Gabi Muntean keeps up the fight for Roma rights
2017-04-01 17:23:18 -
By Michael Sandstrom

Imagine the feeling of your knees on the stone streets of Dublin, begging to get enough change to feed yourself every night. Imagine the gusting wind, the cold rain, and the icy looks, day in and day out, as you scrounge for whatever coins passers-by toss into your cup.
Imagine feeling so small, lost in the crowds of a city of more than a million.

This is what Gabi Muntean went through when she migrated to Dublin from Romania. A member of the Roma community, she had a mountain to climb to establish a better life in Ireland.

But in true immigrant spirit, Gabi was up for the challenge to escape the trap of begging, refusing to spend one more day or night on the streets.

New hope and light

Finding employment as a Roma was a huge task. Gabi hid her identity at first, to avoid prejudice and even outright racism on account of her heritage.

Sitting beside her husband Teechi, she recalls how she ditched her traditional long Roma dress for more typical Irish clothes, and set off in search for work around the city. Without the Roma stigma, she was able to find a job as a dishwasher, for meagre pay.

But it was a job nonetheless, and it allowed her to get established in Ireland before she was ready to start taking matters into her own hands, to fight for the rights of her fellow Roma.

Her first stop was the Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, which fights for the rights of Irish Travellers and their Roma counterparts. With new hope and light in her eyes, she is now a leading advocate co-operating with top Government officials and departments for Roma rights in Ireland.

Gabi and her husband share that there are many Roma trying to change the stereotypes about their community. “It is very easy to see what is on the street. You see a nice house but you never know who lives there,” she says, adding that there are around 5,000 Roma living in Ireland, many of them well integrated.

“Those [Roma migrants] who came before 2007, when Romania became part of the EU, had the chance to send their children to school and had support from the State, integrated well within society,” Gabi explains. 

As a result of those pre-2007 benefits, the Munteans’ son was able to attend all levels of school in Ireland and is now applying to join the Garda, to protect the community that gave him and his family so much.

Fear of being labelled

Many Roma feel that their background — or the ideas it projects in others’ minds — sets back their career prospects and negatively affects the way they are seen in the workplace, says Gabi.

“This is a huge loss for our community,” she sighs, adding that she knows many Roma students — studying law, economics, art and everything in between — along with many successful Roma in the working world who hide their Roma identity.

Recounting a classroom in Limerick with three Roma girls, Gabi says they refused to speak with her in fear of being labelled as Roma.
Gabi wants to change all that, and to this end she is calling on the State to help Ireland’s Roma in more pronounced ways. 
She says that many Roma do not have PPS numbers, which makes it harder for them to access services, even when they cannot avail of entitlements that Gabi argues they should have, at least in part, so they can sustain themselves as they take English classes and look for work. 

In Gabi’s view, one cannot give advice to Roma beggars who are “100 times more disadvantaged than you”. However, the advice she offers to the State is to “provide emergency payments … and basic support for family needs” to those in need.

‘We are Irish now’

Meanwhile, the Muntean family make the most of their lives and opportunities in Ireland, hundreds of miles from Romania but also far from the cold stone of Dublin’s streets. 

When asked about what they miss about their home country, Gabi and Teechi instantly reply together: “Nothing… we are Irish now.”
TAGS : roma irish rights migrants
Total 0 comments.
Other News News

What do you think about new Metro Eireann site
Above average
Below average
Very bad
Archive Search
- -