Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Greece : Roma

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Greece : Roma, 2008, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Official publications estimate the Roma population in Greece numbering around 300,000.[1] Most of the Roma are Orthodox Christians and are dispersed throughout the country. Many Muslim Roma live in Macedonia and Western Thrace.

Historical context

The following is taken from the European Roma Rights Centre Report: Cleaning operations: Excluding Roma in Greece:

The first substantive - though contested - reference to a possible presence of Roma on European soil is to be found in an eleventh-century document, the Georgian Life of Saint George the Athonite.

Historical descriptions of Roma in Greece have helped contribute to the racist stereotyping of their behaviour and the continuing confusion about their ethnic origins. Roma made a considerable contribution to the history of the Byzantine Empire. Not long after their arrival in the European territories of the Byzantine Empire, Roma made their way all over present-day Greece, settling mostly in Venetian-held territories. The Roma of Thrace fought tenaciously against Ottoman forces from 1356 onwards. Many Roma also settled in the Ionian Islands, especially Corfu, during the latter half of the fourteenth century.

Under the Ottoman Empire, Roma were differentiated by their ethnicity from the rest of the population, and did not fall under the two hierarchical categories - true believers and infidels (raya) - into which the Ottomans divided the population. Historians point to evidence revealing the low esteem in which Roma were held by both the Ottomans and the raya, and the existence of the negative social stereotypes for Roma which have persisted to date. Most Roma living in the territory of today's Greece did not convert to Islam during the Ottoman period, but some did. In Thrace, Roma formed a special administrative unit, known as the Sanjak of the Gypsies (Cingane Sancagi) with their own governor (Cingane Sancagi Bey).

Greek Roma played a considerable part in the Greek revolution against Ottoman control in 1821. At that time, there was hardly any important Greek city that did not contain a Roma neighbourhood (gyftomahala, gyftika). The names of some towns or villages contained the prefix 'Gypsy', denoting that they were predominantly (or even exclusively) inhabited by Roma.

The newly independent Greek state, which was recognized in 1830, quickly set about homogenizing the mosaic of ethnic and religious groups living within its territories. Information on Roma in subsequent periods of Greek history is difficult to obtain, because of the upheavals in the ongoing conflict with the Ottoman Empire. Many Christian Roma were sent to Greece during the 1923 exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, but accurate information as to their number, origin and details of their settlement in Greece is not available.

The evidence suggests that Roma participated in the various wars in which the Greek state engaged - but Roma participation in the national resistance movement, and their contributions to the struggle for liberation, remain almost entirely unrecognized in Greece.

As all over Nazi-occupied Europe, the Roma of Greece suffered a heavy toll during the Second World War, although accurate figures are not available. Roma were singled out for harsh punitive measures by the German occupation forces. In early 1942, approximately 300 Roma were detained by the German authorities. More Roma were detained throughout 1942 and only a handful of those taken hostage survived. German plans of 1943 to round up the Roma for transportation to Auschwitz were averted by the intervention of Archbishop Damaskinos, in particular, and of Prime Minister Ioannis Rallis. However, little is known of the fate of Roma living in those parts of Greece not under the effective control of the Greek collaborationist government. Recent research has revealed, for example, that Roma living in Ioannina were exterminated within the framework of the Nazi programme for 'Racial Hygiene and Biological Demography', while other Roma were transported in trains to concentration camps to Germany, mainly to Auschwitz, where most were killed

Despite the contributions of Greek Roma to the building of the modern Greek state, the government took no steps toward granting Greek citizenship to the Roma until 1955, when the first of a series of laws on Greek nationality was passed.

The special rights afforded to individuals with minority status under the Lausanne Treaty as well as under international law - for example, the right to education in the minority's mother tongue - are not extended to the majority of Roma in Greece. The exception is the Muslim Roma of Thrace. They were not included in the 1923 exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, and today they are held to constitute a part of the officially recognized 'Muslim minority' of Greece. At the time of signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923, the Muslim Roma of Western Thrace officially numbered 2,505.

Current issues


According to the 2003 US Department of State Report, the law provides for free and compulsory education for a minimum of nine years. However, non-compliance with the compulsory education requirement was a significant problem in the Roma community. Research conducted by the Aghlaia Kyriakou state hospital showed that 63 per cent of Romani children did not attend school in 2005. International organizations and NGOs expressed concern over a reported Ministry of Education order issued in May 2005 to school directors to not grant year-end certificates to students who were illegal residents.

