Roma: Europe’s Neglected Coronavirus Victims

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Roma Face Brunt of Western Balkans Demographic Crisis

From the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia to Bulgaria, Romania, Kosovo and Serbia, Roma are often confined to overcrowded neighbourhoods with limited access to infrastructure including clean water and sewage.

Theirs is a plight ignored by governments in recent decades as authorities have neglected to formalise Roma settlements and provide basic services. Now coronavirus threatens dire consequences for residents of those settlements and society at large.

The economic impacts on vulnerable Roma people will also be catastrophic. Targeted assistance to Roma communities has never been more urgent.

The most obvious point is the impossibility of social distancing when so many Roma families live in tiny dwellings, with lots of people crammed into one or two rooms. Outside, streets are similarly crowded and open spaces few and far between.

Across Europe, children have to rely on home schooling and distance learning. However, many Roma families have no internet, computer or electricity. Meanwhile, local learning centres for vulnerable families have been closed.

Primary school students in countries such as North Macedonia and Serbia can benefit from televised lessons, which are more accessible. But even with TVs and electric power, such remote education is difficult in a bustling one-room apartment or hut.

At the same time, Roma parents who may themselves be illiterate are unable to help with home schooling. We can expect many Roma children to lose an entire school year or drop out of education altogether.

Then there are the strict hygienic rules needed to prevent...

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