18 Apr CALL FOR DIALOGUE AND COOPERATION
Roma Standing Conference, civil organizations and activists, we find especially alarming the actions of the national and local authorities to put checkpoints at the exits of Roma neighborhoods, and since yesterday even tighter control of movement in the capital districts “Fakulteta”and “Filipovtsi”.
The closure of a Roma neighborhood or the placement of a checkpoint does not lead to a reduction in the virus contamination of our society.
What happens in Bulgaria and especially in the Roma neighborhoods leads to unnecessary tension. Tension in neighborhoods that have been neglected for years and the people there are living in ever greater poverty. Too many Roma districts are without water and sanitation and are located away from health centers. There is no normal water supply and electricity in these quarters. At the moment, some employers are releasing workers from their workplaces because they are from “Fakulteta”. In addition, housing and buildings in the larger hamlets do not allow physical distancing. The closure of a Roma neighborhood or the placement of a checkpoint does not lead to a reduction in the virus contamination of our society. It leads only to tensions, benefiting far-right political movements that spread hatred and call upon the Bulgarian society for vigilante.
Toward the moment the virus attacks every one of us, all over the world, but we Roma are at twice the risk and will face more severe consequences than anyone else. We will see the consequences on the education of our children, the opportunities for work and income and the far-right attacks, which are raging daily against our community. All this leads to even greater isolation of the Roma community, greater poverty, suppression, and manipulation of our voice.
We are left to do what the state should do for all its citizens.
It is unacceptable in a global crisis, like the one in which we find ourselves, a community to be isolated when we need unity and support the most. We are left to do what the state should do for all its citizens. Hundreds of Roma citizens make it impossible for them to preserve and protect the most affected, the most vulnerable – the elders and those who cannot cope and feed their families. In each city, funds are collected in each neighborhood and food products are bought. Hundreds of Roma and non-Roma donate funds for protective clothing to health mediators who are on the first line in the battle against the virus. All emigrants send funds and come for afar, continuing to be among some of the big investors.
Currently, over 250 health and over 100 educational mediators work hard in the Roma neighborhoods and explain to the Roma community in all areas of the country the measures against the spread of the virus. These are people who are on the frontline in the fight against the virus, endangering themselves and their families, without sufficient availability of the required protective equipment, every day are in neighborhoods to protect the health and life of our entire society. Separately over 35 local civic organizations and initiative groups, which are part of the Roma Standing Conference, also work in the neighborhoods and in accessible language communicate the measures against the virus. Local active groups in 46 municipalities participating in the ROMAKT programme are also on the field and provide information against the spread of the virus and explain the measures issued by the Government.
Roma Standing Conference takes into account the need to take special measures to inform and support people living in Roma neighborhoods in the country, but we have serious reservations about the way this is done: with police, gendarmerie and with disproportionately restrictive and doubly stringent measures, which do not apply to the rest of the population.
Measures must be taken, the measures must be respected by all. The measures must be for everyone. Roma Standing Conference takes into account the need to take special measures to inform and support people living in Roma neighborhoods in the country, but we have serious reservations about the way this is done: with police, gendarmerie and with disproportionately restrictive and doubly stringent measures, which do not apply to the rest of the population.
Similar restrictive measures, as well as spread racist opinions in social networks, that Roma are carriers of the virus from abroad in Bulgaria, roughly violate the social fabric and bring unnecessary and harmful separation between the communities in Bulgaria. They irresponsibly ethinisize the virus by suggesting that the Roma are its exclusive carrier and pose a danger to the rest of the society.
Something worse – the combination of ethnisized restrictive measures and stigmatizing Roma rhetoric continues to move the Roma community away from the Bulgarian institutions and authorities, severely undermining the trust between them. And trust in the institutions in a crisis is vitally important precisely in a crisis among the most vulnerable social groups.
We from Roma Standing Conference, civil organizations and activists are calling for:
- Participation of representatives from the Roma community in the planning and implementation of all measures concerning the health of the society and especially our Roma community.
- Change in politics and speaking towards the Roma community in crisis conditions for an indispensable prerequisite for the protection of public health.
- Do not share sensitive information that can only be contacted by a specific group of people, as recommended by WHO.
- An immediate meeting with the national operational headquarters to create a dialogue between the Roma community and the authority to implement the anti-virus measures and form mechanisms for interaction.