“Brexit”. The search results for this term in Google immediately direct us to its implications for the national and global economy, for the European Union’s (EU’s) solidarity, its potential misuse by growing populist parties, and how the United Kingdom (UK) can deal with the fallout of its choices. There have been numerous discussions on Brexit’s implications for ‘the Union’, ‘the UK’, ‘the economy, ‘trade’, and ‘agreements’. Yet these multiple problem-areas so carefully delivered to us by the media have overlooked Brexit’s effect on one of the UK’s minority groups; the Roma population. Not only has it overlooked it, it has resulted in the sustenance of a European discourse that continues to exclude the Roma, as illustrated by the scarce media attention paid to how Brexit affects this community. One needs to actively search to find the few articles which discuss this issue. This highlights how the discussions surrounding Brexit have failed to include the concerns of the Roma community.
The fear of exclusion and discrimination that the Roma community now faces in the UK since Brexit is unnerving, particularly if the UK takes the same approach towards dealing with the Roma population as it has in the past. For instance, the UK’s 2012 report on ‘Creating the Conditions of Integration’ had no reference to the Roma, as it puts Irish Travelers, Gypsies and the Roma in the same category. The compartmentalization of minority groups with different needs into one homogenous category is not only misleading, but points towards a lack of attention or concern for the Roma community by the UK government.
Post-Brexit, the UK has also seen a spike in xenophobic and racist hate crimes, as stated by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, with a surge of 57 percent. The act of ‘othering’ has been a prevailing narrative in European history, and with the UK intending to leave the EU (A body which has been actively working for Roma integration and elevating their position in European society) the Roma in the UK find themselves in a precarious situation.
The EU institutions have developed a common European Roma Strategy in the past. The current programme, the Roma Integration 2020 Project, advocates the EU’s involvement in national budget planning for the Roma community and specific policy measures for greater Roma integration. The EU remains a source of normative power, and the success of the Roma Integration 2020 Project is tied to the EU’s ability to diffuse its norms on minority and human rights. Once Article 50 is triggered and the UK begins its withdrawal from the Union, the success of this project is going to be seriously derailed in Britain. It is likely the UK will turn its attention to ‘more pressing’ issues and overlook the needs of the Roma. Given the UK’s attitude to this community in the past, it is not far-fetched to think the question of Roma integration will take a backseat while the country tries to reconstruct its position in world politics. The UK’s Roma population, which depends on EU funds, is now looking at an uncertain future wherein funding will most likely be cut, if not completely scrapped. Moreover, they are grappling with the possibility of losing their residence rights, and an increase in racially motivated crimes. Nobody wants to live facing constant stress of the unknown, carrying the feeling that one has no control over one’s life, with the possibility of one’s life being terribly altered due to someone else’s decision. Yet this is what the Roma community faces today.
Few want to talk about it, because it is uncomfortable to discuss or even think about what has been done to minorities, the voiceless, the people on the margins. Our inaction, our apathy, and our obsession with our own lives has helped the dominant political discourse to exclude minorities, not just the Roma but various minority groups. Violence does not only lie in bloody battlefields and war zones, but in the silence that follows. The Roma community has long been deprived of a voice. It is not that they now need to be spoken for; it is that we need to make sure that their voices do not go unheard. Post-referendum, there must be fresh and increased discussion on the situation of the Roma, not just in the media but within our own social circles. Advancements that have been made in terms of minority rights should be maintained, not cast aside.
There must be immediate consideration of how the UK will replace the funds this community stands to lose after Brexit. It is necessary to address the fears and insecurities they face today. The Brexit negotiations should seek to accommodate minorities. Every political actor should seek to go beyond financial and political dimensions and successfully analyse the social repercussions, not just for the privileged, but also the economically, politically and socially disadvantaged in order to do justice to the human rights norms and conventions that are meant to characterize contemporary Western politics.
Sohini Rajiyung is a second year exchange student from India in the Erasmus Mundus Society, Politics and Culture program. Her interests lies in the field of citizenship and migration studies especially with regard to minority groups.