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Commentary on the COVID-19 outbreak often describes the virus as a great equaliser, given that it does not discriminate based on class, race or other grounds. But a closer look makes clear that the virus has ravaged some communities more than others.
Often living in substandard and overcrowded housing conditions, Roma and Travellers face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. As our bulletin shows, they are also disproportionately affected by measures taken to contain the virus.
In the 15 EU Member States covered in this bulletin, lockdowns kept many Roma and Travellers from working as street vendors and travelling traders, and from engaging in diverse forms of precarious work. They have also faced difficulties in claiming support and benefits available to workers in the formal labour market. As a result, poverty is on the rise – and the real risk of hunger looms.
Meanwhile, limited access to water, electricity and sanitation creates serious health concerns – which are exacerbated by various barriers to accessing health services. The lack of basic infrastructure is an issue for entire communities, but the younger generation faces another hurdle: without internet access and appropriate IT equipment, they risk falling even further behind at school.
Amidst these difficult realities, the persistent scourge of anti-Gypsyism remains everpresent, with hateful rhetoric on the rise in many countries.
Tackling these challenges is no easy undertaking. Yet one thing is certain: to succeed, efforts must support local authorities to strengthen their capacity or expertise in social inclusion work, and involve Roma and Travellers themselves – both during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
In this report:
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the daily life of everyone. Roma and Travellers living in marginalised conditions and suffering from social exclusion and poverty face particular challenges. Since March, as the number of infected people in the European Union (EU) has increased, governments have put in place a variety of measures in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. The evidence summarised in this bulletin suggests that the negative effects of these measures have disproportionately affected marginalised and socially excluded Roma and Travellers.
For example, in employment, lockdowns left those Roma engaged in precarious work unemployed, while the informal status of such work makes it difficult for them to claim the support and benefits available to workers in the formal labour market. Lockdowns also affect those working as street vendors or travelling traders. Requirements for the formal registration of residence, which some Roma and Travellers lack, limits their access to welfare services and worsens the situation.
In education, many Roma and Traveller children, especially those living in informal settlements and encampments without access, or adequate access, to the internet or information technology (IT) equipment cannot benefit from online distance-learning measures.
In housing, a persisting lack of basic infrastructure, especially in informal settlements and encampments, increases the risk of COVID-19 infection. The World Health Organization recommends that these are essential for preventing transmission and protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID-19.1 All relevant public authorities should take urgent measures to ensure safe water, sanitation and waste management in close cooperation with Roma and Travellers.
The pandemic calls for both immediate and long-term policy measures targeting Roma and Travellers. The immediate measures should offset the challenges that these communities face in the sectors outlined above. It is important that all initiatives intending to address the implications of the pandemic also include Roma and Travellers. The pandemic has revealed a critical discrepancy between the scale of local-level needs and the capacity to address them. The long-term policy measures should address it. The devoted work of Roma health and education mediators or field-workers has helped to fill the gap during the emergency. The COVID-19 outbreak, however, demonstrates the need to invest in local implementation capacity for sustainable long-term results.
For these efforts to be sustainable, EU Member States need to redouble their efforts to address prejudice and anti-Gypsyism, especially within public administrations. They need to engage directly with Roma and Traveller communities to provide them with reliable information and to identify measures that can counteract or reduce any negative impact of lockdowns.