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Save the Roma Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Scott Elliott, Canada Nov 18, 2008
Human Rights   Opinions


Save the Roma I would like to bring your attention to an issue that has received little attention( if any). The Romani (singular Rom, plural Roma as a noun; also known as Romanies) are Europe’s largest and fastest growing minority. Tragically, they are being persecuted across the European continent because of the colour of their skin and false stereotypes that continue to be spread.

Believed to have their origins in South Asia, they have lived in Europe since the 14th Century. Romani usually speak the language of the country they live in, and typically take the common religion of the region as well. They are often referred to pejoratively and ignorantly as Gypsies.

Worldwide there is an estimated population of at least 15 million Roma. The official number of Roma people is disputed in many countries because many Roma often refuse to register their ethnic identity in official censuses for fear of discrimination. The largest Roma population is found in the Balkan peninsula; significant numbers also live in the Americas, the former Soviet Union, Western Europe.

When the Roma people arrived in Europe, curiosity was soon followed by hostility and xenophobia. Roma were enslaved for five centuries until abolition in 1856. Elsewhere in Europe, they were subject to ethnic cleansing, abduction of their children, and forced labor. During World War II, the Nazis murdered 200,000 to 800,000 Roma in an attempted genocide.

The Roma continue to be persecuted across Europe. The practice of placing Roma students in segregated schools or classes remains widespread in countries across Central and Eastern Europe. In Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, many Roma children have been channeled into all-Roma schools that offer inferior quality education and are sometimes in poor physical condition, or into segregated all-Roma or predominantly Roma classes within mixed schools.

Roma in European population centers are often accused of crimes such as pickpocketing. This is a regular justification for anti-Ziganist persecution. A UN study found that Roma in Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria are arrested for robbery at a much higher rate than other groups. Amnesty International and Roma groups such as the Union Romani blame widespread police and government racism and persecution.

Italy is home to about 150,000, who live mainly in squalid conditions on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples. The country has also has been a flash point of anti-Romani activities. On July 3, 2008 it was announced that Italy had started fingerprinting their Roma populations, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told parliament the move was needed to fight crime and identify illegal immigrants for expulsion. On July 19, 2008 two Roma girls drowned off Torregaveta, west of Naples. Local newspapers reported that sunbathers continued as if nothing abnormal had happened, in spite of the fact that the two dead bodies had been there on the sand of the same beach for over an hour.

We need to pressure the governments of Europe to do more to help the Romani. A diverse continent like Europe needs to be a cultural mosaic and needs to accept all those who live within its borders and are its citizens. They can and do contribute to the society therefore they should not be excluded from it.
Knowledge is power, and understanding the Roma and their plight is a small step on the path towards Roma integration and betterment of their status. I hope we all will strive to learn more and then pass around what we have learnt to others.

Though we are surrounded with more prominent issues like the unpredictable economy and terrorism, which have an impact on us directly, it is important not to forget those who live in more trying circumstances than ourselves.



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Writer Profile
Scott Elliott

My name is Scott Elliott. I am a Political Science student and Human Rights activist, living in Surrey, BC. I work for Roma Rights Network (www.romarights.net)
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