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27th May 2022

Roma 'at heightened risk' from corona crisis

  • 80 percent of Roma people already live at risk of poverty (Photo: NGO World Vision Romania)

The EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has warned that the longstanding neglect of Roma makes them one of the most vulnerable groups to the current coronavirus outbreak, ahead of the International Roma Day (8 April).

Governments across the bloc have ordered citizens to maintain physical distances, self-quarantine and regularly wash their hands to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

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However, the FRA previously reported that one-third of the Roma community does not have access to clean water and the large majority of Roma communities live in cramped neighbourhoods with overcrowded housing that make it difficult to follow social distancing measures.

Buying medication and protective equipment, such as masks or gloves, is also identified as a major challenge for the largest ethnical minority in Europe - as 80 percent of Roma people live at risk of poverty.

Besides the health problems caused by the coronavirus, an estimated 10 to 12 million Roma who live in Europe - about six million within the EU - still suffer from poverty and social exclusion.

"Already before the pandemic, many member states failed to bring about a real noticeable change for Europe's Roma communities," said on Tuesday FRA director Michael O'Flaherty.

However, the lockdown and physical distancing measures put in place across member states are likely to push many Roma further into poverty due to the lack of income and reduced access to social benefits.

The Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) director Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir said governments "have an important and urgent responsibility to develop comprehensive and inclusive plans of support [for Roma people] and make sure they are implemented".

The Strasbourg-based watchdog, the Council of Europe, also highlighted that "Roma have been scapegoated and targeted by hate speech in different places in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic" and call on member states to respect the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Besides general measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some member states have introduced additional restrictions targeting Roma communities.

In Bulgaria, for instance, some politicians and media referred to Roma people as "a threat to public health" that require special measures, such as police checkpoints around Roma settlements to enforce quarantine measures.

But similar responses have also appeared in other member states, including Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

"We are worried to learn that the provision of food aid and the disbursement of welfare benefits are endangered and that some politicians blame Roma for the spread of the virus," the secretary-general at the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the commissioner for equality, Helena Dalli, said on Tuesday that "the commission will present a reinforced strategy for Roma equality and inclusion in European society" to tackle the negative stereotypes and prejudices associated with this community.

"Greater efforts must be put in place now to ensure that Roma people are included in society and that they have equal access to the basic needs, thus ensuring their protection against infection," she added.

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