Equal Times - Belgium

Monday, 8am. The informal settlement of La Petite Ceinture in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, France is still quiet as two volunteer social workers walk in. It is the first day of the school term and they are coming to fetch nine-year-old Darius. Along the disused railway tracks that once encircled the French capital, in this northern district some 300 Roma have been living in makeshift shelters with no electricity and no running water since 2015.

Suddenly, a door opens and a little boy comes running out.

“The night was short, I did not sleep much. I am so excited to finally go back to school! For the first time in my life I will be like any other child,” Darius tells Equal Times.

“Last year, I attended school for a few months. I am very happy to see my friends again. I enjoy drawing and learning,” he says excitedly. “School is much more fun than staying in the ’platz’ [a Romani expression meaning ‘the place’ in reference to the camp where they live].”

Yet, registering Darius for school was an uphill battle. Arriving in France from Romania in 2011, his family went from one informal settlement to another, unable to secure housing and schooling. In May 2016, the town of Saint-Ouen – a suburb just north of Paris where the family were settled at that time – refused to register him and four other Roma children for the upcoming year.

The pretext was that the family’s certificate of residence was domiciled at a community centre, not at a personal address. Only in early October, after obtaining support from le défenseur des droits (an independent constitutional authority responsible for defending the rights of citizens) and the relevant administrative authorities, were the five children able to sit in a classroom.

Two weeks later, the camp was evicted by the police. Once again, Darius’s family moved around for months, from a hôtel social (homeless shelter) to the streets to another informal settlement. Finally, with his family settled in La Petite Ceinture, Darius could be registered in a new school from January 2017. But the camp was evicted again on 22 February, and the family was placed in temporary accommodation in Saint-Denis by authorities for two weeks.

“Although the hôtel was 45 minutes away from the school, we got organised and we managed to fetch the children as soon as the morning after the expulsion. It was very important that they were not disconnected from school again, and that kept their daily routine,” explains Philémon, one of two social workers with the local association, Les Enfants du Canal. “After such a traumatic event, parents are mostly overwhelmed with finding solutions and reorganising their life. Moreover, they are usually as disorientated as the children."

Failing to meet their obligations

In France, schooling is mandatory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16, whether a child is French or foreign-born, and regardless of how long he or she has been in the country.

There are approximately 18,000 Roma people living in informal settlements and squats across France.

A number of studies by civil rights groups point out that 67 per cent of children living in informal settlements do not attend school regularly, and 30 per cent have never been registered – whether in France or in the country of origin. According to Clotilde Bonnemason, president of the Collectif pour le Droit des Enfants Roms à l’Education (Collective for the Right of Roma Children to Education, or CDERE), local councils deliberately ignore these communities.


Read more on the Equal Times

Eloise Bollack / Le Courrier
October 31st, 2017
Human Rights