The Roma people (or Gypsies in the common vernacular) have come under the media spotlight again following reports that extreme right-wing vigilantes in Hungary have made threats on the local Roma population, forcing them to flee to safety elsewhere, with help from the Red Cross.

But who are these Romani people who have lived in Europe for centuries and seem to always exist on the fringes of society; and who have inspired much literature, music, legends and misconceptions?

For one thing, the English word gypsy is a corruption of Egyptian, based on the mistaken assumption that the Roma came from Egypt.
Roma, who have endured extreme poverty, slavery, prejudice, discrimination, social exclusion and even mass murder (culminating in extermination by Nazi Germany) throughout their long history in Europe and elsewhere, are widely believed to have migrated westward from northern India in the early Middle Ages.

As such, the Roma have left evidence of their settlements across the Old World from South Asia, through the Middle East and into Europe.
There are currently at least 12-million Roma in Europe (some estimates run as high as 20-million or even more). They are concentrated in Eastern Europe and the Balkans -- in many of these countries Roma comprise the largest ethnic minority.

In a book about the European Roma, Bury Me Standing, the author Isabel Fonseca wrote: Gypsies have no home, and, perhaps uniquely among peoples, they have no dream of a homeland.

She also described the Roma as living outside history.