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COVID-19 and its effects on Roma were discussed at Eurac’s webinar

FUEN’s survey shows that not only Roma, but other minorities were also discriminated during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the discrimination reached another level with Roma, as they had no access to educational material, or even lacked running tapwater – FUEN President MEP Loránt Vincze pointed out during the webinar “COVID-19 and its effects on Roma” organized on Wednesday by the Institute for Minority Rights at Eurac Research.

Mr Vincze said that Roma communities in different parts of Europe have to face different challenges, but there are also some best practices showing that this is not a hopeless situation. In his hometown, Tîrgu Mureș / Marosvásárhely in Romania, during the lockdown local NGOs quickly reacted and attracted funding to provide hot meals to underprivileged Roma and other vulnerable groups. Roma to Roma support is also important, as highlighted by the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, which was the first to raise its voice against the new wave of anti-gypsyism brought by the pandemic all over Europe. The role of mediators is also very important in the effort to improve the living conditions of the Roma population. The FUEN together with the Land Schleswig Holstein, GIZ and ECMI promoted the establishment of a minority commissioner position in Bjeljina in Bosnia Herzegovina, which later became a success story and a good practice – added the president of FUEN.

At the webinar chaired by Roberta Medda-Windischer from the Institute for Minority Rights, Eurac Research, Andrey Ivanov from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) said that the pandemic has highlighted existing structural problems, and they are working on a study on its impact on Roma communities in 15 different countries. Human rights activist Zola Kondur from the Council of Europe office in Ukraine talked about the multiple discrimination Roma women have to face, one major problem being that they are undocumented, which means no access to healthcare systems, medicine, proper work opportunities and state aid. Neda Korunovska from Open Society Roma Initiatives accentuated the special situation of Roma communities, and independent expert Zora Popova talked about the effects of hate speech and anti-gypsyism.

Loránt Vincze said that in the ten years since the European Union’s Roma strategy is in place, the situation of Roma has not improved significantly. Now the European Parliament is working on a revised strategy, which should focus on inclusive education, trainings, adult education, better access to the labour market and Roma empowerment including their involvement in politics. “We need stronger legal acts to make the Member States take measures. Coordinating is not enough, we need an EU Directive” – said Mr Vincze.

Ending on a positive note, the participants shared their thoughts on how the situation could be improved. There is a huge potential in the Roma as the youngest community; focus should be on the local level; active participation in decision-making has to be encouraged; effective policies are needed at national and local level; joint decision-making is necessary on how the problems caused by the pandemic can be resolved next time – were some of the issues raised. Loránt Vincze said that everything starts with education, as this is the only way to get Roma children out of intergenerational poverty, but the majority also needs to be educated in order to deconstruct prejudices.

The webinar can be watched on Eurac’s Facebook page and on Youtube.