SEATTLE, Washington — Europe has reached a breaking point with more than 10,000,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 1,300,000 deaths spanning across the E.U./EEA and UK. The outbreak leaves marginalized populations at a disproportionate disadvantage. The nomadic populace is at the highest risk for mortality, morbidity and poverty due to the pandemic. The Roma is the continent’s main ethnic minority and a group that is facing increased anti-Roma sentiment. However, numerous states are engaged as Europe offers hope to Roma amid COVID-19.
Subjugated and Discriminated
The Roma people originated in Northern India, which has since become Turkey, Armenia and Iran. They developed enclaves and spread across the continent since the 9th century. Over the preceding generations, they found themselves indentured up until the 19th century.
During the medieval-era, Denmark, England and Switzerland sentenced the Roma to death, which evolved into an organized and orchestrated persecution. During World War II, Nazi Germany also sought to eradicate the Roma people. During the later half of the 20th century, Slovakia and the Czech Republic ordered the sterilization of 90,000 Romani women.
The Modern Roma
Today, there are roughly 10 to 12 million Roma people in the world and about two-thirds of them reside in Central and Eastern Europe. Comprising five to 10% of the population, the Roma are the main ethnic minority in Europe. In Western Europe, they exist in smaller numbers in Italy, France, Spain and the U.K.
Relegated to the slums, the Roma survive without basic amenities like electricity, running water, health care and adequate education. They face a variety of issues that lead to them living in conditions deemed unlivable. Moreover, they endure police harassment, racism and violent attacks. On average, their life expectancy is ten years below the standard. Additionally, they are often unable to secure employment and cannot afford the necessities to subsist.
Roma Amid COVID-19
Due to the low standard of living in Roma communities, COVID-19 leaves this population more vulnerable than before. According to feedback provided by member states of the E.U., “the multiple pandemic-engendered difficulties faced by Roma communities in all four priority areas, i.e. health, employment, education, and housing, including difficulties related to social protection, migration for work, discrimination and antigypsyism, and unequal access to information.”
Roma communities lack proper sanitation or basic hygiene, and a majority suffer from chronic illness. Therefore, the Roma are at immediate risk for spreading contagious diseases and often suffer the dire consequences of the illnesses they contract due to the poor sanitary conditions they live in.
For these people, many preexisting conditions will worsen throughout the duration and in the wake of COVID-19. Employment rates were low for most Roma, but many experts predict that they will decrease further during the aftermath of COVID-19. Moreover, educational opportunities are scarce and will only intensify inequalities that existed. Overcrowded households in ghettos and settlements can also dampen physical distancing efforts.
A myriad of issues made worse by the pandemic has not only challenged the Roma but has created a big problem for the E.U. member states.
Europe Offers Hope
Member states have made a swift response to curb the ramifications of the virus amongst the Roma in each country.
Health and educational mediators are actively involved in Roma communities to provide a first response to the two most critical areas. Health mediators of many E.U. states inform Roma of the virus, means of protection and how to adhere to quarantine. On the other hand, educational mediators provide teaching material and introduce distanced learning.
Volunteer initiatives are focused on social cohesion, shared responsibility and humanity. They also assist with creating protective masks for those in need. The immediate strategies from member states include emphasizing clean access to water and information, free healthcare services, basic sanitation, educational facilities and proper quarantine and sanitation measures.
Europe’s largest at-risk community is not alone as E.U. member states mobilize to prevent a harsher situation within Roma communities. Priorities are well underway from education to healthcare to housing. With these efforts moving forward, this is how Europe offers hope to Roma amid COVID-19.
– Michael Santiago