Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Roma and the Pandemic

Voice of America recently reported, “As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across Europe, Roma, traditionally crammed in decrepit homes and settlements with poor sewage, are largely being viewed as ticking time bombs.”  Voice of America stated that it was the Romani, the people themselves, who were COVID-19 ticking time bombs, as opposed to the appalling conditions the Romani have been condemned to live in that leaves them more vulnerable to the pandemic, which is an important distinction. Voice of America didn’t start this pejorative-for-any-occasion to vilify the Romani, it began before the Spanish Inquisition...

“Local and national newspapers have waged a racist, hateful, and life-threatening campaign of anti-Roma propaganda,” warned the Health and Human Rights Journal in April, after reviewing COVID-19 related media coverage across Europe. The pandemic, it summarized, has become “a license to unleash racism against stigmatized groups” with “the discriminatory treatment of Europe’s Roma minority a brutal case in point.”

“Instead of seeking additional ways to protect these particularly vulnerable members of our societies as coronavirus spreads, some politicians have actively fueled anti-Gypsyism,” said Frantisek Kopriva, MP, Rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of EuropeKopriva has been largely ignored. 

The dire reality for the Romani is that the shredding of their human rights is not exclusively the domain of fascists, nationalists and authoritarians. In Spain, the Civil Guard was first deployed to a Romani-Gitano community at the beginning of March, a move supported in the national press, where the Romani were described as “unstructured clans unused to public order and discipline.” 

As COVID-19 hit Spain, the Fundación Secretariado Gitano warned, “We are talking about 47,000 people who currently lack the food and basic products for subsistence, with the aggravating circumstance that there are many minors in poverty situations (the child poverty rate in the gypsy community is 89%), and to which the aid, neither food nor monetary, promised by the Government is reaching.”

In France, in Romani “slums” like Saint-Denis and Perpignan where COVID-19 hits, “They live crammed into small shacks, so they can’t confine themselves and isolate people who could infect them,” said Adeline Grippon, an aid worker of Médecins du Monde. “They lack the basics like access to water, to toilets, in many of the shanty towns,” she continued, in what is a continent-wide refrain. Perpignan saw the first Romani coronavirus fatalities in France.

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