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Minorities NGO and police call for more Roma transit sites

Caravans belonging to foreign traveller communities stop over at a meadow near the motorway between Kerzers and Muehleberg, canton Bern, on August 7, 2017

(Keystone)

A campaign group and several Swiss police officers have called for the creation of more transit sites for the large Roma communities who travel to Switzerland every spring and summer. This will help ease tensions, they say. 

Some 500-800 caravans owned by foreign Roma families are present in Switzerland each month between March and September, according to a report by the Society for Threatened Peoplesexternal link published on Tuesday. This number can rise to 1,500 in July and August.

The Roma generally travel to Switzerland during this period for work and have fixed customers, it said. Other groups of Roma use Switzerland as a central base for family or religious gatherings. They traditionally travel from France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Scandinavia, Austria and Bulgaria. 

However, the NGO says the situation has become untenable as the foreign Roma can only use four transit sites in Domat/Ems (canton Graubünden), Kaiseraugst (Aargau), Rennaz (Vaud) and Martigny (Valais), for a total of 110 caravan places.

It says the lack of transit sites and the tendency to make existing sites available exclusively to Swiss Yenish and Sinti communities mean that foreign Roma groups are increasingly forced to make short-term stays outside official sites. They pay to pitch their caravans on farms, land owned by firms or in public areas.

Tensions 

While most of these arrangements go smoothly, in some cases conflicts can arise between Roma groups, landowners, authorities and the police, the NGO says, adding that isolated incidents are regularly picked up by the politicians and the media.

Tensions prevent travelling Roma from using other transit sites and exacerbate prejudices within the Swiss population, it explained.

The lack of transit sites for traveller communities is not new. A 2006 report by the Federal Council (executive body) estimated that ten additional transit areas were needed for travellers in Switzerland. However, certain cantons and municipalities reportedly lack the necessary political will. 

The NGO report, which included contributions from five Swiss police officers, called for the creation of new sites where Roma can also work. The participating officers say police forces should also receive training in the history, culture and way of life of nomadic Roma communities.

swissinfo.ch/sb

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