Mythbusters – Gypsy Traveller Edition
Today is International Roma Day. Last week’s briefing from Amnesty Human Rights Here, Roma Rights Now highlighted horrendous human rights violations ranging from discrimination and hate crimes, to segregation and forced evictions. The report criticised the EU for not using its powers to end discrimination against Roma (take action here), but are we doing any better in Scotland?
The Scottish Government’s Equal Opportunities Committee report, which was published last month shows that widespread racial discrimination against Scottish Gypsy Traveller communities has hardly improved at all in the 12 years since their first report was released.
On International Roma Day, let’s take time to consider this issue and tackle discrimination right here in our backyards.
The following is a bit of myth busting you can use in conversation, in a letter to your local paper or council, in a radio talk show phone-in, or anywhere you hear racism and discrimination against Gypsy Travellers.
Gypsy Travellers are British – they are not an ethnic minority.
Reality: Travellers are an indigenous people who have kept an itinerant lifestyle for centuries and are legally classified as a distinct ethnic group under the Race Relations Act.
Gypsy Travellers are criminals.
Reality: As in any other community, some Travellers are involved in crime. But there is no evidence that criminality is higher among Travellers than other groups. The proportion of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in the UK mainstream prison population is smaller than their proportion of the general population.
Gypsy Travellers are lazy and don’t want to work.
Reality: Gypsies, Roma and Travellers often start work younger, with traditional skills being passed down to the next generation. There is a strong work ethic, based on the need to survive. Because of discrimination and a lack of formal qualifications, many prefer (or are forced into) self-employment and face obstacles finding work in the settled community.
Travellers don’t contribute to society and don’t pay their taxes.
Reality: Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have been part of European society for centuries, practising a range of occupations including metal-work, small-scale trading and agricultural labour. Their music, storytelling and art have long been part of European culture. Those who are self-employed pay taxes like anyone else. In the UK, Gypsies and Travellers living on privately owned or Council sites pay Council Tax, rent and other charges.
They don’t want to send their children to school.
Reality: Most Gypsies, Roma and Travellers want a better future for their children and value the literacy that comes with formal education. However, many also fear that schools will weaken their children’s identity and values. In a UK survey, three-quarters of Gypsy Travellers said they had been picked on by other pupils because of their background. A recent exhibition by Article 12 addressed issues surrounding formal education.
There is no better way to understand Gypsy Traveller communities than listening to them.
Take a few moments to hear some of their stories.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.