Roma people (including Travellers, Gypsies, Manouches, Ashkali, Sinti etc) have been an essential part of the European civilisation for more than a thousand years. They are currently the largest ethnic minority in Europe with an estimated population of 10 to 12 million. Despite these figures, the Roma are still victims of widespread discrimination and entrenched social exclusion. The majority live in very poor socio-economic settings permitting them minimal access to public services and are vastly ostracised.

Prejudice against the Roma is an intricate part of their millennium-old history in Europe. From their earliest days, the Roma have been repressed and excluded from mainstream society by European countries via different legislations. Thus the Roma and their advocates argue that the ‘nomadic’ lifestyle is an outcome, rather than source, of the discrimination.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights one in three Roma in Europe are presently unemployed and 90 per cent live below the poverty line. They are overrepresented in crime statistics across Europe and more probable to receive longer prison sentences compared to other minority groups, intensifying the already extremely negative sentiments.

Early August this year, several thousand local Roma had their water supplies cut off or reduced by the council in the northern Hungarian town of Ozd to stop the “waste” of water, implying water to be a privilege rather than a fundamental right.

In Ireland, police wrongly seized two Roma children from their respective families after a neighbour reported to the police that she did not bear any resemblance to her family as she was pale skinned and blue-eyed. However, DNA tests proved both children were indeed being raised by their biological parents and had not been kidnapped.

Following these two cases was a case in Greece in which “Maria”, a blonde-haired, blue eyed child was taken from a Roma couple who were not her biological parents by Greek authorities. In this case, a Bulgarian woman confessed “Maria” was hers and that she had left her in Greece with a family she worked for in 2009 because of economic difficulties.

These recent cases highlight the dangers of ethnic stereotyping, which appears to be quite prevalent in Europe not merely amongst the public but also in government and amongst politicians. In the case of Greece, school segregation is deemed to be one of the fundamental reasons for discrimination against the Roma.

It is not to say suspicions of abduction or any crime should go unreported, but cases as such should not reflect upon a whole community. They should be treated as individual cases that may occur in any group irrelevant of ethnicity, religion, class or race.

We all have a shared duty to prevent the spreading of such chauvinistic allegations about the Roma community, not merely to prevent their further exclusion from society but also as a means to fight prejudice and stereotypes of any community.

It is exactly these objectives the team at Restless Beings are willing and dedicated to achieve through programs like the Roma engage. Latest events also clearly highlight the necessity and significance of such projects.

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