Vienna/Bucharest, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- Discrimination, social segregation, overcrowding, economic precariousness and lack of basic services – these are chronic conditions suffered by the Roma community in Eastern Europe for centuries. And they now they fall among the communities most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
Besides compelling people to adopt rigorous hygiene and social distancing practices, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented freezing of economic life, affecting millions of people on the planet.
These circumstances are particularly dramatic for the Roma in most of the post-communist countries in Europe, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) alerted in a recent report.
Roma communities often live in deficient conditions that multiply the risks of contagion and the effects of the economic crisis that has been unleashed by the pandemic, it said.
Nearly 80 percent of Roma people in Europe live in overcrowded neighborhoods, with three generations of family members sharing the same house.
Many do not have running water at home, making frequent hand washing – the most essential recommendation against coronavirus infection – a luxury.
According to Serbia’s Ombudsman Zoran Pasalic, there are nearly 600 shanty towns without running water or electricity in the country, leaving its residents among the groups most at risk of contracting the highly infectious virus.
On the other hand, poverty has forced many Roma people to emigrate to seek a living in the more prosperous societies of the West, and the return of thousands of them appears to be the source of some outbreaks in countries such as Romania and Slovakia.
For example, the Romanian authorities quarantined the town of Tandarei on Apr. 4 after detecting high levels of contagion there.
Something similar happened in Slovakia, where the government has quarantined three Roma-majority locations in the Kosice region after dozens of infections were detected.
Discrimination experienced by this community has also been exacerbated by people’s fear of contagion.
“The danger of racism is now much greater since two months,” Romanian sociologist Gelu Duminica told EFE, denouncing the emergence of racist demonstrations on internet platforms and the media since Tandarei was isolated.
The FRA report revealed several incidents in which Roma people were blamed for bringing the coronavirus to Slovakia.
It added that the Bulgarian authorities have set up controls on access to Roma-inhabited neighborhoods and municipalities.
According to the FRA, 80 percent of the Roma people in Europe live below the poverty line, which is significantly higher than the 17 percent for the entire European population.
Consequently, the Roma are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the economic crisis caused by the stoppage of day-to-day activities by means of which governments have been seeking to check the spread of the coronavirus.
In Serbia, the nonprofit Praxis underlines that many Roma make a living from sporadic jobs that are not legally recognized and cannot afford the home confinement imposed by the authorities.
In these irregular situations, without papers certifying their identity, they are often excluded from public aid programs.
The situation is no better in neighboring Bosnia, where the Romani Information Center “Kali Sara” has warned of the disaster that awaits in many of their communities without food, drinking water, electricity and hygiene products, and where government assistance is yet to reach.
Hungarian Roma activist Aladar Horvath has sent a letter to the European Union asking them to provide assistance to the Roma minority in his country.