Strong commitment for a Greek Roma Network - 16 Greek Municipalities signed the Declaration against anti-Gypsyism
On 12 April 2018, representatives from 28 municipalities and regions gathered at the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) in Athens to discuss the strengthening of a Greek Roma Network. The meeting was organised as a joint initiative by the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion (set up by the Congress), the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE) and the Roma and Travellers Team of the Council of Europe.
Hosted by the president of KEDE, George PATOULIS, and chaired by Michalis ANGELOPOULOS, Vice-President of the Congress and Mayor of Samos, the meeting provided the participants with a number of presentations on topics such as housing, the JustRom2 Project and school attendance. 16 municipalities signed the Declaration against anti-Gypsyism at the meeting, expressing their strong commitment to combat anti-Gypsyism in their municipalities and regions. To date, a total of 20 Greek municipalities and regions have signed the Declaration.
National networks for the inclusion of Roma
The European Alliance has been active in founding and supporting national Roma Inclusion networks among mayors and elected representatives in several countries. National networks provide practical and effective platforms for the exchange of views and best practice on Roma inclusion. In 2017, the “Ukrainian Alliance for Roma Inclusion” was launched as such a network. A similar network called RomNet had been successfully active in Greece for many years but had ceased to operate during the economic and financial crisis.
The goal of the meeting in Athens was to encourage the participating local authorities to engage again with the network. Many former members of RomNet were present and expressed their wish to reactivate the network as soon as possible. Manolis RANTIS, former director of RomNet, provided appreciated insights into the running and funding of the former network. He noted in particular that, in order to ensure a sustainable work of the network, an annual contribution of 500 euros per participating municipality would be needed and sufficient.
"Huge commitment in Greece"
“Today we see that Greek municipalities are really involved in Roma inclusion”, stated John WARMISHAM, Congress Thematic Spokesperson on Roma and Travellers, at the beginning of the meeting. He expressed his respect for the work of his Greek colleagues, who have to face numerous economic and humanitarian concerns. The attendance of more than 55 politicians and members of the civil society in the meeting showed, according to him, that there was a huge commitment to Roma inclusion in Greece which could form the basis of an active Roma network.
Michalis ANGELOPOULOS urged the participants to move forward with big steps. He also proposed that municipalities with Roma communities would benefit from establishing the position of a deputy mayor who specifically deals with the social inclusion of Roma.
George PATOULIS praised the work that RomNet had done in the past. For him a major contribution of RomNet had been to name and highlight the problems of the Roma community in Greece.
"We have to pull up our sleeves"
He emphasised the role of municipalities in promoting social inclusion and the importance of solidarity among the various Greece municipalities. “KEDE wants to support all municipalities in the process of social inclusion. What we need is co-operation and solidarity among our municipalities. This further includes co-operation between local governments, country institutions and EU institutions. Together with John WARMISHAM, we have to pull up our sleeves. We are determined to improve the situation” he said. He also thanked the Mayor of Xanthi, Charalambos DIMARCHOPOULOS, for his dedicated work for the social inclusion of Roma in Xanthi.
George PATOULIS stated that KEDE would be a “front runner” in supporting the Greek Roma network. “Today we are kicking off something that will not be set aside”, he said marking the beginning of the networks operation. He announced that a further meeting would take place soon to discuss the structure of the network. He offered the KEDE premises as a venue for this purpose. “We want to accompany the setting up this network until the network can operate on its own” he noted.
"If people are very poor, they cannot be completely included"
Katerina GIANTSOU, Special Secretary on Roma Social Inclusion at the Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity, put the emphasis on the topic of housing in her contribution: Half of the Greek Roma community is living in prefabricated homes or shanty dwellings, generally of a makeshift nature, in overcrowded conditions and without basic infrastructure. Presenting the different housing models that the Special Secretariat has been using to tackle the issue, “if people are very poor, they cannot be completely included”, she underlined. The Special Secretariat sees the improvement of living conditions as a key issue to be solved before referring to other dimensions of social Roma inclusion. Since the Special Secretariat is a national contact point that operates on various political levels, Katerina GIANTSOU offered her help and advice to all municipalities: “Our team will go and help the municipalities on site. We are eager to cooperate closely with the local governments” she affirmed.
Chrisoula ARCOUDIS, member of the Roma and Travellers Team of the Council of Europe informed the audience about the JustRom2 project in the municipalities of Athens, Thessaloniki and Xanthi. The program focuses on increasing access to justice for Roma women through establishing legal clinics. Many mayors expressed the wish to receive further information about JustRom2.
"The municipality of Volos is not only preaching but really taking action"
Sofia HALARI, President of the Social Welfare and Solidarity Professional Training Institute of the Municipality of Volos, presented the city’s engagement in Roma inclusion. Since 1998 Volos has been active in promoting the social inclusion of its Roma community with a special focus on school attendance and youth support. The city offers empowerment programs, Roma youth programs, an official network for Roma children and runs a Roma center in Aliveri. Recently a program was implemented to include mentoring volunteers in all schools with Roma children. Currently, half of the children from the Roma community are attending a secondary school in Volos, while elsewhere in the country the drop out age is around 12. The city has won the Dosta! Prize twice, once in 2009 and 2017. In Sofia HALARI’s opinion, “we should not have specific actions for Roma so that they stick out. Rather, we should create local support groups for all vulnerable groups in order to promote social inclusion”. Michalis ANGELOPOULOS acknowledged Volos’ work saying: “The municipality of Volos is not only preaching but really taking action.”
Vasileios PANTZOS, president of the Panhellenic Confederation of Greek Rom “Ellan Passe”, a Greek Roma NGO, expressed his displeasure that his NGO had only been informed about the meeting one day before: “Sometimes a lot of things are done for the Roma community and they are not aware of it”, he said stressing that it is needed to include the people for whom the work is done in the whole process. He called for young educated Roma to be included to work “side by side” with the mayors and regional authorities in the network.
The meeting ended with the signature of the Declaration against anti-Gypsyism. The Declaration is a political statement. By signing it, mayors and councillors express their will to reject all forms of discrimination, violence, harassment and incitement to hatred against Roma and Travellers in their municipalities or regions. They commit themselves to refrain from any political alliance building or co-operation with political parties or authorities that incite racial or ethnic prejudices. Rather they undertake to encourage members of these communities to become themselves active in political representation. On 12 April 2018 the municipalities of Acharnes, Alexandropoulis, Ampelokipoi-Menemeni, Amaliada, Agios Anargyros-Kametero, Chalkideon, Erimanthos, Farsala, Lamia, Megara, Nemea, Sofades, Thiva, Trikala, Xanthi and the Region Western Attica signed the Declaration.