Gypsy Child Snatchers! Don’t Exist
Hysterical and unfounded fears of Gypsies stealing babies spread through Ireland this week, which led to the police taking children away from two separate Roma families. The police turned out to be the only child snatchers in these cases, which were the culmination of years of growing anti-Roma sentiment that at every point politicians—and sometimes the press—have perpetuated rather than prevented.
The Roma community has long been Europe’s whipping boys and girls. They are the last minority group that it is safe for ostensibly respectable politicians to openly attack. Despitethe dark legacy of the Porajmos, the Nazi’s extermination of as many as 1.5 million Romani during World War II, in Europe it has never become taboo to repeat centuries-old slurs about their culture.
This particular round of Gypsy hate started last week in Greece, where a child named Maria with blonde hair and blue eyes was found living with Gypsies who were not her real parents. Immediately, the centuries-old myth of Gypsy kidnappings was reborn. The parents of missing blonde children lined up to say they had found new hope from the case because Gypsies could have taken their child. The idea is as discredited as the blood libel against Jews—that they used Christian children in rituals—but people still like to trot the lie out every so often.
Why Are So Many Gypsies Killing Themselves?
Gypsies and travelers have long been a marginalized group. I suppose that’s one of the pitfalls of intentionally side-lining yourself from mainstream society for hundreds of years. But recent changes to legislation surrounding traveler communities (meaning they no longer have government-approved places to settle) has made them even more segregated. A report showed that travelers and gypsies are in significantly poorer health than other UK-resident, English-speaking ethnic minorities. They’re also more likely to suffer from miscarriages, still births, the death of young babies and older children because their access to healthcare—as a group with no fixed address—is limited. Which is obviously all extremely depressing.
Another related bum-out is the fact that, within the last five years, the rates of drug abuse in both communities have risen exponentially, and suicide rates have grown to be six times higher than those of the general UK population. Travelers and gypsies are already both pretty closed communities, and I imagine they’re not going to become any less reluctant to talk when it comes to their family members killing themselves, so there’s not a huge amount of information out there as to why this has suddenly started happening. To get a bit of insight, I called Shauna Leven from the charity René Cassin.
Ex-residents of Dale Farm.
VICE: Hi Shauna. Can you unwrap this statistic that suicide rates in the traveler and gypsy communities are six times higher than the general UK population?
Shauna Leven: First, I should just say that these statistics apply to Romani gypsies and Scottish, Welsh, and Irish travelers, not so much the Roma people who’ve started coming here more recently. However, they too experience the same kind of discrimination in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s hard to delve into specifics, because the NHS doesn’t collect statistics on health issues for this ethnic groups as it does for other ethnic groups.
Why aren’t they collecting statistics?
It’s just not part of the NHS framework. Gypsies and travelers are recognized as an ethnic minority, but the discrepancy between, say, the life expectancy of travelers and the general population is mostly ignored. If you were seeing the same kind of thing in the Muslim community, for example, it’s much more likely there’d be statistics taken. Our first recommendation towards solving the problem is to go out and do more research about the topic, because that’s the first issue here.
The first issue is what’s causing it?
Yes—well, higher suicide rates are really the result of a convergence of factors. Racism against gypsies and travelers is often referred to as the last acceptable type of racism here in the UK. Educated, socially conscious people often don’t hesitate before using the words “gyp” or “pikey” or other things like that, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. It shows the level of social exclusion that travelers automatically fall under for being travelers.