A group of human rights organisations in Albania have criticised Prime Minister Edi Rama for comments he made on social media regarding the Roma and Egyptian communities in the country.
E turpshme nxitja e komunitetit rom për të inskenuar shfaqje të rrezikshme për jetën nga ish-deputetë të caktuar, që paturpësisht gënjejnë publikun, duke pērdorur romët si mish për top për të thënë se ja kështu u shpërndakan ndihmat në Fier e gjetkë #Çnjerëzore
— Edi Rama (@ediramaal) April 14, 2020
In a Twitter post, Rama said:
“Shameful inciting by certain former MPs of the Roma community to stage dangerous life-threatening performances, [MPs] who shamelessly lie to the public, using Roma as cannon fodder to say that this is how the aid was distributed in Fier and elsewhere.”
Not only are the Roma and Egyptian communities widely discriminated against and largely ignored by the Albanian government but they are suffering even more so during the Coronavirus lockdown. As they are mainly informal workers, the curfews have prevented them from any source of income and they are not able to access state aid in a majority of cases.
Rama accused them of faking protests asking for food and criticising the inaction of the Municipality in Fier. On 14 April, members of the Roma community had gathered to complain about the lack of assistance from the government and a lack of food distribution.
The Prime Minister accused them of having no basis for their complaints and being used for political games by other political parties. He also used the hashtag ‘Inhuman’ to describe the situation.
Local human rights organisations signed a declaration noting that the Albanian government is a signatory to the National Action Plan for the Integration of Roma and Egyptians 2016-2020. This means that they are required to acknowledge the vulnerability of these communities and using their power to address discrimination against them.
They also wrote that on 14 April, the Municipality of Tirana started demolishing an informal clothing market in Selite, a location that provides income for a number of Roma and Egyptian families.
Rama’s language against the community was deemed “unacceptable” as was his use of other phrases that they said were derogatory. His poor choice of language shows discriminatory stereotyping towards Roma and suggests that they are easily used by others.
Rama’s Twitter account which has a considerable amount of followers and as such, he should choose his words carefully so as not to incite discrimination and further negative stereotyping.
The organisations call on Rama to stop his use of denigrating and discriminatory language against the Roma community and to recognise the seriousness of the situation facing Albania’s ethnic minority communities.
The declaration was signed by 13 organisations including Civil Rights Defenders, the Egyptian and Roma Youth Movement, Community Action Centre, and the Women’s Empowerment Network in Albania.
Since lockdown started, members of these communities have been protesting throughout the country about the lack of assistance from the government. Unable to work either litter picking or in informal, casual work, they are struggling to provide food for their families.
Other issues include a lack of proper hygiene and sanitation facilities including running water in some Roma settlements. The Municipality claims they have been distributing food to people, but others have dismissed this as propaganda.
Dunja Mijatovic, the Commissioner for Human rights at the Council of Europe demanded the Member States extend equal protection and assistance to Roma during these times.
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.