BY JOE FIORITO CITY COLUMNIST
FROM THE STAR
There is more to know as a result of the Roma Health Forum held a while ago. As you recall: the purpose of the forum was to discuss the problems faced by Roma refugee claimants in Toronto.
Among those problems: poverty, bad teeth, lousy diet, scuzzy landlords, predatory immigration lawyers, racism, and a federal government determined to put all applicants from Hungary through a Kafkaesque wringer.
It is easy to see why some Roma harbour a fear, or at least a healthy suspicion, of authority.
There were many agencies and organizations in attendance at the forum, including the Red Cross, Epilepsy Canada, both school boards, Children’s Aid, Community Living Toronto, CultureLink, Access Alliance, Ryerson University, Women’s College Hospital, York University, and many more.
Instructive were their questions.
A worker from an employment services agency noted that her primary challenge was communication — very few community agencies in this city have Hungarian speakers on staff — and so her question was: what services does the Roma Community Centre provide?
Gina Csanyi-Robah, director of the RCC, said that she had a small grant to do a health survey among Roma seniors, but the only translation help she can provide comes from volunteers. She also said — and this is chilling — that some Roma refugee claimants are giving up, or simply not asking for help, because it’s just too hard to get help.
The moderator of the forum, Ruby Lam of Toronto Public Health, pointed out that service providers in this city are going to have to push the issue forward and ask for money for interpreters.
One of the panellists noted that there are 16 people on staff at her settlement agency; those people speak 20 languages in total, but not Hungarian. She persuaded her bosses to rewrite a recent job posting, making Hungarian a specific requirement.
Good idea; more of this, please.
Someone asked Gina what she thought of the federal government offering financial incentives to persuade Roma refugee claimants to leave Canada.
Gina said that the federal minister of immigration has been successful making the Roma believe they are not wanted here, and so some Roma are withdrawing their claims. And then someone else pointed out that the incentive money is for services, and that people who withdraw their claims are simply kicked out — they don’t get any money.
It was also noted that some Roma families are being taken advantage of by bogus interpreters; the question, then — how do you find trustworthy interpreters?
Nobody had a good answer.
But here is something that will be nightmarishly familiar to anyone who came to this country with a family, and not much English:
Because children learn a new language more quickly than adults, Roma kids sometimes end up acting as interpreters for their parents.
That’s profoundly unfair.
One of the people at the forum was a doctor who has Roma patients; she noted that many of her patients suffer from post-traumatic stress, anxiety, poor nutrition, high blood pressure and many other illnesses, some of which are chronic because they have not been treated. Someone noted that there is deep confusion, at our clinics and hospitals, about health benefits for refugee claimants.
And then someone else — OK, it was me — asked if there was any help for the Roma from the Hungarian community in Toronto.
Gina smiled one of those complex smiles; she said she had never felt welcome at Hungarian House; she once met the Hungarian ambassador, and he spewed stereotypical comments about crime at her.
She also took pains to note that there are some Hungarians who have helped, but that most of the hate mail she gets is sent by those who came here in 1956.
Yes, and some hate mail will come my way, from those same people, as a result of this column.
Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org