Peoples and nations today: the Roma

DOSSIER. Not only are the Roma a stateless nation, but they also lack their own territory. There are members of the Romani community – often called gypsies – living in almost every European country, as well as in America, Asia and North Africa. The Roma have been stigmatized for centuries, and even today their rights as a people often go unrecognized and they are the victims of racial discrimination.

The Romani people today
The Roma are becoming more and more aware of the need to assert themselves as a people to ensure their rights are protected, and a large number of initiatives have been implemented in recent years in an attempt to foster a wider community extending beyond the borders of individual states. To this effect, the International Romani Union (the website for the Spanish subsidiary organization Union Romani is here) is one of the organizations most actively involved in the promotion of Romani rights.

A number of international organizations, such as the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and the Council of Europe, have recently taken up the Roma cause, thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of NGOs and working groups like the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Fundación Secretariado Gitano. There are also Romani information networks on the internet, such as, RomNews and the European Roma Information Office.

Building on this increased presence on the international scene, the first European summit on the Romani people was held on September 16, 2007 at the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels. The main aim of the event was to alert EU member states to the needs of the Romani people and to convey the importance of a joint response to the “persistent discrimination” suffered by the Romani community. See the related Nationalia article and the coverage on the European Commission website.

But the Roma continue to hit the headlines for entirely negative reasons. Things went back to square one last summer, when Italian police detained a teenager of Romani ethnicity for allegedly kidnapping a baby in Naples. Two Romani camps on the outskirts of the city were set alight once their inhabitants had been forced to leave. The Italian Government responded by taking a census of the entire Romani population in Italy, a measure which ERRC considers “discriminatory” because it is being carried out on the basis of ethnicity. Click here for the relevant Nationalia article.