As part of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month we spoke with Laurentiu, a member of the Eastern European Roma Gypsy community, to find out more about his life in Bristol.
“Education is the first thing in order to emancipate someone, especially yourself. Education is everything.” Earlier this month, we met with Laurentiu, a man who for the last four years has made Bristol his home. A member of the Eastern European Roma Gypsy community, he’s passionate about improving access to education and human rights, partly based on his own experiences growing up.
Laurentiu spent his childhood in an orphanage. Denied an education, he said that “every time you wished something, you would be categorised. There was no idea of letting me do that (access education), I was put in a category.” He was forced to work from eight years old.
“In Romania, there is a category lower than Gypsies…the orphans.” He made the decision to leave Romania in search of a better life spending many years on the streets of Europe, before coming to the UK. However, in the UK he faced further issues, as without papers he was not allowed to work and even spent time in an Immigration Removal Centre. Thankfully, he has now been given papers, and with these has found work selling the Big Issue, a job that allows him to interact with people.
It’s the people that he cites as his main reason for enjoying living in Bristol. “A place is made holy by the people…Compared to everywhere, here people are much more curious; they are more willing to show solidarity.” However, he does not believe that Bristol is a city of refuge like it claims. He points to the people sitting with placards begging for help and the fact that, if you are without papers, then you have very little access to rights. He spoke of the seen and the unseen homeless, and how those without papers will so often be invisible because of the fear of being detained and deported.
A city where people feel the need to be invisible is not a city of refuge. Laurentiu is passionate about empowering people with knowledge about their human rights. He is working on producing leaflets in different languages which can explain to the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities what their rights are in the UK, and what opportunities are out there for them. When people are empowered with understanding of their rights, doors are opened and people can dare to hope; as Laurentiu says, “inequality is fixed by hope.” This is especially important for the GRT communities, who have long been discriminated against in this country and across Europe.
As for what it means to be Roma in Bristol, he feels that people are treated better compared to other places he’s been. He says that “being a Gypsy in Bristol is hope.” That isn’t to say that there aren’t significant issues facing the GRT communities in our city, something which our GRT worker Anna is all too aware of.
“This month is Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. At SARI, we are working closely with members of GRT communities, such as Laurentiu, to ensure that these communities, together with other communities, have a deeper understanding of how to navigate the often-complicated systems.”
“Hate crime, discrimination and prejudice towards the GRT communities remain a big problem not only in the UK, but worldwide. That however shouldn’t be a case in Bristol, a city which extends welcome to all and which acts as a sanctuary for its many diverse communities.”