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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Eastern Europe's Gypsies Stay Put

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- It bordered on hysteria and smacked of xenophobia. Now it looks like pure paranoia.

The European Union's historic enlargement into eastern Europe triggered fears in the West that Gypsies might leave their shabby homes in the East for jobs or government handouts in richer corners of the EU.

"Grateful Gypsies set to flee their homes," one newspaper warned in Britain, where the prospect of an exodus was particularly worrisome. "Gypsies, you can't come," declared another.

But nearly three months after the May 1 expansion, officials say few have left for wealthier western Europe. In fact, some say EU membership gives them a new incentive to stay put.

Gypsies, also known as Roma, total 1 million in four of the EU's new member states -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia -- experts say.

Although Poland, with 39 million people, is by far the largest newcomer nation, it has the smallest Gypsy community at about 35,000 people. Roman Kwiatkowski, who heads a national Roma association, said there are no signs that Gypsies have left since May 1.

"Poland is a full EU member now, and that increased the attractiveness of the country," Kwiatkowski said.

Even in Slovakia, where Roma make up about 8 percent of the country's 5.4 million people, experts say only a few hundred have left behind shabby, segregated settlements without running water or sewage systems.

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