Who are the Roma?
The term “Roma” used at the Council of Europe refers to Roma, Sinti, Kale and related groups in Europe, including Travellers and the Eastern groups (Dom and Lom), and covers the wide diversity of the groups concerned. While some people within the umbrella group of Roma identify as Gypsy, for many Roma, this term is derogatory.
Roma constitute the largest minority ethnic group in the E.U. There are estimated to be approximately 10-12 million Roma across Europe. Those who identify as Roma in Ireland include Roma who have migrated to Ireland and are generally EU citizens. These also include Roma who are now Irish citizens and Roma who have been born in Ireland.
There are an estimated 5,000 Roma in Ireland but there is very little accurate data available as Roma ethnicity is not collected in official statistics. Roma in Ireland mostly come from Romania, but also Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria.
Roma in Ireland
In Ireland today, many Roma experience disadvantages in accessing education, health services, good housing and jobs. 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.
Roma experiences across Europe
The former Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, notes that ‘Europe has a shameful history of discrimination and severe repression of the Roma. There are still widespread prejudices against them in country after country on our continent.’ While sometimes associated with countries in Eastern Europe, this discrimination can be seen in countries across Europe.
Read a Harvard University Blog on the racialization and ‘othering’ of Roma in Gypsy and Romani studies – Part One
The European Roma Rights Centre reports that violence against Roma communities is rising across Europe. The attacks they have documented include police violence, arson attacks, mob violence and anti-Roma demonstrations.
A survey by the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) covering 11 EU countries shows that one in three Roma is unemployed and 90% live below national poverty lines. This is particularly exacerbated for Romani women. ‘On average across the 11 EU Member States surveyed, the situation of Roma women in core areas of social life, such as education, employment and health is worse in comparison to that of Roma men.’
Throughout Europe, the average life expectancy of Roma is shorter than that of non-Roma and infant mortality rates are higher. Roma face significant barriers in accessing health care, including lack of resources to pay for insurance or treatment and discrimination in health care provision. FRA research reports discrimination against Roma by health care personnel to be a particular problem.
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. More recently, the European Commission has been adopting a tough stance on discrimination whereby, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have been subjected to an infringement procedure for breach of EU Anti-discrimination law in the area of education.
Many Roma across Europe face forced eviction and live in poor and segregated settlements; with substandard housing, a lack of infrastructure and a prevalence of environmental hazards.
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.
The Holocaust had a devastating impact on the Roma community. While there is no definite figure available, estimates put the number of people killed at approximately 500,000.
Amnesty International and Roma
ERGO Network for European Roma
EU and Roma
European Network against Racism
European Roma Rights Centre
European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
Open Society Foundations and Roma
UN and Roma