Dunja Mijatović the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe has called on Member State governments to ensure equal protection and care for Roma and Travellers during the COVID-19 Crisis.
In a statement released to mark International Roma Day, Mijatović asked them to be aware of their responsibility to improve the living conditions of the many impoverished and marginalised Roma in Europe. She said that they face discrimination and are living in substandard housing and segregated settlements making them one of the most vulnerable groups during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Her statement highlighted that their living conditions were not conducive to many of the measures recommended to prevent the spread of the virus.
“In many places in Europe, Roma still lack access to clean water and sanitation. This makes it very difficult to apply crucial hygiene measures such as regular hand washing. It is also unlikely that social distancing and isolation measures can be effectively implemented in overcrowded housing.”
She called for governments to supply Roma settlements with unlimited access to water and basic sanitation.
Another concern raised by Mijatović relates to the issue of access to healthcare. Noting that many members of the Roma community have no identity documents, let alone health insurance cover. This leads to difficulties in accessing even the most basic healthcare.
In terms of quarantine and self-isolation measures, the statement details how current regulations are resulting in a loss of income. This, she said, could result in people experiencing serious difficulties in meeting even the most basic needs including feeding themselves.
Mijatović urges all governments to issue and implement crisis pans which ensure that Roma benefit from the same level of information as others, as well as access to basic sanitation including clean water.
“NGOs, activists, health mediators and community leaders – whose work to inform, monitor the situation and meet basic needs is heartening in these difficult times – cannot be left alone to face this situation. They should receive means and support from the authorities. The latter should also ensure equal access to health care, irrespective of the place of residence and the legal status of the persons in need,” she said.
Lastly, the Commissioner reiterated that the current situation is no excuse for hate speech and discriminatory measures. She called for unity and solidarity to overcome the situation, adding that hate only causes fear and division.
The CoE ROMACTED project and the Institute of Romani Culture in Albania have been supporting 300 vulnerable Roma families in Elbasan, Korca, Permet and Roskovec throughout March. Help has been provided to enable them to overcome the economic consequences of the restrictive measures due to the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to this, 118 families have been supported by the Municipality of Vlora upon the appeal of the ROMACTED facilitator.
These groups have also called on the government to provide running water in Roma settlements as well as hygiene and food supplies for vulnerable households.
During the last weeks of March, Roma communities in Tirana, Vlora, Elbasan and Korca protested over a lack of food. Due to strict government lockdown rules, they have been unable to work, either casually or litter picking, and therefore have not been able to provide for their families
Protestors told the media that their income stream had stopped and the government was failing to provide assistance. This meant they could not buy food, sanitiser, or pay rent.
One individual told Ora News:
“I ask for help for my children, the state does not listen…We agree with the measures but the conditions do not allow us to defend ourselves. We can’t wash, we don’t have soap, we don’t have disinfectant. We need government help.”
Roma are one of the most marginalised and discriminated against communities in the country. Laws exist that are supposed to ensure equality and protection but they are rarely adhered to. Roma individuals regularly find themselves discriminated against in all areas including welfare, education, healthcare, and employment.
The CoE, the World Bank and various other human rights organisations have repeatedly and frequently called on Albanian authorities to better safeguard the rights of Albanian Roma, yet little progress has been made.
A report from the World Bank noted significant gaps in terms of assets, education and employment between Roma and non-Roma families. A gap of 45.5% was noted between the two demographics in terms of income.
The CoE noted that while money had been designated to help Roma communities, the Albanian authorities demonstrated unwillingness to resolve matters.
The most recent US State Department human rights report found that discrimination was idespread across all parts of society. It noted there were instances of schools refusing to accept Roma students or segregating them from non-Roma children.