The Happy End for (Some) Romani Migrant Children

It is generally acknowledged that in the last thirty years, migration policy and multiculturalism in the public policies have been on the list of the most discussed and polarising topics in the British public sphere. Negatively constructed identity of Slovak/East European Romani migrants as “the country´s social welfare system abusers“ and “the non-integrateable community members“ had its lion share in a growing anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalist sentiment in the mainstream population and, ultimately, the United Kingdom´s leaving the EU.

In late 2019, a short-term field research on social adaptation of the emigrated Roma in the UK was conducted by Klara Kohoutová, Veronika Pastrnáková and Ondrej Ficeri of the Social Science Institute, Slovak Academy of Science, in the counties of South York and Derby. They went specifically to the towns with ethnically heterogeneous neighbourhoods and high concentration of the immigrated Romani, like Sheffield – Page Hall, Rotherham – East Wood, Derby – Normanton. The results were presented and discussed at a webinar and are in line with all previous findings in the aggregate. In this post, however, I would like to focus on a positive example, which contradicts the statistics and prevailing media narrative.

It is a sad fact that in Slovak education system thousands of Romani children fail a grade every year. What´s more, this usually happens more than once during their school attendance so eventually, there are youngsters leaving school after 6th or 7th grade, having already become virtually unemployable and facing very weak future prospects in general. 

In the UK, instead of forcing kids to repeat a year – which is always humiliating and deprives them not only of time, but also of classmates, they let even the weakest pupils move forward while providing extra support. So, the most important lesson (some) Romani children (can) learn in British schools (if they are lucky enough to have parents who send them there while working in the UK) is belief in their own abilities. For the first time they (may) hear from a respected authority they can “become anything they want to if they try hard enough” – and they may really do as the authority means it and even takes action to help them make it happen.

Milan Popík from Pavlovce nad Uhom, East Slovakia, is 21 years old. He works at Doncaster airport as a customs officer and wants to become a detective, so he also studies criminology at the University of Sheffield. His parents migrated to the UK when he was 4 years old. Both of them worked hard and managed to set a good example to their son. This is what Milan says about his British teachers, whom he regards as a sort of “deus ex machina” having caused his success:

“The pupil´s future depends on the teacher, on the way they treat them. If the teacher shows support and love to the kid, if they show him or her that they do have a chance to achieve something in life, the kid can do great things. In England, teachers constantly motivate kids, force them to move forward, never just leave them alone. Contrarily, here in Slovakia teachers are sometimes relieved if (Romani) kids do not turn up because they do not listen and disrupt the classes. In England, it is different – the teachers really want each kid to come to schools every day to be constantly improving their reading and writing skills, so that later they have a chance to change their life.“

Na Slovensku sme považovaní za hlúpych cigáňov. V Anglicku vraj rasizmus  nie je | Čumil

Of course, in regard to many Slovak teachers, his generalisations are neither fair nor true – but they probably are in regard to the prevailing approach of the Slovak officials and society to the Romani pupils (note: I am stating the fact regardless the reasons).

Milan is a sort of celebrity and a positive role model in his native village. He is aware how important it is for the local children to see his success – although the sad point is all of them consider such success impossible in Slovakia, which results in boosted chances of their future emigration. Sure, the issues of generational poverty, racism and historically-embedded prejudice are far too complex to be dealt with in this post, and they also occur in the UK (just remember the recent amount of hate received by the unfortunate dark-skinned penalty kicker in the lost final EC match).

Nevertheless, despite all Brexit implications and generally negative reputation of the Romani immigrants in the UK, there are still some of them using the opportunity to prove themselves against all odds.


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