“I hate the word integration”
These words were spoken by Michal, a thirty something Roma man from Prague. Brought up in a city where acting like a Gadjo, or an ethnic white Czech, was the way to get on yet later being subject to an attack by an (obviously) violent neo-Nazi skinhead group Michal’s got a lot of experience of integration.
The Roma have been in the Czech lands for over 600 years. During that time they have seen persistent persecution most severely within the living memory of some at the hands of the Nazis and other groups during WWII. The Roma had lived through slavery and effective indentured labour for generations before that fate befell them. And still today violent anti-Roma groups abound across Europe.
The Roma know alot, really alot about integration.
Michal came to the UK to seek asylum and received a decent welcome here. As he sat outside the court where he was waiting for his asylum hearing he started talking to a friendly man who listened to his tale of hospitals and recovery and flight. In court he heard the same man wish him luck and grant him refugee status.
Michal knows a lot about integration and he’s not alone.
You see the problem with integration is not with – in this instance – the Roma. They know all about it. They know where it can lead. The Roma weren’t persecuted because they weren’t integrated but because, in a sense, they were. Integrated into a violence and exclusion that included their destruction. The issue for the Roma is not whether they will integrate but what is it that they are integrated into? The question remains simple: what will that mean for them? Will they survive integration? The Roma are integrated yet, as is clear from much public and private dialogue, it is considered that the Roma are not integrated.
Like Michal, I hate the word integration.