In April 2006 Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and Minority Rights Group-Greece released a report that concluded that access to education for the Roma in Greece is often impossible, because of the reactions of racist non-Roma neighbours, combined with the reluctance of local, regional and central state authorities to implement the otherwise good legal framework that creates a positive obligation on the state to secure all children the nine-year mandatory education. The report focused on the experience of the Psari Roma community, but stated that this was the prevailing trend and not an unfortunate exception as confirmed by other similar incidents reported at the beginning of the school year 2005/6. The report showed that the Greek state had been aware for years of the existence of a large number of school children of Roma ethnic origin living in Psari and not attending school, but had not taken any measures to address this.


Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination. In April 2004 the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) issued a report that claimed Roma were subject to systematic police abuse; mistreatment while in police custody; regular raids and searches of their neighbourhoods for criminal suspects, drugs and weapons; and educational discrimination. A 2004 ECRI report noted with concern that the situation of Roma remained serious and that Roma continued to face discrimination and difficulty in the areas of housing, employment, education and access to public services. There were frequent police raids on Roma settlements and harsh police treatment of Roma. Roma families who had lived for decades in settlements near Olympic venues were evicted and left to find alternate shelter. Local municipalities reportedly did not fulfil their commitment to provide replacement housing with subsidized rent for the families. In 2004 Amnesty International and the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern at instances of ill-treatment of Roma by public officials in situations of forced evictions or relocation.

The US Department of State Report notes that Roma representatives reported that local authorities sometimes deprived Roma of the right to vote by refusing to register them. Many Roma had difficulty meeting municipal residency requirements to register to vote in the March 2004 elections.

Roma frequently faced societal discrimination in employment and in housing, particularly when attempting to rent accommodation. The illiteracy rate among Roma is estimated at 80 per cent. Poverty, illiteracy and societal prejudice were most severe among migrant Roma or those who lived in quasi-permanent settlements. Most Roma camps had no running water, electricity, garbage disposal or sewage treatment.

Roma representatives reported that some local authorities have refused to register Roma as residents or that the Roma were unable to satisfy the requirements to be registered. Until registered with a municipality, a citizen cannot vote or exercise other civil rights, such as contribute to social security or obtain an official marriage, commercial, or driver's licence. It is estimated that 90 per cent of Roma are not insured by the public social security system because they are unable to make the required contributions. Roma are entitled to free health care; however, the distance between their encampments and public health facilities hinders their access at times.

The government considered the Roma to be a 'socially excluded' or 'sensitive' group, not a 'minority'. As a result, government policy is to encourage the integration of Roma. The Ministry of Education has instructed school principals to promote integration.

The Interior Ministry headed an inter-ministerial committee that coordinated projects for Roma. By September 2004, only 30 cities had responded to the Ministry's 2003 invitation to 75 cities with Roma populations to identify areas in which it could build housing for Roma. Among the programme's provisions were very low-interest housing loans for Roma, which have had varying success rates in different areas of the country. The authorities continued projects to address the chronic problems of the Roma community, including training courses for civil servants, police, and teachers to increase their sensitivity to Roma problems; the development of teaching materials for Roma children; the establishment of youth centres in areas close to Roma communities; and the deployment of mobile health units and community social workers to address the needs of itinerant Roma. However, Roma community representatives reported that these programmes either did not always reach their communities or were of limited effectiveness.


In June 2005 the European Committee of Social Rights held that government policies regarding housing and accommodation of Roma infringed the European Social Charter, due to insufficient number of dwellings to meet the needs of settled Roma, insufficient number of stopping places for Roma who follow an itinerant lifestyle, and systemic eviction of Roma from sites or dwellings. The committee also found that the government had failed to take sufficient measures to improve the living conditions of Roma and had not taken measures to constrain or sanction municipalities that were not diligent in selecting appropriate sites or were reluctant to provide the appropriate infrastructure for itinerant Roma. The International Helsinki Federation found in June 2005 that approximately half of the Roma lived segregated from non-Roma in substandard housing conditions.

In October 2005 Amnesty International published a report criticizing the government for its treatment of Roma, pointing to racial discrimination, a pattern of targeting Albanian Roma homes for demolition, and failure to carry out investigations in attacks against the Roma of Riganokampos.

The UN Special Rapporteur's statement after his November 2005 visit called the housing and sanitation conditions of the Roma settlement he visited unacceptable, highlighting that 'access to health and education is limited or lacking and social programmes are not providing assistance to the community'. He recommended that the state take specific measures to develop and improve living conditions in Roma communities to give Roma children alternatives to street work or prostitution as survival strategies for them and their families.

Local authorities continued to harass and threaten to evict Roma from their camps or other dwellings.


[1] Integrated Action Plan for the Social Integration of the Roma People (IAP).

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