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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