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Equality Network established for addressing emergencies in Western Balkans Roma communities wrote a request to European Commissioner JanezLenarcic, European Emergency Response Coordinator.

The newly established network of Roma civil society organizations from Western Balkans calls on the Commissioner to initiate Emergency Fund for supporting food and hygienic supplies for about 10.000 families in need.

The Situation in Western Balkans

Governments are intensively working on support measures and help the businesses and people for feeling less financial losses due to the crisis. Yet, many failed in addressing the most vulnerable, the groups who felt the most touched by the consequences of the restrictive measures. 

Rural populations have less means to contract it, but rural populations have less means to treat it!

The lockdown has already disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of livelihood and lack of food, shelter, health, and other basic needs. Most of the estimated half million Romani people in Western Balkans live in precarious situations without access to clean water, adequate housing, health services or the financial means for good nutrition. Independent from the current epidemic, Romani people are already facing discrimination in their access to adequate housing, health and social services based on antigypsyism, the specific form of racism towards people with Romani background.

The COVID-19 epidemic requires immediate and comprehensive measures from Governments. However, this must not be the occasion to deploy discriminatory measures against ethnic minorities and feed racist stereotypes against Roma. Regrettably, this is already the case in a number of European countries, but also in Western Balkans – especially in Serbia and North- Macedonia.

Questions to be considered:

How do you regularly wash your hands if you don’t have access to soap or running water? How do you maintain social distancing and group-size minimums if you live with a family of 7 in a small space? How do a family secure minimum income if they were living from waste collection and now their movement is restricted? How a family selling textile in the grey market can secure minimum income if the open markets are locked-down? 

WHY IS THIS REQUEST URGENT?

It is important to take preventive measures in order to mitigate the potentially severe consequences of COVID-19 for vulnerable groups, especially Roma communities. Not acting now will make us complicit in this disaster!

According to the feedback received from community members, the following issues are emergent:

  1. Financial supports- Securing minimum income for survival: Low-wage workers, particularly Roma people, will be among the communities that feel the economic impact of COVID-19 the most. Approximately 80% of the Roma in the settlements in Western Balkans are not working (both formal and informal) due to the COVID – 19 measures. About half of them do not benefit or not eligible to benefit from governmental support packages which require to fulfill specific (irrational) criteria. The packages in all countries usually equals to about 120€, although small amount, yet far for many who lost their income mechanisms.
  1. Food security: COVID-19 presents a threat to already food insecure families who now face an uncertain economic future.
  1. Addressing racial bias: Supporting local communities that have been targeted as a result of their race and ethnicity. The discrimination, racism and scapegoating during the COVID – 19 crisis. Roma settlements are locked-down with lack of explanation. Roma individuals are sent to separate quarantine objects with low rational and lack of transparency measures. Protection and hygiene materials are not reaching the Romani settlements in adequate proportions.
  1. Implementing hygiene measures to prevent the spread of the COVID – 19. About 20 localities have no access to water, about 10 localities have no access to electricity and about 70% of the households in all of the mostly Roma inhabited settlements have insufficient funds to secure hygiene and food supplies for maintaining hygiene and immunity strength. There is a need for water tank supplies and provision of basic hygienic and protective materials.

We don’t only ask; we also provide help as much as we can:

The member organizations have already reallocated funds from our existing on-going projects and provided food and hygienic packages in our countries as much as the donors allowed based on our request or in cooperation with our staff and member organizations across the countries. We made our staff available to every initiative that came for supporting Roma communities but we also did number of request to local and national institutions for helping the most vulnerable.

Up to April 20, 2020 our member organizations succeeded to distribute the following list of help to the Roma communities:

Albania: NGO Roma Versitas Albania – About 125 food and hygienic supplies secured from Roma Education Fund projects. About 80 packages self-organized finances from individuals, businessman and municipality of Rogozhina;

Serbia: NGO Association of Roma Coordinators – About 1800 packages of food and hygienic supplies secured from UNOPS, EU Delegation, LSGUs and Adra. More packages is announced;

North Macedonia: NGO Roma Resource Center – About 100 food and hygienic supplies packages secured by the European Union supported project. About 50 packages secured from self-organized finances from local individuals.

Montenegro: NGO PhirenAmenca – Koracajtesanama – About 600 food and hygienic supplies packages secured by the European Union EIDHR and HELP organization. 

It was obvious that this is not enough!

WE ASK FOR AN URGENT FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR AN EMERGENCY FUND THAT WILL SECURE FOOD SUPPLIES AND HYGIENIC PACKAGES FOR APPROXIMATELY 10.000 FAMILIES IN NEED IN THE FOUR COUNTRIES FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS.

If there are challenges of establishing Emergency Fund but there are opportunities to secure food and hygienic supplies directly from an EU member state or any similar mechanisms can be initiated, we would be more than happy to help in the distribution.

The organization operates with detailed map of targeted needs in every country, every city and every settlement. Our mapping will help us to precisely organize the support delivery. Our teams are ready to voluntarily organize every action of delivering the packages and organizing advocacy actions. We have well-organized network of volunteers, community members and activists in every locality ready to help in the actions.

The European Roma Equality Network NGO members from Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia will continue to raise funds, to provide food and hygienic materials supplies to the most vulnerable groups so we can ensure families feel less challenges due to their lost income and ensure they have minimum hygiene maintaining possibilities.

In parallel, we will strongly advocate for ensuring water and electricity access in the settlements where basic infrastructure is missing.

 

Note:

We definitely would not like to undertake anything to replace the role of the Governments but help them in reaching the ones who have emergent needs due to the crisis. We are ready to provide help together and hand-by-hand with the crisis units and governmental institutions as designated by the respective Ministries in our countries.