Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

News Shorts And Other Business

School For Travellers

Squall 10, Summer 1995, pg. 9.

In April, the Bureau for European Exchange organised a Council of Europe Course in London for people working in traveller education throughout Europe.

The Aim of the conference was to look at ways of developing open and ‘distance learning’ for gypsy and traveller children.

Paul Winter, who works as a co-ordinator for traveller education in Humberside, attended the conference and told Squall that it was a good opportunity to compare notes and build contacts with over 40 people working in Ireland, Greece, France, Germany, Bosnia, Italy, Spain and Norway.

Paul explained that, in the UK, distance learning for travelling children means that those who are travelling with fairs for example, can be based at a school over the winter months and as they travel around in the summer, post work back or meet with their education contact. He says “the biggest problem is lack of literacy. Parents very often have not got literacy so if the kids don’t go to school they won’t pick it up.”

There is a certain amount of European funding for gypsy education and people attending the conference are also looking to tap their education departments. In some places it is essential that support teachers are employed to work with children, some countries have only one to cover a large area.

“We are looking at ways of using the internet to link up with other countries. Because some don’t have the technology yet we are looking to establish one point of contact in each country.” Information could then be photocopied and distributed to sites.

Paul noted that the visitors were impressed by the education system in this country (which is much better established than the rest of Europe), but appalled by the CJA and its affects on travellers. Ironically, “we’ve got the most repressive law but the best developed education service for Romanies,” he said.

Travellers in other countries are currently facing an increase in racism and the rise of the extreme right rather than legislation: “In Germany, Bosnia and Romania, there is massive racism against travelling communities. People are being murdered just for being gypsies. This is linked to the rise in fascism in these countries. Gypsies are one of a number of target groups for attack. It’s like history repeating itself.” Thousands of Romanian gypsies were deported from Germany under a repatriation agreement with the Romanian government in 1992. In November 1993, the International Federation on Human Rights reported lynchings, manhunts and the burning of Romanian gypsies’ homes and called on Germany to suspend this agreement. Germany remains the only west European country refusing to ratify a UN resolution on the Protection of Romany People.

The catalogue of attacks against travellers is endless. In Austria last year there was a national scandal when several gypsies were killed as they stopped to remove a sign from the roadside which read ‘Gypsies go back to India’. The sign exploded as they pulled it from the ground, it had been wired up to a bomb by a right wing vigilante group.

Paul noted that a history of violence and repression against Romanies has led to them being less mobile in these countries than in England. This is largely due to Nazi forcible settlement policies during the last war: “They used to saw the wheels off carts and that’s where they stopped.”

Most nomadic Romanies exist now in England, Ireland, Spain and France. In other parts of Europe there are settled villages where gypsies are in the majority. Paul believes that by having whole communities living together in this way, the Romany culture has been kept alive: “Musical traditions are kept going and the Romany language is spoken in most countries so Romany children are bi-lingual.” (In this country it is only partially spoken, as a mixture between English and Romany.) Nonetheless, these settled Romanies feel that the price they have paid, the loss of their nomadism, is too high. Paul currently fears a move to harmonisation of European law with other European nations looking at the CJA and seeking out parts to use in their own countries. This suggests that there may be little chance of travellers really escaping oppressive legislation simply by moving to other places where indigenous travellers are often desperately poor and equally repressed.

The Council of Europe travellers’ education conference was the startpoint for building international links. The time for developing such a support network, whilst fighting anti-traveller and gypsy legislation in this country, has clearly arrived.

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