Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe calls for Romani living conditions to be improved during the COVID-19 pandemic
Dunja Mijatović, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, has published a statement for International Romani Day calling on the governments of all 47 Council of Europe member States to support Romani people during the COVID-19 pandemic because, according to her, Romani people living in underserved settlements are one of the groups most endangered by COVID-19 because they lack potable water and their housing is in poor repair. "In many localities around Europe, Romani people still cannot access clean water or the hygienic supplies they need, which greatly hinders them from complying with personal hygiene measures such as washing their hands," she says, adding that currently there is no room for hate speech during the pandemic and that there is an enormous need for solidarity in society.
Declaration by Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatović on International Romani Day 2020
Every year, on the occasion of International Roma Day, governments are reminded of the need to improve the living conditions of the many impoverished and marginalised Roma in Europe and step up measures to combat the discrimination they face. This call should resonate even more loudly this year, as Roma people living in substandard housing and in segregated settlements across Europe are among the groups most vulnerable to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
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. Governments in some countries, such as Slovakia, have requested from local authorities that they provide Roma settlements with unlimited access to water. These essential measures must be implemented urgently, including by local and regional authorities, in all areas across Europe where Roma lack access to water and basic sanitation.
An additional issue of concern is access to health care for persons living in informal and segregated settlements, which can potentially be difficult, especially for the many Roma who still have no identity documents and those who lack health insurance cover.
Other pressing issues facing many Roma in the current crisis are the loss of sources of daily income and reduced access to social benefits, which have often been made more difficult by quarantine measures. This could result in people experiencing serious difficulties in meeting even the most basic needs, including feeding themselves. With the closure of schools, where children of poor families often get their only adequate, nutritional meals, the problem has clearly become more pressing.
Travellers, who have long suffered from a shortage of halting sites in several Western European countries, can also be faced with an inextricable situation in times of quarantine and isolation. While some authorities, for example in Belgium and Wales, have requested that municipalities provide Travellers with access to sites where they can stay for the duration of the pandemic, I understand that problems have arisen in other places. I was, for instance, informed that on some halting sites in France, Travellers have been unable to access electricity and water as a result of site owners having left due to isolation measures. It is also crucial that all evictions be stopped during the entire duration of the crisis.
To make things worse, I am informed that Roma have been scapegoated and targeted by hate speech in different places in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Bulgaria, for instance, politicians and some media have referred to Roma people as a threat to public health and requested special measures targeting them on this basis. Local authorities have set up police checkpoints around Roma settlements to enforce quarantine measures and, in one place, erected a fence around a Roma settlement to better control movements. While action to ensure adherence to confinement rules can be justified in the present circumstances, these cannot be selectively applied to people, neither fully nor partially, on the basis of ethnicity.
I urge governments to issue and implement crisis plans which ensure that Roma and Travellers benefit from the same level of information as others and from access to basic sanitation - first and foremost clean water – in order to be prepared to cope with the pandemic. 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.
In the current context, there should be no place for hate speech and discriminatory measures. They only exacerbate fears and divisions in societies. What we need to overcome the pandemic is unity and solidarity.
- Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur: Instead of aiding Romani people during COVID-19, some European politicians are promoting antigypsyism
- Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner welcomes Czech Govt purchase of pig farm on Romani genocide site
- Czech Republic to chair Council of Europe, claims human rights are a priority
- Secretary General of the Council of Europe warns its 47 member states against limiting democracy
- Council of Europe chief says discrimination against Romani people continues to be ignored
- Council of Europe honours victims and survivors of Roma Holocaust
- Council of Europe demands proof of changed practice in the Czech schools when it comes to Roma discrimination
- Council of Europe calls on Czech Republic to protect minority languages like German and Romani more
- Council of Europe approves European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture
- Council of Europe: Rejecting refugees on religious basis is pure discrimination
- Czech expatriate Romani community in the UK targeted by social media hoaxes to create demand to leave because of COVID-19
- Czech health official's ignorant claim about COVID-19 response in Romani settlements in Slovakia prompts pushback from MEP
- Slovakia: Romani settlement celebrates lifting of across-the-board quarantine now that infected individuals and their loved ones have been isolated
- Slovakia: Six more inhabitants of Romani settlement test positive for COVID-19, are relocated to facility
- Slovakia: COVID-19 still spreading in Roma settlement, quarantine center will be built there and across-the-board testing undertaken
- Slovak Interior Ministry Inspectorate begins prosecution of officer who assaulted Romani children
- Slovak MEP and Govt Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities file crime report over assault on Romani children in Krompachy
- Slovakia: Three Romani communities in Krompachy out of COVID-19 quarantine, movement restrictions only remain in Žehra
- Patrik Banga: Police officer who beat Romani children in Slovakia must be fired, he relied on "cigoši" not complaining
- Slovak Interior Minister meets with Romani MPs from governing party about police brutality incident, blames parents of the victims
- Slovak President asks for explanation of incident in which police officer brutalized young children in Romani settlement
- Slovak MEP from Romani community strongly condemns police beating of Romani children in quarantined settlement as unacceptable