In Slovakia, Pope Francis calls for “integration” of Roma

On the roofs of large destroyed buildings, snipers have been stationed, and security forces are present in large numbers. Around each building, temporary fences reinforced with police officers quartered in their homes residents who had not registered for the event. Many preferred to stand at the windows – with or without panes of glass – to try and catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. Others, coming from the surroundings, were at a distance from the platform, set up to welcome the head of the Catholic Church. Welcome to Lunik IX, reputed to be “the largest Roma ghetto in Europe”, on the outskirts of Kosice, the second largest city in Slovakia.

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François chose this symbolic place to denounce, Tuesday, September 14, the condition of these populations, in Slovakia and beyond, as well as the rejection of which they are often victims, and to plead for their integration. On the second day of his visit to this central European country, he visited this landlocked city, where some 4,300 people of Roma origin crowd into several building bars.

Roma people in the Lunik IX ghetto in Kosice, Slovakia await the arrival of Pope Francis on September 14, 2021.

Built in the 1970s for mixed populations, they quickly concentrated a large majority of Roma. For lack of infrastructure worthy of the name and maintenance, their condition has been deteriorating for thirty years. There is no gas, little running water and electricity, the facades are dark and damaged. Unemployment is the rule, jobs the exception.

It is the largest of the slums into which the poorest Slovak Roma, who account for some 9% of the 5.5 million inhabitants of the country, are relegated. In summary, a concentrate of “Peripheries”, these social margins that the Argentine pope systematically encounters during his travels.

“Putting people in a ghetto does not solve anything”

Sonia, a woman in her forties, is happy about the arrival of the head of the Catholic Church. She believes he will make sure “That people [les] see “ and “Let him stop racism when it comes to” of the Roma. “It is good that the successor of Saint Peter chooses to come to this kind of community, and not only to those which are more glamorous”, comments Miroslav, a volunteer enlisted in the security service, who lives nearby.

“Too often, you have been the object of prejudices and ruthless judgments, of discriminatory stereotypes, of defamatory words and gestures” François

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