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Ceramic Frogs and a Country's Ignorance

Racism extends across the globe, found in countries of all sizes. In Portugal, discrimination seeps through their criminal justice system, but is poorly tracked. It can be seen through law written about minorities, specifically Romani people who originate from northern India. Romani people are called “Ciganos” in Portuguese and traveled to Portugal in the 1500s. Currently, around 50,000 Romani people live in Portugal scattered around the country.

Romani people have been mistreated as a minority population since their arrival in Portugal. At one point, Portugal called for all Romani people to be removed from their country. Ceramic frogs, chosen to frighten Romani people, have been placed in shops as a signal they are not welcome in that space. Romani people are stereotyped as thieves and lawbreakers and experience poverty and social exclusion at a higher rate than others. As well as theft, Romani people are often thought to also break the law by trespassing. Because they are classified as an ethnicity, they are also not registered in Portuguese official statistics, reinforcing stereotypes and racism in the country.

Photo Credit: Marta Vidal

Romani people also experience police brutality and law enforcement that are generally unprepared to interact with immigrant populations. Access to law and justice is more difficult for the Romani population in Portugal, and prison conditions can be particularly grim for Romani prisoners. Romani prisoners often face challenges when attempting to visit with their children while behind bars. Crimes against Romani people is a significant problem in many countries, but an Advisory Committee found that there are few recorded racially-motivated crimes in Portgual. Romani crime rates are perceived to be high among citizens. The committee made it clear that without accurate statistics, it is nearly impossible to track this issue. There is also a lack of data based on race and ethnicity. This is in part due to Portugal's consistent ignorance of discrimination within their country.

Photo Credit: CSG Justice Center

This particularly becomes an issue when considering national crime statistics and disproportionate treatment in the Portuguese criminal justice system, reflected in Portuguese law. Once Romani people arrived in Portugal, they faced many laws blocking their entry into the country and marginalizing their communities. Romani people were forced into labor and their communities were highly policed; however, the laws supporting this surveillance were found unconstitutional in the future. Surveillance of Romani communities saw support from citizens who believed them to be prone to criminal behavior. Portuguese law fails to competently recognize ethnicity and race under the idea that Portugal's people are homogeneous, leading many citizens to deny racism's presence in their nation. Although Portugal has non-discrimination laws, the European Union has argued the country does not do enough to combat the systematic mistreatment of minorities, and especially Romani people.

In the last two decades, the Portuguese government has been more involved in the inclusion of Romani people with a National Plan for Inclusion. Housing and the labor market are two specific areas where Romani people are routinely excluded from, and new policies have been enacted to support this minority group in discrimination they face as they search for a place to live and find employment. This initiative also includes provisions for Romani victims of crime and immigrant and minority victims in general.

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