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Gypsies (Cigana) are among the most marginalised, impoverished, and disadvantaged groups in Portuguese society.  While the vast majority are sedentary as a result of a long process of assimilation there is still a significant number of nomadic and semi-nomadic families.  Most live on or near the large cities in precarious circumstances.  The Gypsy population is very young with 15 as the median age and there are very few elderly Gypsies due to low life expectancy.  The marginalisation of Gypsies is evident in all aspects of life, education, social integration, and employment.  There are many reports of Gypsies being associated with drugs as users or dealers and this adds to the negative perception and treatment of them by the majority population.

Discrimination and racism towards Gypsies is widespread and this is propagated by media coverage, which reinforces negative stereotypes.  Support from Gypsies is provided by the Institute for the Advancement and Pastoral Care of the Gypsies with diocesan branches in a number of cities.  This provides a support structure for Gypsies and offers training programmes and advocacy as well as raising awareness and appreciation for Gypsy culture among the wider population.  Every June there is a National Day for the Gypsy People to celebrate their cultural identity.  In 1991 the Ministry of Education set up a Secretariat for the co-ordination of an education programme with a view to creating a better understanding of cultural diversity.  This was welcomed by Gypsy support groups (Reis, F., unpublished report).  

The Portuguese Constitution (Article 13) contains an anti-discrimination clause:  "All citizens shall have the same social dignity and are equal before the law."  Another article supplements this to cover residents as well as citizens.  However there is no code of practice in relation to employment practices to prevent discrimination and minority ethnic groups are represented disproportionately among the low-paid and long-term unemployed, with the Gypsies at the lowest rung on the social ladder.  There is also a lack of social policies to deal with the needs and rights of minority ethnic groups.

Recently the Portuguese government appointed a High Commissioner for Ethnic Minorities who formed a working group to deal with racism.  The Municipality of Lisbon also approved a local Council for Immigrant Communities and Ethnic Minorities in order to draw up relevant policies for these groups.


The Gypsy (Gitano) population in Spain is a very significant minority comprising an estimated 2% of the national population and about 4.3% of the population in Andalusia.  With such a large population it is not surprising that there is a lot of diversity within the Gypsy community in terms of social status, economic and political circumstances, levels of education and living conditions.  

As in other countries the Spanish government for many years pursued policies of assimilation and sedentarism.  However, following from the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1977 Gypsies began to develop their own organisations, sometimes with official support and approval.  Recognition of Gypsy culture and identity is evident in the establishment of a National Plan for Gypsies with an accompanying budget to promote various initiatives.

Some Gypsies in Spain have been acclaimed as musicians and for their contribution to Flamenco, others have become professionals and there has been a Gypsy member of the European Parliament.  Nevertheless, many Gypsies live in poverty, are marginalised and socially excluded.  Drug abuse and delinquency are serious problems, especially among young people who are marginalised.  The age structure of the Gypsy population in Spain is similar to that of Gypsies/Travellers in other countries - about 50% under 15 and a very small percentage over 60.  There are also many problems in terms of education and training, and this adds to the exclusion from the labour market.  Most Gypsies prefer self-employment and engage in market trading.  

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