4. Roma culture is a rich and fascinating collage
The Romani are often celebrated for their musical heritage, which has influenced jazz, bolero, flamenco music, as well as classical composers including Franz Liszt.
While it's believed that the Roma were originally Hindu, over the centuries, most Romani have adopted the religions of their host countries. The majority of Roma communities now practice a form of Islam or Christianity that retains some Romani influences.
Traditional Roma society still arranges marriages between minors as young as 12, according to the BBC. Teenage brides are sometimes bartered and traded between Roma communities, an activity that has alarmed European officials concerned with human trafficking.
A 2006 report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also found that some Roma communities practice child trafficking; children have reportedly been engaged for labor, petty crime and sexual exploitation.
5. The Romani remain an oppressed group
Many Romani avoid assimilation with the larger societies of their host countries -- this may be a legacy of centuries of persecution. Because of their isolation, many Roma children do not attend school; Romani typically lack access to stable jobs, affordable housing, health care and other social services. As a result, poverty, disease, substance abuse and crime plague many Roma communities.
For these and other reasons, the Romani remain a persecuted minority, including those living in affluent European countries with enviable social services. Authorities in Italy have denied housing to Roma families -- even those born in Italy -- on the grounds that people living in cheap, makeshift metal containers in isolated Roma camps already have permanent housing, according to the Guardian.
This month, protests erupted in France after authorities detained a Roma teenage girl at school; soon thereafter, she and her entire family were deported to Kosovo. In the past year, about 10,000 Roma were expelled from France after their camps were destroyed, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The European Union has threatened to take legal action against France for these recent expulsions, and the plight of the Roma community -- who are frequently the targets of violence by neo-Nazi and other racist groups -- has attracted the attention of human rights groups.
"This community crosses time and space with its traditions, and we in Europe have trouble to integrate them," Alain Behr, a lawyer who has defended the Roma, told The New York Times. "Yet they have preserved their tradition, which is one of survival."
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