Covid-19 – extreme hardship and solidarity in these times of crisis

Covid-19 – extreme hardship and solidarity in these times of crisis

The Covid-19 crisis affects everyone, and the virus does not differentiate between people; anyone could catch it, no matter how rich or poor. Most people suffer under lockdowns, most people are scared and many will need income support in the coming weeks.  However, while many people are confined in their comfortable homes and can use their laptops to continue working or learning from home, marginalized communities such as the Roma are facing extreme hardship in this time of crisis.

Many Roma across Europe work in the informal sector, for example in street markets or digging in landfills. Now that they are not allowed to leave their homes, they are left without any income, have no savings and do not receive unemployment benefits, or any other form of social assistance. Today in Europe, hunger is a real. Thousands of people are left without food.

Many Roma live in poor housing in segregated communities, without running water in their homes or sufficient space to self-isolate. Roma are already statistically with poorer health, so more at risk in this crisis. And while other children continue their schooling through online classes, this is not possible for many Roma children simply due to a lack of internet access in their neighbourhoods, and of PCs in their homes.

And finally, adding to these devastating living conditions, comes widespread antigypsyism: Roma communities facing stricter restrictions than other neighbourhoods, Roma travelers being controlled more often and Roma even falsely blamed of carrying the virus. Governments are using the health threat to push forward racist policies, when they should do exactly the opposite and pay special attention to vulnerable groups.

ERGO Network together with its members and partners is asking governments to remain vigilant against racist acts and calls on the European Commission to ensure that the newly released EU Solidarity Fund to respond to the crisis fully takes into account the needs and rights of Roma and other marginalized communities.  Member States must guarantee that poor and marginalized communities have access to clean drinking water, food, health care and housing, as well as to reliable information. If these communities are not supported now, the social crisis that will follow the health-crisis will haunt Europe for a long time to come. (Read here our letter to EU Commissioner Helena Dalli).

At the same time, ERGO Network members on the grassroots level are putting extraordinary levels of energy into supporting the people on the ground and show a spirit of solidarity that others can learn from! Here are just some examples of their great initiatives:

Integro Association, Bulgaria

Immediately after the outbreak Integro established a coordination group of NGOs and relevant government representatives. Through this group they can convey needs and difficulties identified on local level and propose solutions, with a direct contact to the National Headquarter for combating the Corona-virus infection.

All health and education mediators of Integro are visiting Roma neighbourhoods to provide information, monitor quarantine and refer people to specialists. They also distribute schooling materials for children who cannot take part in online learning. At Integro’s suggestion, many mediators are also included in municipal coronavirus teams and receive protective equipment. As the equipment is not sufficient, Integro is looking for suitable fabrics so that the women at the organisation’s Roma Mother Centres can sew masks for mediators and activists.  Integro also translated a brochure and video from the Roma Standing Conference on preventing the coronavirus infection from Bulgarian and Romanes into Turkish, the language of many Roma communities in Bulgaria. 15,000 brochures of the brochure have been printed!

In addition, the association proposed urgent measures to be taken by local authorities to support Roma communities, and many of them complied and provide for example food packages and water tanks. Integro also discusses with the Ministry of Education to provide internet access, and with IT companies to provide old computers to the  communities so that children can participate in online learning programmes. Last but not least, they closely monitor whether rights of the Roma are violated.

Nevo Parudimos, Romania

Our members from Resita in Romania convinced the municipality to distribute weekly food packages to poor families and have already distributed 160 wash basins, antibacterial soap and disinfectants to families in the marginalized neighbourhoods of Mociur, Dealu Mare and Câlnic, where many Roma live.

Nevo Parudimos has also agreed with a textile factory to produce 1000 face masks for people in need. Nevo Parudimos will provide the material and the factory will produce the masks free of charge. The European Solidarity Corps volunteers hosted by Nevo Parudimos are spending their days sewing masks in self-isolation. Nevo Parudimos is keeping their spirits up by daily group calls and online activities.

Upre Roma, Italy

In Northern Italy, where the situation is worse than anywhere else in the world, our member Upre Roma is putting all efforts into activating political contacts and lobbying all administrative and political levels to provide basic necessities for poor communities.  40,000 poor people, many of them Roma, are left without food. No NGO would have the means or would even be allowed to support all these people, so political action is needed. Upre Roma has also started a petition to demand access to clean water for Roma camps. At the same time, the activists are constantly on the phone, informing people about how to access their rights, how to get support etc.

