“In many countries, we have Roma councils and we have youth councils, but Roma youth are in the middle of nowhere” – Interview with Ramon Flores, FERYP

 

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Ramon Flores President of the Forum of European Roma Young People (FERYP)

 

Orsolya Szabó: Firstly can you introduce the organization you are working at, the aims and the structure of it and projects?

Ramon Flores: Forum of European Roma Young People (FERYP) was established in 1995 and we were created in the framework of a campaign “All Different – All Equal” of the Council of Europe. From that time we started working on Roma issues on the international level by engaging individuals and organizations at the same time. We have been advocating to the institutional bodies at the European level such as the Council of Europe and the European Commission to increase the Roma youth participation in policy making, to include the Roma component in youth policies and European programs, and to promote the youth participation in Roma policies and programs. The aim of FERYP was basically to identify the gap between Roma policies and youth policies because we realized that Roma youth are not represented well enough anywhere. All of our work in FERYP is on voluntary bases.

O.Sz.: Can you name one of the cases which was very successful when you got recommendations from the local level and you could lobby to the institutions and they implemented the recommendations?

R.F.: The Roma Youth Action Plan (RYAP) is one of the main successes of that many works which has been done before. The implementation itself of the RYAP was explaining to the rest of the society that we were not happy, there were no proper policies for Roma youth, and we didn`t have any space to shape and to deliver and to decide the policies regarding Roma people. On the national level, in many countries, we have Roma councils and we have youth councils, but Roma youth are in the middle of nowhere. So after many years of experience, we came up with the conclusion that we really need something specific for Roma youth. We presented a proposal for the Council of Europe collecting all the inputs from the members and participants and activities saying: “look, we really need the space to shape, to learn, to express ourselves”. We presented the proposal to the Council of Europe to have a specific program in the youth department, to have a specific program for Roma youth. We then started shaping the Roma Youth Department and the RYAP. After working with other Roma youth networks such as ternYpe and Phiren Amenca, I think it’s a good result, because we started from one campaign of the Council of Europe and now, 4 years after the first Roma Youth Conference, we consider that the Roma youth networks are very active at local, national and at international levels.  

O.Sz.: What does RYAP include, which areas does it tackle?

R.F.: It includes the inputs of the participants of the first Roma Youth Conference. We tried to collect the inputs and the concerns that the participants expressed during the conference. We summarized all the specific points, such as a multiple discrimination within the Roma community (LGBTIQ for example), addressing poverty, Roma identity, capacity-building of Roma youth organizations at local level, well, many aspects that we were shaping through the years. The RYAP is the result of the first Roma youth conference.

O.Sz.: What kind of change the RYAP brought on the national level of the Council of Europe Member States?

R.F.: It is difficult to measure the actions of the Council of Europe on the national level, because officially the Council of Europe has no power to implement the specific policies in the countries. It is not their mission. That`s why we have the European Commission for instance. The Council of Europe can make recommendations. In some countries they implemented a national integration strategy, which was led by the European Commission. The Council of Europe tries to influence a little bit in the implementation of this strategy and in some of the countries they organize consultations with Roma youth organizations, such as Slovenia. But the approach of the Council of Europe is that the participants and organizations involved in the RYAP are responsible to implement the policies on the national and local levels. It is understandable but we thought it is very difficult to deal with issues on the national level if we don’t have institutional or economic support. So this is one of the topics we have to discuss now at the second Roma Youth Conference. (The interview was made during the Second Roma Youth Conference in Budapest.)

O.Sz.: What do you think what is most important thing to do now that the RYAP doesn’t remain something written on the paper but it really is an action and it can really change something?

R.F.: It’s a challenge, because now the RYAP is a political instrument, which means that it could be even harder to shape it. I think that the RYAP itself is more like a strategy. So when you have a strategy it’s written what you have to do, and when you have an action plan, it is written how you do all these things. And I think that now it is a good moment to start thinking about how to do all these things. You want to talk about antigypsyism or you want to promote Roma youth participation in policy making? Ok, it is specified in the document. Now that`s the final strategy to implement and to make it real.

O.Sz.: What is the follow-up plan for the implementation?

R.F.: I think that we should not expect participants asking questions to the Council of Europe or asking questions to the Roma youth networks, but to provide solutions. It’s fine that they come with questions, but I would advise, work with us on the solution don`t expect us or the Council of Europe to solve the problem. Be part of the solution as well! I think this is the main message for participants and for beneficiaries of the RYAP in general. I think that the Council of Europe is a good channel to implement all the things but not the tool to implement the things at local level.

O.Sz.: You have a long history of working together with the Roma youth. Do you see any improvement in the participation of Roma youth on political level and the civil society field?

R.F.: Yes. If we look into the FERYP history, in 1995 you were an alien, Roma people who are working at international level, with the European Commission or Council of Europe … it sounded strange 20 years ago. Now it is normal to interact with these institutions and to promote the participation. But it was a very long process.

O.Sz.: And do you see change in the individuals’ minds or just in the structure of the institutions?

R.F.: I think that the big change is in the individuals. It is great change but still an improvement if we compare the situation with 20 years ago. Now we can see a lot of young educated Roma in universities or municipalities, or working in Roma organizations. It was very difficult to find this profile 20 years ago specifically at international level. Now it’s normal that you have a conference and you can see 100 young people with strong educational background with a record of activities with Roma at national and international level. 

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