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Name change still eases job hunts for Roma

While members of Finland's Roma community have seen improvements in recent decades, they still face discrimination in the job market.

Savonlinnan seudun romaniyhdistyksen puheenjohtaja Ossi Blomerus ja poikansa Tenho Blomerus.
Ossi and Tenho Blomerus say job searches can be challenging for Roma. Tenho's application for an internship has gone smoothly, but not all Roma are doing as well. Image: Kati Rantala

Finding a job clearly becomes easier for a Roma in Finland by changing his or her first and last names, according to Ossi Blomerus, chair of the Savonlinna Region Roma Association.

"You have to change your identity in order to get the chance to engage with society," he says.

Blomerus told Yle that it is still difficult for Roma to find jobs and internships in Finland. This, in his view, is the most important change that is needed from the point of view of equality.

His view is that better communication and negotiations between employers and job seekers would be the key.

"Employers need to understand that Roma are just like everyone else and do their jobs really well. It is worthwhile trying out hiring Roma," Blomerus says.

Job market lagging behind

The Roma Association of the Savonlinna Region celebrated its 50th anniversary on Tuesday. According to Blomerus, the position of the Roma has improved considerably during the past half a century, although equal access to the job market has lagged behind.

He pointed out that education and housing were sectors where the Roma have long faced problems, but are now in good shape.

"Society has changed for the better, and equality for the Roma is being achieved. Of course, there is always room for improvement. We are constantly working to ensure that equality is also achieved within Roma culture," he adds.

"You just have to push through"

Tenho Blomerus found a vocational school internship as soon as he started looking for one, without any problem, and says he did not face discrimination on the job.

He believes that his wide circle of acquaintances in the small community where he lives, and the networks of his father has access to also helped.

"It is really difficult to get a job in the Helsinki metropolitan area because [Roma] people are still stigmatized," Tenho Blomerus says.

Some of his fellow students, studying for their degrees in social services like he is, say that they have experienced discrimination in the capital region when looking for an internship without success.

This is at the same time that Blomerus' teachers are telling students that there is such strong demand for social services professionals that they may be recruited by employers even before they finish their degrees.

"My friends were not accepted because they are Roma. It sounds crazy because we're living in 2021, and you would think people would understand and accept others better, but that may not always be the case," Tenho Blomerus points out.

Blomerus says that he wants to show that he is good employee, by giving "120 percent".

"You just have to push through and show that you're doing the job," is how he puts it.

Family ways changing

Roma culture is also going through a transformation. According to Ossi Blomerus, it is now fighting for its existence within majority culture and is no longer as rich as it once was.

"The new generation does not understand what Roma culture really is, even though we parents try to advise and guide. We are working to retain our culture. There are some really good things in it," he explains.

Among those aspects, according to Blomerus, is that most young people respect their parents. The elderly are rarely institutionalised, but are rather cared for at home for as long as possible.

Still, large extended family groups are disappearing. In the past, extended families lived in the same house, or traveled in the same horse-drawn wagons. Today, most Roma families usually consist of a father, mother, and their children.

"It can no longer be said that we have a collective responsibility for each other. The support network is no longer as strong as it once was," Blomerus says.

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