Butterfly Development, Hungary

Pro Cseherat is running a successful community gardening programme with Roma communities for many years already. In times of confinement and lack of financial resources, self-reliance through gardening can take a great burden from poor families. Pro Cseherat is therefore developing a distant learning programme through Facebook that explains how to start one’s own vegetable garden.

Slovo 21, Czech Republic

In this exceptional situation Slovo 21 is intensively communicating with members of the Roma Women’s group Manushe, which organizes Roma women through sharing Facebook posts and events. Together they coordinate the sewing of facemasks, which are distributed for free within their localities and to hospitals. Face masks are obligatory to wear in Czech Republic when leaving the house, for example to buy food or seek medical attention.

Besides these concrete examples, all member organisations focus in particular on providing information and lobbying their governments. They explain new rules concerning self-isolation, inform where to get financial assistance, give mental health support and provide essential hygiene tips. They are lobbying their governments to provide extra support to Roma communities, to stop evictions and to end discrimination of marginalized groups who suffer disproportionally under the crisis. None of us could do anything to mitigate the crisis on our own. Coordination is needed, and Roma NGOs need to be included in crisis response teams to ensure Roma are not left out of any support measures.

Do you want to share what you are doing? You can send information about your activities to info@ergonetwork.org and we will share it with other activists!

Do you observe rights violations against Roma in this crisis? Please provide information to the Fundamental Rights Agency, which is investigating the impact of Covid-19, by sending information to frp@fra.europa.eu.

Do young people in your organisation are organising solidarity actions? ERGO Network is partnering with FEMYSO for the campaign #OutbreakofGenerosity which offers a great guide for young people’s work during this crisis. http://outbreakofgenerosity.org/

Railway assistants in Slovakia

Railway assistants – antigypsyism in employment programme

In October 2020, Slovak Railway Company announced the implementation of a new project called ‘Train Assistant’. This project created a new position in the railway company for people from marginalized Roma communities. Together with other organizations and activists, the Roma Advocacy and Research Centre (RARC) appealed to the railway company as well as to the Implementation agency of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Family to stop this project because it carries signs of antigypsism. As our attempts were not heard, we sent a letter to the European Commission’s DG Employment with a notice on this project. In February 2020, we received a response from DG Employment, which you can see below. We consider it important that DG Employment has requested an external interim impact assessment of the project (which will start in January 2020 and will continue for 24 months) within the first 6 months of its implementation. The interim external assesment shall focus in particular on the aspects which we raised in our complaint: risks of maintaining or worsening any form of discrimination, stigmatization of Roma and antigypsism, impact on employment perspective of participants including their career progression towards non-assistant type of jobs (train conductors), synergies and possible overlaps with the local civil order services and field social work.

We believe that such projects should not be presented as the only employment opportunities for marginalized groups, as their inclusive character is highly questionable.

Press release: Meeting with EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli

ERGO Network meets European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli to commemorate the Holocaust Remembrance Day and discuss the future of Roma inclusion post 2020

Brussels, 30 January 2020

On 28 January 2020, a delegation of European Roma Grassroots Organisations (ERGO) Network members from EU member states and enlargement countries met with the new European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli to commemorate the Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as to discuss about the challenges faced by Roma civil society organisations in fighting antigypsyism and advocating for Roma rights and inclusion, and meaningful and participatory post-2020 Roma Strategy.

Helena Dalli“Roma people have been living in Europe for more than 700 years and have massively contributed to the richness of the European heritage. Yet, for centuries, European societies have turned a blind eye to racism and widespread discrimination of Roma people. We have to change that”, Commissioner Dalli committed to the ERGO Network members during this first meeting with Roma civil society representatives of her mandate.

In light of commemorating 27 January 1945, when the Red Army liberated the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz, and in the context of rising right-wing extremism, fighting antigypsyism today in Europe is not an easy task. We need the European Commission to provide a strong and robust post-2020 Roma equality and inclusion strategy that goes beyond the EU, with antigypsyism at its core. It should include minimum standards, be backed by strong Roma and civil society engagement and by funding prioritising Roma rights and wellbeing, to ensure a true and meaningful change of paradigm“, ERGO Network Director Jamen Gabriela Hrabaňová said.

