A letter from Europe Roma


Dear Labour Briefing,

In politics as in life actions speak louder than words. In Jeremy Corbyn’s case we consider it axiomatic that a life-time of campaigning against racism says more about his commitment to challenging racial discrimination than an erroneous facebook post from 6 years ago about
the picture of a mural he had not looked at closely enough before commenting on and for which he has since apologised.

Likewise with Corbyn’s accusers. When Tony Blair berates Corbyn for not properly understanding anti-Semitism, and therefore failing to deal with it inside Labour or an outspoken critic of Corbyn such as Labour MP John Mann describes his Leader’s record as “shameful”, one is entitled to look at their own actions in comparison.

As refugee rights campaigners, we recall vividly that when Tony Blair's government was denouncing Roma refugees fleeing neo-Nazi attacks in Eastern Europe to claim asylum in UK nearly 20 years ago, Jeremy Corbyn was one of the few MPs who championed their cause.

Government ministers lined up to criticise Roma women for “aggressively” begging in the street, while introducing new laws which replaced benefits with food vouchers and dispersed asylum seekers to remote corners of the country, or in the Roma’s case, placed them in detention camps or prisons.

At that time we were coordinators and Chair of a Roma refugee organisation in UK, Europe Roma. Together we asked Jeremy Corbyn to help organize a public meeting.  Corbyn chaired a meeting in Parliament at which Roma refugees spoke about their reasons for fleeing the Czech
Republic and Romania.  He spoke passionately in defense of the Roma refugees. We still have the flyer "Standing Up for Roma Rights" chaired by Jeremy Corbyn MP at the Grand Commitee Room in House of Commons.

The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. They have as a community been subject to widespread discrimination, abuse and violence for over a thousand years in Europe. They were along with the Jews exterminated because of their race by the Nazis, who killed up to a million Gypsies in concentration camps.

As Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Anti-Semitism, we genuinely expected John Mann MP to have some sympathy for the plight of Gypsies and Roma; many Jewish groups and individuals are active in the support of the Roma as they see parallels between the historic discrimination both communities have suffered.

However, an attempt to organize a Parliamentary meeting to discuss racism against Gypsies jointly called by APPG for Anti-Semitism and others collapsed in October 2016 in when it emerged that John Mann had written, produced and distributed a booklet to his constituents
purporting to offer legal advice on dealing with anti-social behavior. The Jewish human rights group René Cassin, who had also called the meeting in Parliament, described the booklet’s reference to travelers, who are identified by Mann along with graffiti, loitering youths, and
rubbish, in chapters dedicated to different types of anti-social behavior,as “highly offensive”.

In the section on ‘Travelers’, which mainly deals with the civil offence of trespass, Mann included a strapline saying “the Police have powers to remove any gypsies and travelers” (sic), p.23. In fact Romany Gypsies and Irish Travelers are legally recognized ethnic minorities in the UK and are protected by Equality Act 2010.

A Romany Gypsy constituent of John Mann, who was sent a copy of the booklet to The Travelers’ Times in October 2016, was reported as saying that the racialisation of the offence of trespass by Mann was inappropriate. He stated:  “It's outrageous from a man that, likes to give the public the impression that he's against race hate and prejudice.”

Outrageous and to use Mann’s vernacular, “shameful”. To this day John Mann has not apologized for or withdrawn the booklet. Words and actions.

Yours faithfully,

Ladislav Balaz - Chair, Europe Roma
Amanda Sebestyen  - Coordinator, Europe Roma
Paul Field - Coordinator, Europe Roma