Boarding schools for Roma kids? - Macleans.ca

Boarding schools for Roma kids?

The UN has not condemned the plan, although activists are angry

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Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

In an attempt to integrate future generations of Roma into European society, the Slovakian government has controversially proposed to send children of Roma families to state-run boarding schools. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico made the announcement in March following a damning report by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay during her annual address. Pillay slammed Slovakia for the “deteriorating” situation of its impoverished, widely unemployed Roma citizens, who represent around 10 per cent of Slovakia’s overall population of 5.4 million.

“The [next] government’s agenda must include a program designed to gradually put as many Roma children as possible into boarding schools and gradually separate them from the life they live in their settlements,” said Fico, whose left-wing Smer party is facing a June election. “It seems that there is no other system. Many things have been tried. If we don’t do it, we will raise another generation of Roma which will not be able to integrate.”

A recent EU summit in Spain focusing on the Roma situation in Europe concluded that tens of thousands of Roma children are currently sent to schools for the mentally disabled, and suffer from a widely adopted systemic racism that perpetuates the segregation problem. Fico’s solution hasn’t been rejected by the EU, on the condition that the schools are voluntary and temporary. The Slovak government has confirmed preliminary approval of the plan by top Roma officials, and that the schooling would be indeed offered on a voluntary basis.

But human rights organizations have decried Fico’s solution. “[The Canadian Roma community] are very upset about it,” says Ronald Lee, a Hamilton-based Roma-Canadian author and activist. “It’s like native children in Canada being sent to residential schools. It destroys the ethnicity, the culture, the language, the sense of identity. How are they going to be treated in these boarding schools? Prejudice over there is rampant.”