In parts of Europe, Roma people are widely discriminated against and subject to widespread racism
Months of research, carried out by a team of scientists, which involved thousands of interviews with Roma people in six European countries, including Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Romania, has revealed worrying gaps in data about why Roma people are targeted, and what responses people think would stop discrimination.
But the three scientists have emphasised that no one – whether Roma, politicians or scientists – can claim responsibility for stopping such discrimination. “The problem is huge and it’s a national issue,” said Dr Lynette Mark, who lead the group of scientists working at the Zurich-based Centre for Urban and Regional Research (CEURODER). “The bottom line is we are not making much progress in society.”
During the survey, which began last summer, researchers asked the 300 or so people living in each of the cities and towns chosen to give insight into their experiences to learn more about why Roma people are frequently subject to discriminatory treatment.
What followed was the most extensive survey of Roma people in history, complete with personal diary entries, as well as previously unpublished information from interviews with high-ranking politicians, public health experts, social scientists and Roma organisations.
The results reveal that:
Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said their lives had been affected by discrimination and a third said they had been victimised in some way in the previous year.
Roma people were also viewed negatively by at least six out of 10 those interviewed.
The European Union spends more than €300bn (£256bn) a year tackling healthcare and education in European states with large Roma populations, according to a 2016 study by the European Social Fund.
The situation for Roma people in the UK, the study found, was poor and some people could be both victims and perpetrators of racism. “Although some reported acts of racism against themselves or members of their family, many stated that a significant portion of the discrimination experienced by Roma was directed against them,” the study found. “This approach highlights the need for social policies that address both victims and perpetrators of hate.”
The findings come at a time when national governments throughout Europe are looking for ways to make life better for the millions of Roma across the continent. In Austria and Hungary, a series of new laws have been introduced to tackle racism and discrimination faced by Roma people.
But the outlook is far from rosy, according to Dr Casper Hans-Holzwart, a co-author of the study. He added: “Roma people suffer discrimination from all backgrounds and political and other organisations are not doing enough to combat it.”
The study also draws attention to the lack of accurate statistics on Roma people – such as how many live in each country. But Céline Moritz of Action against Racism said that “without a doubt, there are many more [Roma] people in the country than we have had accurate data on”.
Moritz is advocating for a new strategy for Roma inclusion within the EU and said more practical information was needed to understand how Roma people could effectively fight discrimination. “The problem is that the data that exists on them is in kind of an experimental setting, like earlier studies with Roma – lots of them did not even believe they were Roma,” she said.
Mark said she wanted to see more intense research on Roma people’s experiences, rather than looking at only a few parameters that might be seen as evidence of problems. “The scale of what we are looking at is the biggest and we need a bigger information architecture,” she said.
The research also provides opportunities for increased understanding of Roma life, according to Frédéric Lhermitte, an expert on the study. The widespread stereotypes the team discovered – for example that Roma people were unemployed or had been victims of crime – can be “exploited by politicians or sociologists to argue for some kind of exclusion”, said Lhermitte.
“So [that is] the reason for the action that they want to take,” he said. “It means we can understand the experiences of people and the different aspects of them.”