Contemporary Discrimination Against Roma People
By Lauren Berry-Kagan, Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center
PHOTO roma, gypsies, Europe, Italy. Vadim Ghirda/AP
The Roma people are one of Europe’s largest minorities and have lived there since the 13th century.
Even now, they face social exclusion and discrimination on a daily basis. One of the largest issues facing the Roma is the negative stereotype of the ‘Gypsy.’ The name comes from the mistaken belief that the Roma originated in Egypt, though it has been proven that they are originally from India, and Western culture has created an image of the Gypsy as both a dirty criminal and a romanticized carefree wanderer. It is this stereotype of the Roma as a criminal that has perpetuated their rejection from society, both by ordinary people and by government officials.
The main areas of discrimination against Roma are housing, education, employment, and health. In Serbia and Italy, Roma have been forced to live on garbage dumps or in dilapidated housing areas that are, by most reasonable standards, uninhabitable. In Hungary, Romania, Czech and Slovak Republics, Romani children are frequently placed in special education designed for children with mental disabilities and are segregated in separate Roma-only classes and schools. Very few attend high schools and even fewer go to universities. A main reason for this is that the lack of a permanent address prevents school registrations. Unemployment of Roma can be as high as 80%, keeping them in extreme poverty on the fringes of society. Most disturbingly, Roma women continue to be sterilized without their consent in the Czech Republic and elsewhere.
A recent survey3 on minorities and discrimination in the European Union found that, on average, one in five Roma respondents were victims of racially motivated crime at least once in the previous year, while another report from 2011 showed that violence against Roma is almost never successfully prosecuted.4 The report examined the official government response to 44 violent attacks against Roma in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. It found that "a limited number of perpetrators of violent attacks against Roma are successfully identified, investigated and prosecuted. Even fewer are eventually imprisoned for the crimes they have committed against Roma." A 2005 study in Hungary reported that 62 per cent of the country’s adult population agrees with the statement that the criminal tendency is in the blood of Roma.5 Finally, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee found was that Roma were disproportionately targeted by the "stop-and-search" practice by the police where they are stopped on the streets, asked for identification, and searched for illegal items. According to this report, Roma are three times more likely to be stopped for ID checks than non-Roma.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) has been especially criticized for his treatment of Roma during his political career. During Sarkozy’s final two years in office, hundreds of Roma camps were destroyed and thousands were deported solely for their ethnic identity. Roma refugees, seeking to escape conditions in countries such as Hungary and France, have found that many countries will not accept them. Comparisons have been made to the refusal to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
In conclusion, anti-Roma attitudes are rampant everywhere they live. There are many barriers that keep them from escaping poverty, because discrimination and harmful stereotypes prevent them from obtaining adequate education and living spaces. Violence against Roma is often unresolved, leaving them in constant fear of their neighbors.
For More Information:
Amnesty International www.amnesty.org or www.amnestyusa.org
European Roma Rights Centre http://www.errc.org/
Lolo Diklo: Romani Against Racism http://lolodiklo.blogspot.com/
"The Plight of the Roma" Video Segment from The Agenda http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUIW7wZurlc
Roma Community Centre Toronto www.romatoronto.org