Milan Duzda arrived in Derby 8 months ago from Slovakia. He is 21 years old, has a wife and a young family and is Roma. Other members of his family were already living in Derby so it was an easy decision to chose to come to this city. He cannot speak English and work is very difficult to find.
For the majority of his life he lived in the infamous Roma ghetto of Lunik 9, a borough of the city of Košice in Slovakia. Lunik 9 is a series of tower blocks which have been used over the last 20 years for the displaced Roma community in the area. The over-crowding is getting worse, the living conditions are below any acceptable standard, and all of the services are cut-off with fresh water being transported in by truck. The people living there have a number of health conditions associated with poor diet, cold, and the unsatisfactory water supply. This level of marginalization also means that regular employment is impossible and the cycle of deprivation and exclusion continues. This is exacerbated by poor education, no role models, and zero prospects for the future.
In Slovakia, as well as other Eastern European countries which have large Roma populations, racism and persecution has risen in the post-Soviet period. For the Roma, their best form of defence is to stay excluded as, for many, venturing out is too risky with the possibility of being attacked by the racist gangs.
For Milan, he had no hope for himself, or his family. The opportunity to seek a better life in the UK, despite the practical problems of language and work, were insignificant compared to the situation he was living in.
Milan could work as a builder in Derby, however without speaking English this is not practical. He intends to start learning the language now, and this is provided in Derby by the Job Centre facilities. His work so far has been short term laboring tasks which will not support his family. He is living in a rented house in Normanton which is not ideal but is a “palace” compared to what he had been used to in Lunik 9.
In Slovakia, his skin tone was the subject of the racist abuse.He stood out from the non-Roma population very distinctly. In Derby, with a myriad of ethnicities and colours he is ignored as he walks down the street – that’s just how he likes it.
Although life for Milan and his family in Derby will be difficult, at least they know that the future is positive and that people and the institutions are there to support him even if, at times, it might not seem that way. For him, and many others who have taken this brave step, they have made a positive decision to improve their life. The fact that they see that this can be done in the UK, and Derby, should be seen as a compliment to our society and something that we should all celebrate.
Just before I left our interview, I asked him if he would ever consider going back to Slovakia.He just laughed “Why would I want to go back there – this is my home now”.