Today René Cassin held an Interfaith Roundtable on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. This brought together activists, professionals, academics and faith representatives to discuss various ways in which these communities face discrimination or disadvantage, both in the UK and in Europe – these include lower life expectancy, poorer educational attainment, stigmatisation by the media, forced adoption, unfavourable treatment by the police and the law, indifference or ill will from many politicians.
Shay Clipson, a Welsh Romany Gypsy, who has acted as a Trustee with UK Association of Gypsy Women, gave a particularly powerful presentation. We learnt how the police seemed slow or unwilling to act in response to serious hate speech incidents, how some forces kept family trees of Gypsy/Roma families, and how Shay herself has experienced bigotry directly during her time as the UK’s only Romany Gypsy Magistrate.
The media also came in for a good deal of criticism. My Fat Gypsy Wedding perpetuated stereotypes, the word ‘pikey’ is apparently deemed acceptable by the BBC, and news reports almost invariably focus on negative elements. More positive stories rarely get a look in. This coverage reinforces bigotry which in turn leads many to conceal their background. However the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association is just one example of the efforts being made to reverse this trend.
René Cassin’s campaigning work on this issue is a good example of ‘fighting hatred together’, to quote the headline of the recent CST cross-post. The Board of Deputies of British Jews shares these concerns, and draws attention to the problems faced by the Roma in its recent manifesto.
Jews and Roma were persecuted together during the Second World War, and continue to face abuse from extremists, especially in Hungary, but in other places too. Victimisation of the Roma needs to be tackled urgently.