Before Covid-19, Roma communities in Europe were already struggling on the margins of society. The pandemic, however, transformed our situation into a humanitarian catastrophe. Life is now harder...
Before Covid-19, Roma communities in Europe were already struggling on the margins of society. The pandemic, however, transformed our situation into a humanitarian catastrophe. Life is now harder and harsher for Roma in Europe than ever before. Many Roma children who were able to attend school before the pandemic have regressed significantly during lockdown – they were not able to participate in remote learning, because they did not have access to computers, internet and reliable electricity. Some of them may never catch up to their more privileged peers, or even drop out of school. Roma who made a living working in street markets, agriculture, tourism, arts and entertainment sectors before the pandemic are also in a desperate situation. Without government support, they may never be able to regain their footing.
Without immunisation, Roma would not be able to leave the pandemic behind and start rebuilding their lives.
Roma civic groups across Europe are campaigning to increase awareness and convince Roma communities that Covid-19 vaccines would not harm but help them.
Opre Roma in Serbia, Avaja in North Macedonia and Aresel in Romania are working with Roma media and medical professionals to confront disinformation.
But civil society organisations cannot resolve this problem on their own. We need the governments, public institutions and also respected cultural figures and religious leaders to address Roma directly and help ease their concerns and suspicions about the vaccine.
Roma communities are hesitating to take the vaccine because they do not trust governments and health institutions. So the problem can only be sustainably resolved if European governments take the necessary steps to address the root causes of our collective pain and anger.
We have seen some limited and short-term – but promising – progress on this in the Western Balkans. For example, Montenegro and Serbia have provided critical aid such as water, food and disinfectants to Roma communities during the pandemic. Bosnia and Herzegovina, meanwhile, provided Roma children with technical facilities and extracurricular support to carry on with their education. The Albanian government offered Roma temporary financial support and relief from further indebtedness. These are small steps in the right direction.
But such temporary relief efforts will neither get us out of this pandemic nor end the suffering of our communities. To ensure the success of their Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, and the wellbeing of Roma, governments need to make bolder moves and implement longer-term policies to rebuild Roma trust in governments.
Excerpted: ‘Roma mistrust in governments is an obstacle to COVID-19 recovery’