The Roma

Resource Person: Dr Adrian R. Marsh

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Dr Marsh gained his PhD in Romani Studies from Greenwich University (London), his MA (South East European Studies) from SOAS/SSEES and completed his BA Hons. (1st) in East European History at SSEES, London. He has also been a Gypsy/Traveller Education Support Teacher in London. He teaches courses on Romani identity, history, mobility and culture, trans-national forced migration, refugee studies and human rights and children’s rights in Turkey, Sweden, the UK, Albania, Kosovo, Rumania, Cyprus and Egypt and carries out training for NGO’s, municipal authorities and international organisations in Roma, Gypsy, Traveller rights across central, eastern and south-eastern Europe. He is a frequent consultant and accredited expert for the Open Society Foundations, European Commission, Council of Europe, European Roma Rights Centre, Save the Children, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, the International Step-by-Step Association and the Romani Arts & Culture Company (UK) and has published widely on the issues of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller rights and Romani and Traveller children’s rights, Romani history, language and cultures. As an academic and expert, he has produced many policy papers (for the Canadian Immigration Board and the Welsh government), research reports, action plans (for the EU Delegations engaged in enlargement in the Balkans) and advocacy strategies in both capacities. He has also acted as an expert witness in refugee cases involving Romani, Traveller and Gypsy people from Turkey, the Balkans, central Europe and Egypt, seeking asylum in the UK. He is of English Romany-Traveller origins himself.


Roma in Europe are currently estimated to be the largest ethnic minority across the EU and Council of Europe countries, with a population of 12 million (including those in Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina). Roma are particularly concentrated in Rumania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Spain, with smaller communities in almost every other EU member state (including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), with the exception of Malta. In non-EU states, such as Switzerland and Norway, Roma communities are small but diverse, with long-standing and more recent, originally migrant communities and across western and north-western Europe, Roma migration has brought many, originally eastern, central and south-eastern Roma to Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Holland, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece. Previous long-standing Roma communities in all these countries have, in the decades since 1990, grown with the addition of migrant Roma from central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.

Roma migration has been driven, since the 1990’s, by discrimination, violence and increasingly harsh segregation in education, housing and society. Populist politics in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Rumania, Croatia, Greece and Poland have sought to target, deliberately and consistently, the Roma as ‘scapegoats’ in rapidly changing societies that have seen increasing inequality, corruption and injustice, as a result of transition to market economies. Economic instability, following the crisis in international financial markets of 2008, has further exacerbated the trends towards marginalisation for Roma in these countries. Dislocation from city neighbourhoods to segregated ghettos and forced migration, with local municipal officers using threats of violence to ensure Roma leave their district or even the country, are commonplace. Housing and accommodation at very poor levels, economic marginalisation and extreme generational poverty as a consequence of racism and xenophobia, ensure that Roma communities are utterly excluded from wider society. Increasingly, biological and genetic stereotypes from ultra-nationalist groups have become embedded in public discourse around Roma in much of eastern and south-eastern Europe, who now occupy a position that is analogous to that of Roma and Sinti in Germany, 1936.

Terminology around Roma (and related communities of Sinti, Manouche, Gitano, Resande and others) remains contested, with some arguing that ‘Roma’ is becoming a catch-all term for supra-national institutions (such as the European Union and Council of Europe) to reduce diversity amongst widely differing communities, in terms of language and culture; however, such arguments misunderstand the difference in local self-ascription and collective identities, operating in communal and political environments. The term ‘Gypsy’ (or its translated equivalents) is frequently treated by most Roma with suspicion and deemed offensive, when used by ‘outsiders’. Only among UK Gypsies (and not even all of these, as many prefer the term ‘Traveller’ as distinct from Irish Traveller or Scottish Gypsy-Traveller) does the term have any legitimacy and the increasing use of the phrase ‘Gypsy (but never ‘Gipsy’ or ‘gypsy’ ), Roma, Traveller’ by advocates, decision-takers, policy-makers, and amongst communities, is gaining ground in the UK. Across Europe, the term ‘Roma’ is widely understood and accepted, with recognition that it may be used to encompass a diversity of sub-ethnic identities.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled on a number of occasions, against states practicing segregation in education for Roma children, discrimination against Roma families and forced sterilisations of Roma women. The European Union instituted the EU National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) in 2014, aimed at achieving significant change by 2020, in EU member states, for Roma communities. The Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005-2015 attempted to do the same in four key areas: housing, health, education and employment, but in reality, whilst small pilot projects demonstrated excellent results, scaling-up of such initiatives remained hampered by a lack of resources and political will from national governments. The NRIS are likely to be plagued by the same problems, as evaluations of effectiveness by the European Commission have shown.

Roma migration will continue as the conditions within the central, eastern and south-eastern EU member states remains poor or deteriorates further. Expulsions from western EU member states, such as those from Italy and France in the past, are likely to periodically re-emerge as governments mobilise popular resentment against unwelcome ‘EU migrants’, particularly following the triggering of Article 50 by the UK. Asylum and refugee cases involving Roma are almost certain to rise between 2017-2020, as major shifts in relationships take place across the EU. The harsh realities of bans on Roma begging even in the Scandinavian countries, once lauded for their positive approach to inclusion, are likely to be replicated across Europe as economic conditions worsen and political conservatism deepens. 

© Dr Adrian R Marsh