French Romani Representatives Lobby the Pope for Better Co-operation with French Church-Based Organisations
13 November 2006
On 15 June 2006, representatives of the French Romani and Traveller community sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI expressing unhappiness with the difficulties experienced in communicating with the Catholic Committee against Hunger and Development (the CCHD), a church-based non-governmental organisation working on Roma and Traveller issues in France. The signatories of the letter highlighted the indifference they had encountered when attempting to establish a partnership with the CCHD to improve the situation of Roma and Travellers in France. They also emphasized the need to convey a more positive image of Romani values, as well as the need to actively involve representatives of the Romani communities in organisations working on Roma issues in France. Excerpts from the letter follow:
"In our opinion this is what the Pontifical Council means, and we are infinitely grateful to them for their clear understanding of our paradoxical situation, when pointing out the need of presenting to 'the general public the positive values of the Romani culture'. It is true that donors are more attracted (because they are moved) by a downcast depiction [of Roma], but when combating that situation, in what measure can we rely on 'negative imagery that contributes to the deterioration [of] the image [of the Romani community] and which is so widespread'? (Pontifical Council)
Unfortunately for the Romani people, we are sometimes confronted with marginalisation not only within the dominant society, but worse still, in the same institutions that preach the eradication of prejudices against us. This is all the more harmful as these institutions serve as models for society. We note with great disappointment the (at times total) lack of representatives from our community in large French NGOs, the lack of communication and the lack of support, while at the same time said NGOs collect donations and funds for campaigns that highlight the poverty, the exclusion and other afflictions of the Romani community."
The sentiment expressed by the authors of the letter was voiced by many Romani and Traveller representatives during ERRC field research conducted in the run-up to the publication of the ERRC country report "Always Somewhere Else: Anti-Gypsyism in France". For further information on this issue, the report can be found in English and French on the Internet at: www.errc.org.