From: Alice Taylor
CoE and EU ROMACTED Steps up to Help Roma Families in the Western Balkans

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council of Europe and European Unions ROMACTED programme has stepped up to provide a significant amount of financial and human resources to help those most in need in the Western Balkans Roma communities.

The regions most vulnerable and discriminated against minority, after the government introduced severe lockdown measures, many Roma were left without income. Banned from leaving their homes, a number were unable to litter pick and take part in other informal economic activities that they rely on to provide income. 

Additionally, with many Roma communities lacking proper running water, Roma found themselves unable to adhere to hygiene recommendations. They were unable to afford soap and sanitiser as well.

During the pandemic, several communities held protests to ask for state assistance, running water, and information on the pandemic to be published and distributed in their language

The CoE, EU and ROMACTED are not humanitarian organisations but during the crisis, they shifted their objective to prevent human rights abuses and ensure aid was distributed fairly. In a statement published on their website, they said it was imperative that they worked to prevent discrimination, risks of politicisation, hate speech, and repressive measures against Roma.

“The main priority during this crisis is to help the Roma families who are in the most vulnerable situations and excluded from humanitarian protection and assistance. The overall nature and focus of the ROMACTED Programme remain, however, on the promotion of good governance and empowerment of Roma citizens at the local level.”

By the end of April, some EUR 60,000 had been allocated across 34 municipalities, directly impacting 1900 families. They received essential food packages, vouchers, hygiene kits and other products. In addition to this, some EUR 300,000 will be given to top up existing grants to continue projects underway by local authorities and NGOs.

The total budget for the whole region is EUR 3.7 million with the EU contributing EUR 3 million of that figure.

Some of the actions that have been carried out include:

  • Maintaining contact with the local and central authorities to remind them of the precarious situation that their fellow Roma citizens find themselves in has therefore been our central approach to this pandemic;
  • Distribution of information on preventive measures;
  • Participation in crisis management teams and other similar actions at the local level and coordination of actions at the national level;
  • Initiation and implementation of actions by the respective support organisations jointly with other relevant stakeholders and actors.

ROMACTED conducted their valuable work in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey.