Britain's religious leaders unite against persecution of Roma communities

More than 20 senior religious leaders from across the UK have added their voices to Amnesty International’s urgent call for an end to persecution of Roma communities in Romania.

Bishops, Rabbis and representatives of Britain’s Sikh and Hindu communities in the UK signed a joint-letter addressed to Emil Boc, the mayor of the city of Cluj-Napoca in Transylvania in northern Romania.

The Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, Bishop of St. Albans, has also submitted a question on the issue to the House of Lords.

The letter calls on Mr Boc, who is the former prime minister of Romania, to immediately end anti-Roma prejudice in his city and to seek to rebuild damaged relationships with the Roma community.

Cluj-Napoca is seen by Amnesty as an example of the discrimination and prejudices faced by Roma across Europe, where increasing anti-Roma sentiments have reached alarming levels. Across Romania, Roma communities are being forced from their homes without consultation and moved miles away from basic services like schools, health services, public transport as well as their workplaces.

In one recent case in Cluj-Napoca, 76 families, mostly Roma, were forcibly evicted from a street in the city centre. Forty families were moved to Pata Rât, an area on the outskirts of the city near a landfill site and a former chemical waste dump. They now live in overcrowded rooms with poor facilities. The other 36 families have been left completely homeless.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Faith plays such an important role right across Europe and we’re delighted that so many religious figures in the UK have chosen to make this stand.

“Amnesty is currently focussing on Cluj-Napoca, but we could have chosen any number of cities in Europe. Persecution of Roma is widespread and it can’t be swept under the carpet.

“In Italy, new legislation in Rome is restricting Roma families access to social housing. In the Czech Republic, thousands of Roma pupils are being forced into segregated, Roma-only schools and taught a reduced curriculum. In France, thousands of Roma have been forcibly evicted from their homes.”

Among those who signed the letter are: The Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales and Bishop of Llandaff; The Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester; The Rt Revd John Rawsthorne, Bishop of Hallam; The Rt Revd Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness; Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Senior Rabbi at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue; Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi Masorti Judaism UK; Sanjay Jagatia, Director Hindu Council UK; and Lord Singh CBE, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.

The Right Reverend Dr Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, said:

"We are appealing to the mayor of Cluj-Napoca’s humanity and hope to convince him to stop the discrimination against Roma. The suffering created by forcibly removing people out of their homes cannot be allowed to continue."

Masorti Judaism UK Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, from the New North London Synagogue, added:

“It is necessary to raise awareness about the plight of those who face prejudice and discrimination in their lives. Who are we if we care only about our own?

“The Jewish community has frequently experienced marginalisation and prejudice. This has given us a special sensitivity and responsibility to other groups who suffer in similar ways.

“I also feel a special personal connection. My father’s grandmother was sent to Auschwitz in 1943, where for many months before she was murdered she was probably imprisoned in a part of the camp not far from thousands of Roma people who suffered the same fate.

“The Jewish community is committed today to draw attention to cases of injustice happening now. We as a community cannot stand idly by and let this suffering continue.”

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