A SOUTH Belfast MLA has accused the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT) of creating a cold house for the local Roma community after it emerged that the Trust has withdrawn its services from the Romanian Roma Community Centre (RRCANI) in South Belfast just weeks after the Trust's own report admitted major shortcomings in services to the Roma people.
Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said: “The Roma community understandably view this action as institutionalised racism. Across Europe, it’s accepted that the Roma are among the most underserved communities when it comes to education, health and social services. In Belfast, however, RRCANI has been praised for its efforts to ensure the inclusion and promotion of the Roma who have made their home in Belfast, helping these immigrants to access healthcare, jobs and housing.
“At a recent meeting with the Romanian Consul General, I was told that the RRCANI project is seen as exemplifying best practice in these islands.
“I have no doubt that the positive role of RRCANI over recent years has been central to the successful integration and inclusion of the Roma in the development of our changing city.
“However, none of this has been won without tackling stereotypes and old attitudes. The Roma suffer discrimination daily in almost every aspect of their lives.
“Their ability to overcome barriers to their inclusion has been set back by two recent decisions: the denial of Minority Ethnic Development Fund funding to the centre (the funding to support the development of RRCANI went from £74k to zero) and the decision last week of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to withdraw its services from the RRCANI centre."
The South Belfast MLA welcomed news that legal counsel has been briefed to challenge the withdrawal of services by the Trust and said he had requested a meeting with the Trust CEO, the Equality Commission and the Health Department.
He added: “A report by the BHSCT in April 2018 states that the Roma are ‘a marginalised and vulnerable community with very complex health and social care needs’ and applauds RRCANI for working in collaboration with health authorities to break down barriers to healthcare access.
"Despite those plaudits, recent decisions by the authorities have served only to create a hostile environment for the Roma immigrants who have settled here.”
Mr Ó Muilleoir added: “I was proud to address several hundred parishioners of the Roma Maranata Church on Sunday to express my full support for the Roma Romanian Association. It was a treat especially to meet so many of the Roma children — Irish citizens born in Belfast — and hear from their parents about the work they are doing in a variety of local firms including Moypark and Mash Direct. They are proud to be taxpayers contributing to the economy.
“This is not the first time, the Roma have been treated unfairly by the authorities in this country or across Europe. The difference is that today, they do not stand alone. Sinn Féin will not tolerate any effort to single out or discriminate against anyone on the basis of their colour, creed or ethnicity. Belfast is better than that."
Nicolae Nicola, Manager of the Romanian Roma Community Association, said: “The Trust have decided to walk away from us and we don’t know why, we are trying to carry on as normal.
“This Romanian Roma community centre is the primary place for the Roma people in this community, it makes no sense for the Belfast Trust to take away our Early Years group.
“We have lots of children using this centre every day, we rely on volunteers, we have all our paperwork and insurance in order so we just don’t understand. We thought the Trust were meant to support us, we feel very sad, like we’ve done something wrong and we are now being punished.”
Nicolae added: “It took a lot of time for the Roma community to build a relationship with the Trust and to learn how to trust them and now they have just walked away from us.”
A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said: “Belfast Trust continues to provide services to the Roma community specifically the Early Years services which are well attended.
“We are currently looking at the best way to deliver this service and whilst this work is ongoing we have temporarily re-located to University Avenue, Belfast.”