Foreign Ambassadors Mull Bulgarian Roma Integration

Diplomacy | May 5, 2010, Wednesday // 20:11|  views

French Ambassador, Etienne de Poncins, during his visit to the desegregated Roma-Bulgarian school in the city of Sliven. Photo by BGNES

The Ambassadors of Italy and France to Sofia, Stefano Benazzo and Etienne de Poncins took, a trip Wednesday to Bulgaria's southern city of Sliven to learn about the problems of local Roma.

After visiting a segregated and a desegregated school and a working lunch with the Roma community representatives, the French Ambassador stated a segment of Sliven's population simply lives apart from the rest of the residents.

“Our visit is part of our program about issues Roma face in Bulgaria and our effort to improve their integration. We do not have a ready-made solution, but education and elimination of shocking marriages between minors would be a good start,” de Poncins said.

The two ambassadors already visited the Sofia Roma district known as “Fakulteta” in an attempt to find ways to reduce Roma migration to their countries and other EU Member States by learning on the spot how Roma live in Bulgaria and what makes them go to Paris' and Bordeaux' ghettos, where conditions are not better, but living standards are still higher, the French Ambassador pointed out.

De Poncins also explained that illegal immigrants in France do not have access to the full package of social benefits available to the French and local authorities encourage them to return to their home countries. 400 Roma have been sent back to Bulgaria from France since the beginning of 2009 under the special program providing funds for such trips.

In order to help the integration of the 12 million Roma across the EU, the Embassies of Italy, France, Finland and Hungary - with the support of the Embassy of Spain, in its capacity as representative of the country holding the rotating Presidency of the European Union, and the other EU Embassies in Sofia – opened Thursday evening the initiative “The World is Colorful”, launched by the Roma Fashion Foundation, a non-profit organization whose activities are solely funded through donations.

The event was held at the Italian Embassy in Sofia with Bulgaria's Education Minister, Sergey Ignatov, and Deputy Foreign Minister, Marin Raykov as guests.

The goal of the initiative is to draw attention, through fashion and art, on the multiple capacities of expression of Roma tradition, and on Roma issues in Bulgaria and other European countries.

The follow-up events include:

A May 9 fashion show, organized by the Roma Fashion Foundation, intended to show the beauty and significance of Roma traditions and the value of respecting cultural diversity. Original traditional dresses and dresses designed by contemporary Roma stylists from Bulgaria and other countries will be on display. The date of the event was chosen to coincide with the Day of Europe.

On May 10, an exhibition of French photographs, called “Roma in Sofia,” will open at the French Institute in Sofia.

The culmination will be on May 12 when the French Embassy organizes a free seminar called “Roma in Bulgaria: Integration and Migrations”. There will be two round-tables - the first about education of Roma children in Bulgaria; the second about Roma migrations in EU. The seminar aims at gathering the international community, Bulgarian authorities and field experts from the NGO sector. Participation is expected from the EU Embassies in Sofia, the relevant Bulgarian and French Ministries, the Council of Europe, the Offices of the EU and International Organizations in Sofia, representatives of Roma organizations and Roma experts, the Open Society, Médecins du monde, etc. The seminar is held under the patronage of Bulgaria's EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.

The EU Embassies' initiatives reflect the commitments stressed in the Joint Statement issued on the occasion of the Second European Summit on the Roma population in Cordoba (Spain) on April 8 and 9 2010.

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Tags: Etienne de Poncins, Stefano Benazzo, Roma integration, The World is Colorful


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