating a fairer and more inclusive Europe. “Social principles and social justice are the basis of the European Union, but have always been neglected. Now is the time to make the effort to create mechanisms to ensure the implementation of these principles through the European Pillar of Social Rights”, she said.
Participants learned about the situation of Roma inclusion in Cluj-Napoca from the executive director of the city department for social and medical services, Aurel Mocan. Local approaches to Roma inclusion through EU-funded projects were also presented; Sheena Keller from the Fundamental Rights Agency presented lessons learnt from the LERI project in Cluj and Florin Moisa introduced the ROMACT projects in the region. Dominique Bé from the European Commission (DG EMPL) then presented the challenges and opportunities for Roma inclusion at local level in Romania.
The participants had the opportunity to visit the Pata Rât community, an informal settlement located in a deprived neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city where 300 Roma families are currently living. They learned about the ‘Pata Cluj’ project and its integrated approach for Roma inclusion, combining actions for education, employment, housing and culture. Financed through the Norway grants, this project allowed 35 families to move into new social housing in the city. Participants had the chance to visit some of the families in their new homes and hear from them about how their lives have improved. The ‘Pata Cluj’ project also helped 308 people obtain an identity card, another 179 people received judicial counselling and 297 people received medical assistance. In addition, 70 people from the Pata Rât community were helped into employment, 182 received vocational orientation and job counselling, and 35 young people participated in vocational training courses. Moreover, a ‘second chance’ school was built in the community, which allowed 45 people, adults and children, to return to school in 2015-2016.
The key messages from the study visit and the meeting were:
- An integrated approach is the key to any successful project or initiative for Roma inclusion.
- Roma participation is essential to the integration process. Roma people should be given a voice, listened to and then involved in all decisions and actions affecting them.
- Collaboration between the city authority and the NGOs is vital to a successful implementation of integration projects.
- EU and other funding are vital to boosting the capacity for developing and implementing Roma integration projects.
- Roma mediators play a crucial role in building trust between Roma communities and the city authority.
The next meeting of the working group will take place in spring next year.