In a report coinciding with International Roma Day on Tuesday, Amnesty International said that European states are failing to protect their Roma communities, many of whom live in precarious conditions and are the victims of hate crimes.
The rights group said that many of the 10 to 12 million Roma living in Europe face "the daily threat of forced eviction, police harassment and violent attacks".
The Roma, a traditionally nomadic people whose ancestors left India centuries ago, have long suffered from discrimination.
"The conditions in which many Roma are forced to live are a damning indictment of years of official neglect and discrimination," Amnesty said.
Adding insult to injury, it is the Roma themselves who are often blamed for their precarious social status, Amnesty said.
"Far from acknowledging that this situation is a result of their failure to ensure the human rights of the Roma, some European leaders are choosing to blame Roma themselves for 'failing to integrate'," it added.
Resentment and discrimination is rife, with some countries blaming Roma for a rise in petty crime.
France notably pursues a controversial policy of forcibly evicting Roma from their camps, often paying them to return to their countries of origin, mainly Romania and Bulgaria.
The policy was started under conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy but has continued under President François Hollande, a Socialist.
Many of France's 20,000 Roma live in extreme poverty in makeshift settlements with little or no access to basic services, such as water and sanitation, and are at constant risk of forced evictions, Amnesty said.
The Amnesty report cited several examples of alleged police brutality against Roma, including spraying teargas inside tents where children were sleeping and beating up one man in the southern city of Marseille.
It also pointed to comments made in September by then interior minister Manuel Valls – now France's new prime minister – in which he said most of the Roma in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin, sparking a debate within the French government.
Police guilty of 'hate crimes'
Amnesty also singled out Greece in blaming law enforcement for failing to intervene to stop racially motivated attacks, discouraging victims from filing complaints, and failing to probe or effectively investigate complaints.
"In many cases police officers themselves are perpetrators of hate crime," it said.
Greece is home to between 250,000 and 350,000 Roma, the rights group said.
According to official statistics, police conducted some 1,130 operations in Roma settlements across the country during the first nine months of last year. Officers checked more than 52,400 people during those operations and more than 19,000 were taken to police stations. Of those, 1,305 were arrested.
"Following its visit to Greece, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed its concern over the rounding up of members of the Romani community, who were released soon after without charge," the report said.
"More often than not, (national authorities) have pandered to the prejudices fuelling anti-Roma violence by branding Roma as anti-social and unwelcome," Amnesty said.
"For its part, the European Union has been reluctant to challenge member states on the systemic discrimination of Roma that is all too evident."
The report urged national governments and the European Union to commit to eradicating anti-Roma violence by ensuring that authorities investigate crimes against the community and providing adequate training for police officers who are likely to come into contact with victims.
Amnesty also called for an end to forced evictions.
Roma were killed in their hundreds of thousands by the Nazis during World War II, alongside Jews and homosexuals.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-08