ROMA women living in Cork say they are being denied access to shops and kicked out of supermarkets because of preconceptions about their ethnic community.
A number of Roma women living locally broke their silence on various upsetting incidents that saw them singled out for their ethnicity.
The group is speaking out against discrimination as part of The Echo’s Rejecting Racism series.
Gabriella Ulita described how she was recently told to leave a store with her children because of the way she was dressed. She said that in many cases, storeowners associate her traditional dress with women who steal. One particular incident, she said, led to her feeling upset and ashamed.
Ms Ulita added that only a minority in her community have carried out these crimes.
However, women like her feel they are being targeted for offences they did not commit.
“I went to buy carpet cleaner and sweets for the children but was told to leave the store,” she explained.
“I was told “you are not allowed here” and “you know what you did”. I had my two small kids with me and had no idea what they were talking about.”
The Mayfield local said this store owner had possibly mistaken her for a customer who was similarly dressed.
Nonetheless, she stressed that Romani dress should not be associated with criminality.
“I found it very confusing. I was very upset, but there is not much you can do,” she said. “It’s very difficult when you have to explain this to your kids. One woman in the shop felt so upset by what happened she offered to buy the sweets for my kids herself but I didn’t want that.”
Ms Ulita’s husband Luciano, a pastor — who earns a living as a taxi-driver — has spent years trying to stamp out begging in Cork’s Roma community.
Since founding the Apostolic Church in Mayfield Business Park almost three years ago, he has been working tirelessly to change perceptions around his community. While serving as a pastor in the church, he inspired a number of Romani people, involved in activities like begging, to turn to Christianity.
Sadly, he said his wife has been treated like a criminal despite their efforts to bring change to the community. Ms Ulita said she feels that changing her appearance should not be necessary to gain respect. “Some people don’t like the scarves, but I’m not going to change my clothes for someone else. I’ve been living in Mayfield for 18 year now.”
Grucean Adam, a member of the Roma community, who has been living in Turner’s Cross for 14 years, said that traditional dress for women like Ms Ulita is not a fashion statement but part of their religion.
“This is not about fashion, it is written in the bible,” he said. “By dressing this way they are respecting the word of God. Thinking that somebody dressed like this is going to steal is the same as assuming someone in Muslim dress is a terrorist.
“It’s getting worse and worse. Women are being forced to pay for the crimes of others. We would like to see harsher penalties for those who do steal. Being fined €500 is not enough when others are being affected by these crimes.”
Argentina Adam, also a member of the Romani community, admitted she has had similar experiences.
“I queued with others outside a shop for 20 minutes and was told I wasn’t allowed in. I didn’t want to argue. There was no point. It was embarrassing.”
Fellow Roma, Veta Adam, said her 10-year-old daughter is now hesitant about going places with her for fear of the discrimination they may face.
“We want our children to be able to grow up in a world where people don’t discriminate.”