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Slovak PM harshly attacks critics of Govt approach to COVID-19 in Romani settlements, says measures are life-saving

17.4.2020 9:04
Igor Matovič, chair of the OLaNO (
Igor Matovič, chair of the OLaNO ("Ordinary People and Independent Figures") movement in Slovakia. (2020)

On 13 April Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič sharply attacked the opponents of the Government's approach to closing several Romani-inhabited settlements after residents were found to have tested positive for COVID-19. He and MEP Peter Pollák, who is a member of the Crisis Team, are under fire from nonprofits and others reproaching them for what they consider to be a discriminatory approach toward Romani people while coping with the pandemic.

The PM said his critics, whom he termed "so-called human rights activists" have reproached him with undertaking measures aimed at their fellow citizens from the Romani community that they consider inhumane and wrong. "The so-called 'human rights activists' have allowed the opinion to be heard in recent days that we have committed an outrage by closing five settlements in the east for quarantine. They say it's inhumane, they say it's wrong, they say it's amateurism, they say it's an anti-Romani measure, they say that at the time the settlements were closed, things were not ready - mobile automatic teller machines, mobile grocery stores, mobile drugstores, mobile firewood sales, mobile hospitals, mobile psychological counseling centers, mobile I don't know what all," he posted to Facebook.

"Why don't all you cute little 'human rights' activists take a different approach to this and lead by example, grab your masks, your gloves and your backpacks and get on over to the quarantined settlements! Your selfless, brave aid would be very much needed there now. However, if, despite your courageous talk, you're afraid to go to the scene of the crime, try getting up the nerve to at least go to the untested settlements - you have hundreds to choose from. We need you in the field for outreach, not dispensing wisdom from the safety of your homes," the PM posted.

According to the PM, the measures underway in the settlements correspond to the epidemiological approach that is standard worldwide and are not aimed against Romani people, but are meant to save their lives. "At the same time, it applies that for anybody who is infected, as well as for that person's loved ones from the quarantined settlements, it is possible for them to leave the settlement and stay in a state-run quarantine facility, but just a minimum of people from the settlements are taking advantage of that," he said.

The Government closed a total of five localities because positive cases of COVID-19 were found in them, quarantining about 6 000 Romani residents. In all the localities tested, a total of 31 infected people had been discovered as of 8 April, but more updated information was not being publicized by the relevant authorities, who reportedly refused to do so at the beginning of this week.

The strict measures are being criticized by several nonprofits, the Public Defender of Rights, and an MP who is also an award-winning mayor. The current actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Romani localities are also being criticized by the former Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Community Affairs, who was replaced shortly after the new administration took power.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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