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Culture History Human Rights

Europe’s Pariah People

One man in ten million, photo: Zsolt Bugarszki/flickr

With over 10 million members, the Roma (also called Romani) constitute today’s largest EU minority group. Scattered across a dozen countries, with their largest concentrated populations in Central and Eastern Europe, they have become Europe’s current pariah people.

In July of this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his government’s plans to deport thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma migrants back to their home countries. Already in 2009, roughly 10,000 Roma were expelled from France, and around the same number has been driven out thus far this year. In Italy, where authorities already started to deal with the ‘Roma question’ back in 2008, large-scale evictions of Roma from settlements across the country are already taking place. In Milan alone, officials have expelled over 7,000 Roma over the past two years.

France and Italy are, however, not alone in evicting the Roma. Across Western Europe, politicians and public officials are tripping over themselves with declarations proclaiming that Roma as an ethnic group are dangerous and predisposed to crime and other antisocial behavior, and must therefore be removed from society as quickly as possible. In light of this, numerous Western European countries (namely Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the UK) have either already moved to expel the Roma, or intend to do so in the nearby future.

In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, where most Roma live, the situation has never been anything but hideous. Across the region, Roma communities are denied equal access to adequate housing, education, health, water and sanitation, and thus remain deprived of all prospects. In addition, anti-Roma violence remains a serious and, in many places even an increasing problem, exacerbated by the fact that most perpetrators of violence against Roma continue to act with impunity.

However, discrimination against the Roma is not a new phenomenon.