One of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups

We work in many Roma communities across our field countries. You may be wondering though, who exactly are “the Roma people” and what makes them one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in Europe…

Thanks to Amnesty International  here are some the most frequently asked questions (and answers) regarding the Roma community:

1. Who are Roma?

The word “Roma” means “man” and refers to lots of different sub-groups across Europe. Roma identify themselves differently according to history, language and profession, yet much is shared between the different groups. Roma have a common language, Rromanës, which has different dialects.

2. Where do Roma come from?

Historians think the Roma’s ancestors first arrived in Europe from northern India, through what is now Iran, Armenia and Turkey. They gradually spread their way across the whole of Europe from the 9th century onwards.

3. What did Roma do?

Traditionally, they travelled from place to place, although the majority of Roma are now settled in various countries. They included artisans (for example, wood and copper craft workers), farm workers, blacksmiths, musicians, fortune-tellers and entertainers. At first, they were welcomed for their skills, but governments and the church soon started to see them as suspicious outsiders.

4. How were they treated?

In many regions, Roma were forced into slavery, a practice which continued into the 19th century in Romania and elsewhere. In the 1930s, the Nazis in Germany saw Roma as “racially inferior” and murdered hundreds of thousands of them during World War II. After the war, Roma continued to be discriminated against and oppressed, especially in the Soviet Union.

5. Is it OK to call Roma “gypsies”?

In most languages, “gypsy” is considered insulting and is rejected by Roma organizations. “Roma” is the right word to use for all related groups, regardless of their country of origin. It became the accepted global term in 1971, when representatives of Roma communities adopted a flag, anthem and international day (8 April).

6. How many Roma are there?

There is no official or reliable count of Romani populations worldwide. In Europe, there are between 10 and 12 million Roma. Most of them – around two thirds – live in central and eastern European countries, where they make up between 5 and 10 per cent of the population. Romania has the largest Roma population in Europe. There are also sizeable Romani minorities in western Europe, especially in Italy, Spain, France and the UK.

7. What’s the situation for Roma in Europe today?

Millions of Roma live in isolated slums, often without electricity or running water, and struggle to get the health care they need. Many live with the daily threat of forced evictions, police harassment and violent attacks. Romani children also often suffer segregation in schools and receive a lower standard of education.

8. What impact does this have?

Roma have more health problems, worse housing and lower literacy levels than non-Roma people. On average, they earn less and are more likely to be unemployed. Without good jobs, they can’t afford proper housing, good health care, or a quality education for their children.

9. Why is this happening?

This situation is not the inevitable result of poverty. It is because of centuries of prejudice and discrimination from governments, institutions and individuals.

Romani Children and Education

  • In Romania, high early school leaving (ESL) is concentrated in rural areas and among Roma.
  • Challenges to the integration of Roma in education hinder their social inclusion and ability to find employment.
  • A recent survey by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that only 38% of Roma children attend early education, while 77 % of Roma aged 18-24 are early school leavers.
  • 64% of Roma aged 16-24 are not in employment, education or training.
  • Only 33 % of working-aged Roma are doing paid work.
  • Spending on education is low and no targeted programmes exist to channel additional resources to disadvantaged schools.
  • In Romania, one third of Romani students who dropped out of school in sixth grade could not read and write properly. This situation can be partially explained by low teacher expectations of Romani pupils – some teachers regard literacy as a performance indicator rather than a minimal requirement.
  • Enrolment in ECD or nursery schools is four times lower than average for Romani children
  • But overcrowded classes in primary and secondary education are the norm in schools with high concentrations of Roma.
  • In segregated schools for Roma, insufficient space negatively affects the quality of education.
  • There is a shortage of qualified teachers in 83.5% of schools in which Romani pupils are the majority.

High drop-out rates among Roma are, in part, the result of the negative experience they have at school. Teachers from these schools tend to have low expectations of Romani students, and set lower standards of educational achievement than for the other pupils.

In interviews with Romani parents, it is evident that cases of abusive treatment of Romani pupils at mixed schools have made many Romani parents reluctant to have their children educated alongside non-Romani children.

Romani children are often fearful to study in the same class or school with non-Romani children. Many Romani children are scared of being isolated, treated badly or beaten up.

For many of these children, our After School Clubs offer respite and become a refuge – offering not just a warm meal, but also a safe space to learn and belong. You can read the story of one such child here.

Many of the children in our sponsorship program are from Roma communities and are confronted with these challenges and discrimination on a daily basis. By sponsoring such a child, you are investing in the future of their entire community, as we walk with them to overcome the hardships they face.

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