17/02/2014 04:08 GMT | Updated 18/04/2014 06:59 BST

Britain's Religious Leaders Right to Stand Up for Europe's Roma

Today, faith leaders from across the UK have highlighted the plight of Europe's Roma community.

Their call could hardly be more timely. The recent debate over migrants coming to the UK has put a spotlight on Romania and Bulgaria, with a focus on Roma that has sometimes swerved into sheer prejudice.

Across Europe, there is a groundless belief that Roma have been the cause of multiple problems in society for centuries. They have suffered from discrimination and are still being treated as second-class citizens. They are often segregated into "informal settlements", forcibly evicted from their homes, and have restrictions placed on their access to jobs and education. This racial discrimination ought to be totally unthinkable in today's Europe, yet human rights violations towards Roma are carried out with impunity in many towns and cities right across the European continent.

For example, recent legislation in Rome has restricted Roma families' access to social housing. In the Czech Republic thousands of Roma pupils have been segregated into Roma-only schools, while in France more than 10,000 Roma have been forcibly evicted from informal settlements during the first half of 2013 alone.

But what of Romania? Well, in 2010, in the city of Cluj-Napoca, 350 residents - most of whom were Roma- were forced out of their homes. 36 families were left homeless, while the other 40 families were relocated to an industrial area in the outskirts of the city, known for its landfill and chemical waste dump. Each family was crammed into one tiny room of roughly 12 feet by 12 feet.

Claudia, for example, a woman in her late 20s, was made to live in a small room with her husband, her three sons, her parents and her brother's family - all 11 of them, sharing a bathroom with 30 others. After more than three years of this mistreatment, no alternatives have been offered to their ghastly inadequate living conditions.

Imagine if something similar was happening here in Britain. There would be outrage if a local council behaved this way. So it is not surprising that 23 senior religious leaders in the UK, including the Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales; the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker; Rabbi Thomas Salamon of Westminster Synagogue; and the director of the Network of Sikh Organisations Lord Singh CBE, have chosen to make a stand to defend the rights of these families who have been subject of discrimination in Romania.

They have all signed an open letter addressed to the mayor of Cluj-Napoca to call on an end of discrimination and to take action to ensure these Roma families can get access to adequate housing.

Their intervention reminds us that in the debate over migrants there should be no room for racist feelings towards Roma. They need our support, not further discrimination.

As a nation, we have the duty to help and support the voices of those whose rights have been violated and particularly those who suffer such systematic discrimination.