ERGO Network members and Commissioner Dalli discussed future approaches to Roma rights and inclusion, structured around four key dimensions:

  • combating antigypsyism as horizontal and stand-alone priority, in all its forms and manifestations, including through strong legislative measures;
  • a comprehensive, binding, EU Strategy for Roma inclusion that includes enlargement countries on equal footing, with concrete minimum standards and ambitious targets, as well as common monitoring at the EU level;
  • capacity-building, support and channels for Roma civil society to keep their watchdog role, and to meaningfully engage in the design, implementation, and monitoring of public policies that affect them;
  • prioritising Roma inclusion in the next MFF programming period, ensuring that Roma communities are involved in the delivery of European funds at the national and local level.

The Poznan Declaration of Western Balkans Partners on Roma Integration within the EU Enlargement Process , which was signed on highest level by the Prime Ministers of the Enlargement countries, can inspire EU Member States in this regard.

For more information, please contact Jamen Gabriela Hrabaňová, ERGO Network Director, at g.hrabanova@ergonetwork.org.

 

Strategies against antigypsyism

Strategies against antigypsyism

The international conference „Strategies against antigypyism“ took place in Tenerife on 12 and 13 December 2019. It was organized by the Karipen association in cooperation with the Ministry for Health, Consumers Affairs and Social Welfare of the Canary Island Government, Cabildo of Tenerife and Khetane Platform. At the invitation of FAGIC ERGO member, Gabriela Hrabanova, ERGO Network director presented strategies against antigypsyism from grassroots to EU level and vice versa.

The conference brought together political and public representatives from European, national and local, Roma leaders and activists countering antigypsyism.  Among them Soraya Post, ERGO Network co-chair, Romeo Franz, Member of the European Parliament for the Greens/EFA group and Juan Fernardo Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the LIBE Committee in the European Parliament. It also gathered many local and national Roma politicians from Spain, including Ismael Cortes, a Member of the Spanish parliament.

The conference focused on three topics: 1) the concept of antigypsyism throughout history up to present; 2) institutional antigypsyism and ways to combat it through politics and 3) antigypsyism and gender issues.

The historical aspect was covered by Iulius Rostas, visiting professor at the Central European University and the Spanish academic of Romani origin, Helios Fernandez. The main message was that over the centuries, but also in recent years, institutions have been perpetuating a paternalistic approach under the pretence of making Roma better, by changing the names of programs and policies aiming at including Roma in societies, but very often achieving only their assimilation. The important next step is to introduce the policy of reconciliation, to narrow the centuries of hardship of Roma.

It was also discussed that often Roma might not know how to describe and what antigypsyism is, however many experiences it on the daily basis. For example, school segregation is a reality in Spain, while Roma surnames or home addresses can lead to discriminatory practices when accessing jobs or advancing in the career.

On a positive note, the regional and local government of Canary Islands and Tenerife have shown interest in working together with the local association Karipen, not only by hosting this event, but also by allocating a budget line for Roma inclusion.

Roma youth empowerment trough Rromani language

Roma youth empowerment trough Rromani language

Our partners from Roma Community Centre in Vilinus, Lithuania for the first time ever gather a group of young Roma for 2 days seminar from 2-4 Of December, 2019 with a programme in rromanes on topics such as: discrimination, equality, access to the labor market and empowerment.

The event took part under the frame of Roma platform and was organized by the department of National minorities together with the Public institution Roma Community Center.

ERGO’s policy officer Carmen Tanasie and its member from France La Voix des Rroms, Samir Mile delivered the workshop in rromani language engaging in deconstructing the consequences of social exclusion and came together with the participants to a set of recommendations such as:

  • Roma youth should be consulted by the National Minorities department when issuing calls or implementing activities that includes Roma youth
  • Provide high-level jobs in the public sector for Roma
  • Improve cooperation between young Roma and labor offices
  • Tackle the discrimination in schools and include the Roma history in the school curricula

The young Roma got empowered by the fact that could freely express in their maternal language and asked the organizers to follow organizing seminars and meeting not just for young people but involving   more Roma communities in Lithuania.