Q&A on Roma and Traveller Rights (Episode 1, Series 2).

In response to the first episode of the EarthRights Podcast Series Two, some listeners got in touch with questions surrounding Roma and Traveller Rights issues, which we discussed with Roma rights campaigner and researcher, Fil Sys.

With Fil, we have endevoured to answer the questions below as thoroughly as possible, but please note that our expertise does not extend as far as providing the fullest of answers in some instances.

Are the majority traveller population in Europe Roma? And if there are travellers who aren’t Roma, what should we refer to them as?

Any question about the origin of Roma peoples is difficult. Research seems to suggest that Roma and Travellers are not of the same ethnic background. However, both groups have been historically referred to by the problematic exonym of ‘gypsy’, which carries with it many negative connotations and should therefore not be used. You will find a lot of international organisations, institutions and charities referred to ‘Roma & Traveller’ rights or issues.

After the First World Romani Congress in 1971, hosted in England, the term ‘Roma’ was adopted by the majority of Romani and Traveller Group representatives as the preferred umbrella term for various sub-groups which have been referred to historically as ‘gypsy’.

As we discussed during the Roma Rights Episode on the EarthRights Podcast, the word ‘gypsy’ comes from the 16th Century, ‘gipsy’, an alteration of ‘gypcian’, a Middle English dialectical form of ‘egypcien’ – ‘Egyptian’ – referring to the incorrectly presumed origin of the Romani peoples. In fact, Romani originate from the Indian subcontinent, but arrived in Europe as traders sometime between the 1st and 2nd century AD.

‘Travellers’ are considered as one sub-group of a larger ethnic group which is widely described as ‘Roma’. Throughout Europe, many identify as ‘Roma’, however, some sub-groups identify themselves using different terminology. For example, Sinti and Irish Travellers historically have used their own preferred terms to identify themselves.

How can the instability of a non-permanent address (for those Roma peoples who have chosen not to settle) be navigated in social systems that often require this for means of security? 

We have to be honest and say that this is not in Fil’s or EarthRights’ area of expertise at all; we are not sure of the solutions to grant security to Romani and Traveller communities who live a nomadic way of life.

There are some judgements from the European Court of Human Rights which suggest that the nomadic way of life for Roma and Traveller communities is protected. For example, in Chapman v. UK, (para 73) the Court considered “that the applicant’s occupation of her caravan is an integral part of her ethnic identity as a Gypsy, reflecting the long tradition of that minority of following a travelling lifestyle.” 

Stopping-sites

There have been suggestions from Councils in the UK to create permitted, legal stopping-sites for Romani and Traveller communities to reside temporarily without ‘trespassing’.

According to the Governments’ national Caravan Counts, there are currently over 3000 Traveller families without a place which they are permitted to stop in their caravans in England, and 120 in Wales. As it stands though, at the moment, these so-called ‘stopping sites’ are dwindling and there is currently a ‘chronic’ shortage of stopping-sites.

For more detailed discussion and research on this issue, please visit: https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/ or: https://travellermovement.org.uk/.

Do schools have obligations to temporarily home Roma children, if families plan to move soon? Or what are the methods in place for education at least?

In the Czech Republic, I (Fil) am not aware of a policy which covers this. This is because, unlike in the UK, historic measures were put in place to forcibly settle thousands of Roma and criminalise a nomadic lifestyle. Therefore, the majority do reside in one location but obviously can move towns, cities and countries as they wish.

In the UK, there is not an obligation to home Roma children, but equally they are obliged to ensure Roma children remain in school and are not removed or sent elsewhere.

Is the Roma population much more significant in Czech Republic than in other Western European countries? And do they face the same discrimination around the continent?

This is such a broad question – it’s difficult to know where to start. There are approximately over 250,000 Roma in Czechia and the majority of ethnic Roma in mainland Europe live in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

It is very difficult to measure whether the Roma population face the same discrimination accross the continent. Fil opened up in the episode about his personal experience of racism in the Czech Republic and explained he felt much more at ease belonging to an ethnic minority in the UK.

But, for the majority of Romani and Traveller communities, struggling against systemic discrimination and casual racism is a fact of their daily lives. Reports have suggested that it is the ‘last form of accepted racism’ in the UK and on the continent. In other words, nations are far from effectively including these groups into their societies and social security systems.

At the end of the day, if you ask for a preferred term when speaking to a member of any Roma or Traveller community, please use what is suggested by them because it shows respect for their personal identity.

Listen to Episode 1
Melanie Désert

Melanie Désert

Co-founder and Co-producer