Bulgarian COVID-19 pandemic measures have closed Romani neighborhoods, causing job losses and food shortages
News server Politico reports that Bulgaria's measures against the novel coronavirus pandemic are imposing enormous obstacles on many Romani people in particular because the closure of Romani settlements, cutting their residents off from employment opportunities, has frequently devastated their finances and made it harder for them to procure food - and even before the pandemic, many Romani families in such settlements were already living on the edge of poverty. During the lockdown their situations have deteriorated and many have had to limit all aspects of their daily lives.
Politico gives the example of Romani community member Krasimira Alexandrova, who lives on the outskirts of Sofia in the Fakulteta quarter and is a caregiver for her grandson, who is autistic. "When Alexandrova took him for a routine psychological assessment in early March, before the coronavirus lockdown, the doctor claimed she and her son — Krasimir’s father... had been faking the child’s disability and downgraded his assessment of the severity of his disorder, cutting off access to funding," the website reported.
Suddenly, Alexandrova's pay from her job as a cleaning woman in the capital was her only reliable income. Several weeks later, a colleague of hers tested positive for COVID-19 and Alexandrova's employer laid off the entire staff.
The authorities then began gradually closing Bulgaria's Romani neighborhoods and settlements off from the outside world. The Fakulteta neighborhood was in total lockdown and its residents were forbidden to leave, with military police standing guard at every route leading out of the quarter.
Romani neighborhoods and settlements in Bulgaria only tenuously connected to local infrastructure and frequently lack a local grocery store or pharmacy. Residents of the closed areas were therefore unable to buy basic groceries and had to get by on whatever they already had at home.
These restrictions have further intensified differences between the non-Romani majority society and Roma in Bulgaria, to such an extent that almost 75 % of the Romani population in Bulgaria is currently living on the edge of poverty. "Families who before at least could feed their children are now on the edge of starvation," Sarah Perrine, director of a nonprofit organization called Trust for Social Achievement, told Politico.
The authorities claim the measures are essential because allegedly there is a higher concentration of cases of COVID-19 in Romani settlements. Those advocating for the rights of Romani people in Bulgaria say there is no evidence to substantiate that claim and allege that this official oppression of Romani people is about intolerance.
To make matters worse, many Romani people in Bulgaria work informally, under the table. When their areas were closed, only those who could show police that they had a contract with an employer were allowed to leave their neighborhoods to work.
Such measures are not unique to Bulgaria. “[It didn’t matter] if it was in Italy, Slovakia, or Bulgaria — Roma faced different, and often harsher, emergency measures than the majority population,” Jonathan Lee, advocacy and communications manager at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), told Politico.
“When cases were identified in Romani communities, we saw entire neighborhoods quarantined, police and military checkpoints on Roma-majority areas, violent police actions and even crop dusters spraying disinfectant over the homes of Roma,” Lee said. “These things simply would not happen in white, middle-class areas.”
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