Is it safe to go back, do you think?

The Roma who fled from Belfast face a worse fate back in Romania, journalists following up the story conclude. The Times’ David Sharrock finds them back in poverty-striken Batar and asks:

Just how terrified must the Roma families in Belfast have been to choose this over their imperfect lives in Northern Ireland? Florin Fekete returned on Monday with his wife and two sons. “There is no work here. Life in Belfast was good, we had really good times but I could not risk my family’s lives. I asked some of the ones who were attacking us, ‘What do you have against us?’.“The reply was, ‘We hate you because you are gypsies’. But even though I am afraid, I want to go back. Is it safe now, do you think?

Aida Edemariam of the Guardian can’t actually find any returning Roma, but Belfast’s reputation has arrived before them.

What’s going on in Ireland now?” asked a young man, intently, when we were at Vadul Crisului. “Can we go back to Ireland?” He has tickets to fly to Dublin next month. “Is it safe?” Are you going to Belfast? “No, no, no, not Belfast.” It’s a veritable chorus from the people surrounding him. What do they know about the attacks? Only what they saw on television. And what did they think of that? “We’re afraid to go to Ireland.” They’ve had problems in Italy and Spain, they say, but nothing as bad as Belfast. Why Belfast, do they think? Maybe it’s the spirit there. Maybe people are more violent. I don’t know I’m guessing.

Petru Clej reports for the BBC from western Romania on the reception they can expect.

But if Romanian journalists displayed sympathy, some of their readers voiced prejudices against the Roma minority – under the anonymity of the internet. Many objected to the Belfast migrants being called Romanians, and others congratulated those who intimidated the immigrants into leaving Belfast.
“The Irish have won a battle; the Romanians have lost. Congratulations, they did the cleaning,” reads one website posting.

Or did he mean “cleansing”?

A conclusion from Dimitrina Petrova, Executive director, Equal Rights Trust.

I was struck by two things. First, as anyone involved in equality law work would agree, Northern Ireland has been a success story: and yet, it is striking how superficial this success has been. The second is the very fact that a large group of Roma families are leaving a western city in which they had sought refuge. This is something new. In over 15 years of working with Roma communities across Europe, I have never witnessed a community willingly returning to eastern Europe, even in the face of sustained prejudice, violence and discrimination.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London