A new report by academics at Loughborough University highlights the experiences of men, women and youngsters from Roma communities who have experienced the benefits and challenges of migrating to Britain.
However, language barriers, fears about prejudice and job inequality left families open to acculturative stress – difficulty adjusting to the host culture.
Dr Tileagă, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, said: “We wanted to understand the diversity of Roma experiences of migration to the UK from the perspective of people themselves against the background of popular negative stereotypes of Roma migrants.
“We found that Roma participants reported overwhelmingly positive experiences of migration to the UK.
“However, optimistic accounts of the benefits of migration may actually leave migrants vulnerable to acculturative stress – something that might arise from individual, group, and state pressures to adjust to the host culture.
“The positive aspects mentioned by the people we spoke to related mainly to employment and the benefits system, which might have the adverse consequence of reinforcing existing negative stereotypes.”
The European Commission estimates that approximately 225,000 Roma live in the United Kingdom
The study found that people reported mistreatment by the police, discrimination by neighbours, colleagues or employers, inability to find work.
However, even though the Roma communities were experiencing prejudice, as they also did in their country of origin, they felt that the UK offered better opportunities and a better quality of life compared to Romania.
“As a result, most hoped and planned to continue to live and work in the UK post-Brexit,” said Dr Tileagă.
“When recounting their migration experiences, the community members emphasized the role of informal social networks. These wider communities play a big part in reducing the psychological and material costs involved in moving to another country.”
These important findings will be used to inform and help shape future government policy and practice on migration.
The project included interviews with 45 people from seven Roma communities: 39 adults (aged 19-65) and six young people (aged 13-18); 28 men and 17 women.
The Roma communities were: Tămasda, Ciumeghiu, Batăr, Diosig, Tinca, Crasna and Ineu.
These communities are situated in Bihor and Sălaj Counties, in the North-West of Romania.
Main research findings:
Roma participants reported overwhelmingly positive experiences of migration to the UK.
However, positively valued dimensions highlighted by participants (employment, benefits system) are also ones that usually fuel negative public perceptions in the UK related to migration and migrants.
Employment, although often precarious and sometimes even dangerous, was perceived as an essential dimension of self-emancipation, a means to economic independence, future planning, and self-reliance.
Roma migrants tended to value more “social bonds” (connections within the Roma community) rather than building “social bridges” (interactions with members of other communities) and “social links” (interactions and communications with local authority services).
The Roma “diaspora” in the UK was perceived as a key enabling factor of migration and early settlement.
Prejudices and discrimination were portrayed as problems in the country of origin, but less so in the UK.
At an early stage of settlement, negative experiences in the country of origin are very much the yardstick against which everything is being measured.
However, what Roma migrants failed to appreciate was the negative public current of opinion in the UK and the more general policy context aimed at limiting migration in general and Roma migration in particular.
Downplaying prejudice and discrimination in the UK may mean Roma migrants fail to recognise and report discrimination, exploitation, or complain and challenge unfair practices.
Roma migrant facts and figures:
Estimates by the Council of Europe (European Commission, 2018) suggest that approximately 225,000 Roma live in the United Kingdom, which amounts to 0.36% of the entire population.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2012), however, claims that the figure is between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people, with a considerable portion coming from Eastern Europe, especially Romania.
In the European Union, Romania has the largest Roma population of 3.3 per cent (621,573 people) (Institutul National de Statistica, 2011).
Although historically, Roma from Romania have preferred to migrate to Romance language countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, in recent years, the UK has received a larger number of Roma migrants (Morris, 2016).