Swiss travellers ‘suffer due to Roma reputation’

Hostile attitudes towards Roma people in Switzerland are making life difficult for the Jenische people, an entirely separate travelling ethnic group with a long history in the country, community leaders say.

Jenische leaders say the Roma’s reputation for begging, thievery, and prostitution is worsening the image of the Jenische, and is resulting in a changing of attitudes towards the Jenische people.

“We often get abused,” said Daniel Huber, president of the ‘Radgenossenschaft der Landstrasse’, the association that looks out for the rights of the Jenische people, travellers who have lived in Europe for centuries.

“It is often the case for example that on the open road, we in Switzerland get called ‘dirty gypsies’.”

The association has approximately 35,000 Jenische members, 3,500 of whom are still living the nomadic lifestyle while the remainder are settled in permanent homes. Although they are entirely separate from the Roma, many Swiss fail to recognize the differences.

Although there has always been a Roma population in Switzerland, Roma numbers in Switzerland have recently increased significantly due to the adoption of the EU’s free movement of people directive.

“Some Roma from other countries actually behave like elephants in a china shop,” Uschi Waser, president of the Naschet Jenische Foundation, told Tages Anzeiger.

“Unfortunately, it is difficult to get them to abide by our rules”.

Most people accept that not all Roma are bad apples”. Both Waser and Huber acknowledge that it is the bad behaviour of a few that is tarnishing the reputations of both ethnic groups.

In addition, the Roma are also being used as scapegoats for an increase in criminal activity.

“Many criminals operate across the borders, but only some of them are Roma,” Venanz Nobel, vice-president of the Transnational Jenische Assocation, told the newspaper.

“But the news is dominated by the Roma, which perpetuates the old prejudices that they are thieving gypsies.”

Nobel is also concerned about the actions being taken supposedly to protect the children used by the Roma for criminal activities. He sees parallels with the action taken between 1926 and 1972, when some 600 Jenische children were taken away from their parents.

“Even today, the kids are an excuse, while the goal really is to clean up and free the streets of gypsies,” Nobel said.

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Geneva coalition fights city’s begging ban

A coalition of NGOs and left-wing parties are hoping to gather enough support to change a law allowing police officers in Geneva to fine people who beg for money on the street.

Geneva coalition fights city's begging ban
Alex Bricov (File)

Since January 2008, a law passed by the right-wing majority in the cantonal parliament has meant beggars can be fined if caught asking for cash.

But Catholic charity confederation Caritas said the measure had not proved effective in deterring mendicants.

“The phenomenon has not diminished, and prohibiting it leads to considerable costs for taxpayers, both in terms of police personnel and administrative and judicial fees,” said Caritas Geneva in a statement.

According to the coalition, fining beggars is inhumane, discriminatory and stigmatizing. It is also very expensive, it says. In 18 months, the cost of filing some 13,634 reports has amounted to three million francs ($3.25 million).

According to the coalition, the fact that the fines had been issued to a total of 1,516 people showed that there was a high rate of recidivism and the policy was having no effect.

“The criminalization of people in a precarious situation, principally Roma, leaves room for all sorts of abuses against them (confiscation of the money collected, or of their belongings, destruction of their makeshift shelters, etc.), further aggravating an already fragile situation,” said Caritas.

The group hopes to collect 10,000 signatures by March 31st before submitting its proposal to the cantonal parliament.