NEW YORK, New York — The Romani Travelers are Europe’s largest minority group, with almost 10 million travelers living on the continent. In addition, most Romani Travelers live within the EU. In fact, 70% of all Romani in Europe living in a member state.
A Brief History of Roma
Originally from India, the Romani Travelers fled their homes due to persecution. The Romani people emigrated from India to Europe more than 900 years ago. Since their migration, they have faced constant discrimination over the centuries. In what is now known as Romania, the Romani were kept as slaves from the 1300s until 1863. For 500 years. Afterward, many chose to flee Romania and move further west to avoid persecution.
Other countries tried to assimilate Romani communities into their culture through targeted laws. One example of this is Austria in the 19th century when a series of laws outlawed nomadic traveling, the Romani language and prevented Romani Travelers from marrying other Travelers.
Of course, like many, the Romani people suffered heavily during the Holocaust. Between 200,000 and 300,000 Travelers were killed in Nazi-occupied territory in what the Romani call “the Porjamos.” This attempt at genociding the Romani devastated their people. It furthermore escalated the fear of persecution within their communities.
Romani Rose, the chair of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, describes this persistent form of discrimination as antigypsyism. Almost all of the Romani’s struggles within the EU can be traced back to it. “Antigypsyism, this specific form of racism, prevents the equal participation of Sinti and Roma in almost all areas of society. Is the root cause for the desolate situation and poverty in which many Roma have to live in their home countries,” said Rose.
When the EU was growing with the addition of Eastern European countries, in which a large population of Travelers lived, Western European media began to spread fears of a “flood of Roma.” This rhetoric warned of a mass arrival of Romani communities that would move to their countries to take part in their welfare system.
Governments purposefully created this fear of the Romani in order to spread anti-Roma sentiment and promote populist politics. “Governments, political leaders and media were often the driving forces to frame a narrative about a ‘Roma problem’ blaming Roma themselves for inhuman living conditions, unemployment, the lack of education and in general for the consequences of racism and discrimination that Roma suffered.”
Thousands of Romani who feared persecution in Eastern European countries were denied asylum. This was due to them being from “safe countries” and the view that they were not in immediate danger. These Romani Travelers faced an immense amount of anti-Roma sentiment, both in their communities and by the governments of their countries.
Exclusion within the European Union
Many of the benefits living in the EU provides do not apply to the Romani. Many Romani Travelers work in an informal system of employment. This “grey economy” often consists of underpaid labor opportunities that EU labor laws do not protect. As a result, such employment puts many Romani at risk.
The Romani people that live in the Western member states of the EU tend to live in settlements established by the countries’ governments. These communities are usually segregated from the general populace and, as such, have drastically different qualities of living.
As a result of this exclusion, around 80% of Romani Travelers are at risk for poverty, compared to 16.8% of their neighbors. Moreover, 62% of Romani people are not employed or enrolled in education in the EU. This is much higher than the 10% of the rest of the EU population who are not employed or enrolled in education.
Barriers in Education and Employment
A key factor in these living conditions is the differences in education and educational policy. Within the EU, 42% of all Romani children attend some sort of educational institution. This lack of participation is in part due to the gap in employment expectations, lower quality of schools in Romani communities and anti-Roma sentiment in the educational system.
Certain EU policies fail to properly include the Romani due to their informal system of employment. The most prominent benefits that fail to include the Travelers are those concerning housing and the freedom to travel. Both of these benefits require having formal employment.
Additionally, a major factor in the continued failure of EU policy regarding Romani aid is the lack of addressing the root issues the Romani communities face. Rose states, “In many European countries, Roma were and often still are treated and stigmatized as a so-called social problem that governments were trying to solve in so-called anti-poverty strategies. Such approaches often ignore and deny the underlying antigypsyism and contribute to reproducing the circle of exclusion and racism.”
New EU Framework
The EU member states must provide the needed assistance and inclusion so that the Romani can prosper. However, the EU has made significant strides in reducing anti-Roma sentiment and promoting Romani Travelers.
The EU has created a strategic framework to continue its work in including the Romani in aid policies and addressing anti-Romanism in its member states. Initially created to cover the years 2000 to 2020, a new framework extends policy plans to 2030. Furthermore, this new framework specifically calls for an increase in Roma participation in policymaking. This is to ensure that governments will not exclude the Romani’s specific needs.
Using this framework, the EU has seen an increase in Romani children attending school. There has also been an increase in overall participation in education. The new framework has helped create progress in helping Romani families rise above poverty. However, the amount of Romani youth unemployed or uneducated has continued to increase.
The EU has also asked non-member states in Eastern Europe to work toward their goals as well. Western Balkan countries have already agreed to comply with the new framework. These countries have made significant progress toward lifting up the roughly one million Romani that live there.
However, there has been a new wave of anti-Romanism that has been spreading throughout the EU. As populist politicians become more popular within the EU, so does the discriminatory rhetoric that persecutes minorities. This is why Romani Rose believes that “The recognition, sanctioning and combating of antigypsyism is a fundamental obligation to defend the rule of law and democracy in Europe.”
– Christopher McLean