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Slovak NGOs respond to PM, allege Romani settlement closures will accelerate spread of COVID-19

17.4.2020 10:13
The Government of the Slovak Republic is testing Romani-inhabited localities for COVID-19. (April 2020) (PHOTO:  Facebook page of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, Government of the Slovak Republic)
The Government of the Slovak Republic is testing Romani-inhabited localities for COVID-19. (April 2020) (PHOTO: Facebook page of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, Government of the Slovak Republic)

Representatives of nonprofits in Slovakia responded yesterday to the remarks made earlier this week by Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič in which he sharply leaned on critics of the Government's approach toward closing several Romani-inhabited settlements where COVID-19 infection has been discovered. The PM challenged the NGOs to "get up the courage" to go provide aid in the settlements.

"We remind you that many of the figures and NGOs who have joined the call for the elimination of these discriminatory measures vis-a-vis marginalized Romani communities have actively worked and provided aid in those localities long before the Government's challenge and even long before the current administration took power," NGO representatives Zuzana Havířová, Ingrid Kosová and Vlado Rafael say in their statement. The representatives say their previous comments were based on their lengthy experience of working in impoverished localities in general, not just in Romani-inhabited ones, and that the comments addressed the approach taken toward closing Romani communities inside which there is more risk of the accelerated infection of mostly-healthy inhabitants than if those infected were to go into individual quarantine.

"It is not constructive of the Prime Minister to weaken the collaboration of the Government of the Slovak Republic with NGOs by making public declarations through social media," reads the declaration, which also adds that the representatives of these organizations do not intend to continue the dialogue in this confrontational way. News server Romea.cz is publishing the statement here in full.

NGO statement on Igor Matovič's social media status update entitled "Quarantined settlements and human rights activists"

Given the current situation of the spread of COVID-19, which is endangering the lives of our fellow citizens, it is not constructive of the Prime Minister to weaken the collaboration of the Government of the Slovak Republic with NGOs by making public declarations through social media. We, the men and women representing the NGOs, are expressing our disappointment and stating that it is not our intention to continue the dialogue in this confrontational way.

A functioning democratic society is the consequence of a balance among the state sector, the business sector, and the third sector. One of the tasks of the third sector is to point out the risks of the decisions made by the Government of the Slovak Republic that negatively influence the lives of those living in our country with respect to all sociocultural or economic questions, including the subject of the protection of human rights and minority rights.

We and dozens of other organizations first actively warned the Government of the necessity of testing in Romani communities as one of the groups in the population most at risk of infection, based on our long-term, professional knowledge and experience from working in impoverished communities, and not just Romani ones. We subsequently called on the Government not to undertake the unequal, very risky approach currently being taken to closing these Romani communities, because inside the quarantined communities there is the risk of accelerated spread of infection to the mostly-healthy inhabitants.

In this situation, we recommended the Government introduce individual quarantine for those infected, that they be separated from the healthy population, and that everybody be tested who has come into contact with them. The approach we propose appears to us to be more effective than the unthinking, collective isolation of communities, the securing of humanitarian aid for them, and then waiting for an uncontrollable growth in the numbers of infected people.

We remind you that many of the figures and NGOs who have joined the call for the elimination of the discriminatory measures vis-a-vis marginalized Romani communities have actively worked and provided aid in those localities long before the Government's challenge and even long before the current administration took power. At the same time, we must remind you that organizations not working directly in communities, organizations whose agenda is to oversee the upholding of human rights and freedoms, are an integral component of public life and their role is essential in a democratic society.

We call on the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic and on other leaders of the current political scene to pay attention to the efforts of NGOs as activities aiming to protect the dignity and lives of our fellow citizens on the basis of our long-term experience, organizations that have, from the beginning, contributed to outreach activities and humanitarian aid provision in these communities. We believe that by drawing attention to eventual risks we are not endangering collaboration, but on the contrary, that our calls will be perceived as attempts to improve the work of the Government of the Slovak Republic when introducing quarantine measures.

Ingrid Kosová, QUO VADIS, o. z.

Zuzana Havířová, Rómske advokačné a výskumné stredisko

Vlado Rafael, eduRoma

 

bau, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Neziskový sektor, Osada, Prohlášení



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