Friday, June 19, 2009

Who are Roma and travelers? How many are there in Europe?

Antonio Cappiello (
ICstat - International Cooperation Center for Statistics "Luigi Bodio" )

this post originally appeared (in Italian language) on

The knowledge of ROMA and travelers' culture and the quantification and localization of their presence it is of fundamental importance for planning social policies for the protection of minorities, for overcoming the intolerance and for preventing social exclusion.

Who are Roma and Travelers?

During the history, the only written sources on Roma came from no-Roma populations.The collective memory of Roma population should be found in their folklore, their songs and poems and has its roots in the various historical experiences, in their travel itineraries and in their particular language. Nowadays ROMA population is a mosaic composed by various socio cultural groups, coming to Europe from India at the end of the XII century. Roma's language (Romani) becomes to the Indo European group and it originates from some popular idioms close to Sanskrit, and was greatly influenced by the languages spoken by the populations that were in contact with ROMA: Persian, Kurdish, Greek, Serbian, Turkish etc. According to the estimation of the Council of Europe (2007), Roma and Travelers in Europe are about 10 millions distributed in about 40 countries.

click here to enlarge these figures

Intolerance and discrimination
Roma have always been victims of intolerance, prejudice and discrimination, their presence in Europe is characterised by centuries of persecution,extermination and discriminatory policies. Nowadays, the majority of modern societies continue to show anti-gypsy feelings and to perceive, disseminate or tolerate negative images linked to ROMA who are still considered “different” and not "fully citizen" of their respective countries. As reaction, Roma have developed, as self defense, isolation and diffidence against society and institutions. Generally, travelers include, besides Roma and Sinti, other population group with non Roma origins but with a traveler life style (Irish Travelers, Swiss Yenish, Camminanti Siciliani, etc.), and they have to face the same difficulties of Roma as concerns the fundamental human rights and are constantly in need of fighting against discrimination. Since 1990 the Council of Europe has undertaken various initiatives related to Roma issues. Among them European Roma and Travelers Forum (ERFT) aiming at promoting the participation of Roma representative in decision making process. FORUM activities are in cooperation with other activities of important international organizations , namely: European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), International Roma Women’s Network (IRWN); refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); anti-trafficking actions with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); data collection, with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); Forum of European Roma Young People (FERYP).

References and further readings

Council of Europe, Roma and travelers (

UNDP BRC, The Roma in central and Eastern Europe: Avoiding the Dependency Trap. A regional human development report, 2002 (

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