14 years of life expectancy less, before the pandemic
The “European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights” (FRA) recently published a survey, based on a large poll taken just before the pandemic. The situation of Roma and Travelers was scrutinized in six Member States: France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Belgium.
Belgium where more than 30,000 Roma reside: they arrived from the east in the 90s following the war in the former Yugoslavia or later from Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and finally from Syria. The vast majority of them live in dwellings in the city, sometimes in the street. In addition to them, there are at least 2300 “travelers” who live in caravans, and move according to the availability of land: a number that is certainly underestimated.
The survey reveals that in these European states, one in two young people, between 16 and 24, is neither in education, nor in training, nor in employment.
For Belgium specifically, these young people are 30% among the Roma, and 41% among travelers: this is three to four times more than the average of young Belgians. And among the youngest, while 95% of Roma children aged 6 to 15 attend school, this is the case for only 39% of children on the journey.
The poverty figures are also of concern. In Belgium, nearly one in three Roma people and one in four Travelers cannot afford basic products, in severe material deprivation. This is five to six times more than the Belgian average.
Finally, one figure alone sums up the gap: the Roma in Belgium have on average 14 years less life expectancy than the Belgian population.
All this having been evaluated before the pandemic.
Viruses and reverse
The pandemic is widening these gaps, warns the ERGO, the “European Roma Grassroots Organizations “, platform of 30 European associations for Roma rights, based in Brussels.
“We carried out a study this summer in various States of the Union, and in the Balkans, as well as in Turkey”, explains Isabela Mihalache for the Ergo. “And it emerges that the Roma will be strongly and disproportionately impacted by the pandemic”.
She notes a decline in the education of children. “We see that 30 to 40% of Roma children did not have access to the internet, a tablet or a computer during confinement, to attend school online.”
It notes a growing precariousness, linked to the interruption of moonlighting during periods of confinement.
No more hate speech
This material, educational and health decline has been accompanied by an upsurge in discrimination and hate speech, notes Isabela Mihalache.
“We have seen a much more prevalent negative rhetoric against Roma in the media and political discourse in different states. Discourse that Roma are responsible for the spread of the virus. And in some countries, Roma communities have been locked up, lockdowns just for them, in a discriminatory and legally unjustifiable way. “
And the testimonies recorded by this European platform for the rights of the Roma point to more police abuses.
“In some countries, we are also seeing an increase in police violence during confinement, disproportionate and obviously abusive acts of violence. We have reported all of this to the European Commission and the national authorities concerned. We ask them to ‘closely examine the impact of Covid-19 on discriminated groups and scapegoats “.
What national and European levers?
The policies deployed with regard to the Roma populations are social policies, national competences. It is therefore first and foremost the responsibility of States to step up actions towards these populations.
In Belgium, “intercultural mediators”, sometimes of Roma origin, have proved their worth: they make it possible to follow families, to gain their trust and direct them to the CPAS or appropriate social services, to support the education of children, to smooth out linguistic difficulties, the growing problems of Travelers to find land to accommodate them for a long time.
More and more young Roma have been able to rely on these mediators to complete their studies, and to pave the way for others.
But the subsidization of these services is as fragmented as it is occasional: these professionals sometimes work in municipal prevention teams, sometimes for structures funded by the Flemish and French communities, and in Brussels, Cocof, Cocom, VGC, sometimes with regional funds. . Often non-structural subsidies, when the needs are good, and sometimes not renewed.
Insecurity even as the European Commission asks member states to step up their efforts for the Roma populations.
Recommendations for 10 years
The Commission published a new 10-year plan in October, called “new Roma Strategic Framework”.
It gives European states objectives for 2030 and sends them fairly specific recommendations. The countries will have to report every 2 years on the evolution of the situation and the progress towards these objectives, on their territory.
This plan for 2030 is more detailed than the previous ten-year plan, which is also more ambitious. And he underlines “structural” discrimination: these “habits” or these “omissions” which hamper access to care, education, employment and housing. Example: a State which does not offer suitable sites for Travelers forces them to move constantly, which prevents children from attending school.
But this time again, this Commission plan for the Roma is not binding. For some of its objectives, the Commission has a lever, possible sanctions: European funds, cohesion funds for example, are conditional on respect for fundamental rights. In the event of lack of respect for fundamental rights, of misuse of these funds, a complaint can be lodged against a member state, and this funding can be interrupted or even reimbursed to Europe.
But the Commission has no possibility of imposing policies which are exclusively the competence of the Member States. A large part of this plan is therefore non-binding recommendations.
Ergo, a European platform of Roma associations, nevertheless welcomes “a step in the right direction” and qualifies these last months as “change of tone, of momentum”. And she submits many, many suggestions to states for implementation.
“Roma absent from recovery plans”
This associative platform expects no less from another lever: the “recovery plan”.
The “Stimulus plans” are the plans that all the Member States of the Union are fine-tuning at the moment, for the end of April, to restore their economies hit by the Covid. The priorities and projects listed in these plans, once endorsed by the Commission, will be funded by € 750 million in European grants and loans.
A vast manna for the recovery. But from whom? No Roma for the moment, deplores Isabela Mihalache, for Ergo.
“So far very few states have included the Roma among the affected groups who will benefit from the recovery plans, because there has been no such guideline from the European Union, no specific conditionality. “
She concludes, hoping she is wrong: “We therefore expect that the Roma will not benefit from the money.”
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