Roma people originally migrated from northern India and came to Europe. There are different theories as to why the Roma migrated. It is argued that the reasons for migration are wars, slavery, and the search for freedom.
Roma people immigrated all over the world. However, they generally live in the southern part of europe. They have been named differently in each country they migrated to. The origin of the word gypsy comes from Turkish (çingene) . It used to mean poor in old Turkish. Later, the Persian form began to be used among neighboring countries. Over time, Roma people were named with various names due to dialect differences. For example; Greeks say: Τσιγγάνος ( Tsinganos ), Italians say: Zingaro, Slavic countries say: Cigan.
In many regions, Roma were forced into slavery, a practice which continued into the 19th century in Romania and elsewhere. Roma were also sentenced to death throughout the medieval era in England, Switzerland and Denmark. This later grew into organized persecution. Many countries, including Germany, Poland and Italy, ordered the expulsion of all Roma. 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. Between the 1970s and 1990s, the Czech Republic and Slovakia sterilized around 90,000 Romani women against their will.
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). However, there are some countries where “gypsy” or an equivalent may be accepted by the people concerned.
What’s the difference between Roma and Travellers?
Travellers have a different ethnicity to Roma, and live in countries across Europe including France, Ireland and the UK. They often maintain a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle, unlike most Roma.
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. There are also sizeable Romani minorities in western Europe, especially in Italy (around 150,000 Roma and Travellers), Spain (600,000-800,000), France and the UK (up to 300,000 in each country).
What’s the situation for Roma in Europe today?
Millions of Roma live in isolated slums, often without any 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.
What impact does this have?
Roma have more health problems, worse housing and lower literacy levels than non-Roma people. In central and eastern Europe, they can expect to live 10 years less than others. On average, they also 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.
Mustafa Tuncer, volunteer@ICDET