We are all equal when it comes to protecting our health.
Prejudice and hate are an everyday reality for Europe’s ten million Roma. Marginalised and vulnerable at the best of times, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic poses particular challenges for Europe’s Roma populations. Tatiana Anđelić chairs the ad hoc committee of experts on Roma and Travellers looks at challenges and the lessons learned.
Hello, some of Europe’s poorest people, who have been finding it more difficult than most of us to manage during the coronavirus outbreak, are receiving extra help from the Council of Europe. To tell us more, I’m joined from Montenegro by Tatjana Anđelić, Chairperson of the ad hoc committee of experts on Roma and Travellers issues. Almost 2,000 Roma families have benefited from Council of Europe and indeed European Union funding during the COVID-19 crisis.
What does that tell us about the situation for Roma people during this pandemic?
Tatjana Anđelić: First of all, I want to emphasize the fact that this virus does not choose people by colour, or by nationality – this was a virus which happened all over the world. Of course, when it comes to marginalised people and people living in poverty, this has been a challenge for them, and for society to respond. When it comes to the Roma and Travellers population in Europe, the Council of Europe has really helped through different projects, I must say, but this is something new for all of us. When you have a population, which is living in settlements, which is living sometimes in overcrowded settlements, with no access to food, no access to health protection – it is even more challenging. Through its projects, the Council of Europe tried, and we were on the ground all the time in different countries, of course. But I must say that even now we are in a challenging period – it is a challenging time, which is not finished yet. Many people say that we will probably have new waves of this COVID crisis. I think that this post-coronavirus period (in some countries) is an excellent opportunity for all of us to see - and especially for Roma and Travellers what we have done, what were the main challenges, and what we did in all specific situations. Of course, local municipalities had the biggest role to play. The state response was very important in coordination, but the local level was very important in the sense that they should be (and will be) the ones to approach the most marginalised and vulnerable populations in their cities. We will soon have our next Committee meeting in Strasbourg. We already had one at the beginning of this year before the COVID crisis – after that we were of course communicating online. We were thinking that we will prepare one specific topic and will speak about COVID, about the crisis; what was the influence of the crisis on Roma and Travellers specifically? We have tried to chose and use the best examples from among the countries and through this inter-governmental dialogue to make some recommendations, which are not obligatory, but to speak and to think about future steps in our work.
When talking about the funding Roma and Travellers groups have received across Europe, where has that funding gone and how has it been used on the ground?
TA: I already mentioned that through the Council of Europe, we have several programmes which were already implemented in different countries. We have a very good project called “Promoting good governance for Roma empowerment at the local level” so-called “ROMACTED”. We are also building capacities at local level for inclusion of the Roma population, the so-called ROMACT. This ROMACTED programme is for the countries of Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro – the country from which I come, but also Turkey, Serbia, and of course, Kosovo, which functions under United Nations’ Security Council Resolution. We have had the opportunity to work with local municipalities in this period. We and our project teams who were in the field were providing either packages, or help to local municipalities in their expert work. Following the example in our country in cooperation with the Red Cross, we have delivered packages in the municipalities containing food, hygiene products, flowers… everything which was very important at that moment. Also, through the cooperation with the local municipalities, this project provided expertise and help. I also must mention that through this ROMACT program, we had 150 000 euros to be provided for small grants for municipalities in Romania and Bulgaria so that they can deal with this issue. Also, expertise was provided to teach these municipalities how to access further help or financial resources from different sources, such as the European Commission. I must say that both programmes are Joint programmes between the European Union and the Council of Europe. We are partners and we have been collaborating very well throughout this year. I also need to mention that the ROMACTED programme will have even more money for the next period – in addition to the previous 250 000 euros, we will have 50 000 euros. We will have 300 000 euros in total for the countries, so let’s hope that we will continue in this manner and use the money to even better advantage.
Continuing to look forward – and you’ve touched on this so far – there is a sense in parts of Europe that things need to be done differently in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. How hopeful are you that Roma people and Travellers will be better supported in the future?
TA: This situation, all over Europe, gave different lessons to different countries. We saw different kinds of pictures. What was very important is that we were all equal when it comes to health protection – this was very important for all countries. There was no question that you would not provide protection to someone when COVID happened. I think that we need to use all our resources, especially financial resources, to have a comprehensive project in the future that can really cover this issue. Most of our populations have always had the cover of legal instruments, but when the crisis is happening, you need something additional, you really need something more and then, the local level is important - decisions taken by local municipalities, but also states, in order to provide national coordination teams or something which will follow the situation. Because I’m dealing with this issue, I can say that we have this for the countries in which we have been active during this period. We are already thinking about new ideas when it comes to Roma and Travellers : how can we cover the issue in future – bearing in mind this specific period and the economic impact of COVID? I think that with a really good analysis of the situation and good strategic planning - starting from the local level, we can do something which is good and we can plan something which is operative – operative for the most vulnerable and especially when it comes to the Roma and Travellers population. Human Rights are essential and you can access and protect them well - you have all the instruments. Unfortunately, when crises are happening Human Rights violations are also possible and can occur very quickly. So, I think that in the future – since we have had a situation to show us that we must coordinate in an appropriate manner, we need to think about each moment and especially about the most vulnerable groups. We need to provide them with what is necessary so that they can be really protected from all diseases but also have relevant information, get the relevant resources and of course, not be suddenly blocked but have sustainability in order to be able to plan for the future.