Roma people are part of a minority ethnic group that originated in India and migrated across Europe over 1000 years. EU institutions use ‘Roma’ as an umbrella term for people who self identify as belonging to Roma, Sinti, Ashkali, Manush and other groups with a nomadic tradition- including Irish Travellers. Romani is the official language of Roma, with different variances of the language across regions.
Roma constitute the largest minority ethnic group in the E.U. There are estimated to be approximately 10-12 million Roma across Europe. Roma have fled violence and persecution for centuries, subject to anti-gypsy laws and forcibly sterilised in Eastern Europe. The Roma were one of the groups targeted during the Holocaust, with estimates that 500,000 Roma died in concentration and extermination camps.
Roma in Ireland
“I would like Roma and Irish people to get to know each other better – be it in schools, work, parks, anywhere really. The important thing is that we all pump the same colour blood through our veins and we all breathe air. Don’t judge a book by its cover.” – Manu
“Everyone sees begging as part of our culture. We’re not cultural beggars. This is not in our culture. People beg because they are forced to – they have no choice.” – Gabi
“I came here to look for work. It was very hard in the beginning – having no English. Then my children started going to school and I now speak better English and have found work – so has one of my sons.”- Daniel
It is estimated that there are up to 5,000 Roma currently living in Ireland, with most coming from Romania and Slovakia. Roma are residents and citizens of countries all across Europe, including Hungary, Bulgaria, France, the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain. Roma in Ireland are generally EU citizens. Many Roma are now Irish citizens and there are now many second and third generation Roma who have been born in Ireland.
In Ireland today, many Roma experience disadvantages in accessing jobs, health services and good housing. Roma have been portrayed in a negative light in Irish and international media and are often associated with criminal activities and ‘organised begging’. Stereotypes about Roma and negative media reporting provided a context in which two Roma children were removed from their families in 2013, for not looking like their parents. The subsequent report by the Ombudsman for Children identified the occurrence of ethnic profiling.
Violence against Roma communities is rising across Europe. This includes police violence, arson attacks, mob violence and anti-Roma demonstrations.
Throughout Europe, the average life expectancy of Roma is shorter than that of non-Roma and infant mortality rates are higher. Poverty, substandard accommodation, racism and lack of access to health services are key causes of poor physical and mental health. Roma face refusal of care and discrimination by health care personnel. In some cases Roma women are placed in separate maternity wards, that are rarely cleaned and do not always have heating.
Coercive sterilisation of Romani women has been documented across Europe. Romani women were sterilised without their consent in former Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Between the 1970’s until the 1990’s it was State policy in Czechoslovakia to sterilise Romani women so as to reduce their “high and unhealthy” birth rate. Coercive sterilisations were part of a policy to assimilate Roma into wider society and to stop the “social risk” that Roma posed. The Czech Ombudsman estimates that as many as 90,000 Romani women from Czechoslovakia became infertile due to coercive sterilisation. Cases have been documented in Europe from as recently as 2007.
Roma children in many European countries remain excluded from quality education, segregated in Roma-only classes or schools, and placed in schools for children with intellectual disabilities. The European Court of Human Rights found ‘there was a long history of wrongful placement of Romani children in special schools in Hungary and that the State must change this practice.’ The Court has also called other countries to account including the Czech Republic.
Many Roma across Europe face forced eviction and live in poor and segregated settlements; with substandard housing, a lack of infrastructure and environmental hazards.