Corona Diaries: Voices from the ENAR network

| 1.04.2020

The Covid-19 crisis is exacerbating structural racism and inequalities in society, with vulnerable and disadvantaged groups bearing the brunt of its impact.

Many ENAR members are doing their part to ensure that solidarity and justice are upheld during these crises. Read their ongoing concerns about the main emergencies during this crisis.

For many Roma, Covid-19 is worsening dire living conditions

Anja Reuss, Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma, Germany
01 April 2020

Right-wing extremists and nationalist politicians in many parts of Europe are trying to use the current crisis caused by the Coronavirus to legitimise and implement racist positions as government regulations. This affects Roma and other racial minorities in particular.

Vulnerable communities should be the first target of humanitarian assistance in the current crisis and the European Commission should call on authorities to not forget Roma and distribute humanitarian aid to them.

The EU Roma Framework failed to make any impact on the disastrous living conditions of many Roma families. Still there are segregated and overcrowded settlements and camps, often located in close proximity to toxic dumps, or on remote sites without basic infrastructure or even access to water. In these conditions, which weaken immune systems of young and old, the strict hygienic rules needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 become a challenge for marginalised communities. Instructions to “wash your hands” are meaningless if there is no access to water. What’s more, many Roma lack access to health services and regularly experience discrimination in healthcare, and this is unlikely to change in times of coronavirus.

Whether motivated by rumours or just plain racism, attacks on Roma people are increasing. In Bulgaria, authorities introduced restrictive measures, confining Roma people to ghettos and prohibiting them from “mingling” with the rest of the population. After Roma workers returned from western Europe they were accused of bringing the virus to the country.

Antigypsyism and a lack of opportunities have kept Roma out of the labour market well before the coronavirus crisis, and forced many to move abroad to find work. These days, the odds of making a living are even worse and their sources of income have all but disappeared. Indeed, tens of thousands of Roma make their living through precarious self-employment, working in the informal sector or toiling as daily labourers, activities which are no longer possible in the current situation. The travel ban to EU member states is also cutting many Roma families off from an income.

Home schooling brings additional challenges. Many Roma families have no internet, computer or electricity. But even with access, remote education is difficult in confined living spaces. At the same time, Roma parents who may themselves be illiterate are unable to help with home schooling. It is feared that many Roma children will lose an entire school year or drop out of education altogether.

For us it is important now to continue raising awareness, identifying needs and targeting assistance. The Central Council is closely monitoring current developments and advocates for urgent steps to improve the situation of Roma and Sinti, in particular to help families economically. Roma civil society organisations are trying to raise awareness of the virus within local communities and provide information about aid services and opportunities for state relief.

Lockdown reality for Latin American women in Belgium

Thamara Cruz, SIEMPRE, Belgium
30 March 2020

Since the lockdown started in Belgium, staying healthy has become the priority, and containment measures require people to stay at home, except for essential needs or work that cannot be done from home. For some women of Latin American and Caribbean origin, staying at home in "contingency" doesn’t make much difference in their lives. Their reality before the coronavirus crisis was already staying at home for months, taking care of their children while searching for a job - writing motivation letters, CV’s, making calls, most of the time without a positive response, trying to regularise their stay in Belgium, learning one of the official languages. Some in case of divorce do not have enough resources to return to their countries of origin or cannot keep the custody of their children. Some are experiencing different kinds of violence and discrimination and do not report them, causing them to remain at home for long periods. Those who live in rural areas with little access to public transport or who care for babies or children with disabilities face even more isolation.

As a result, it’s on social media that they are able to network, share opinions and exchange tips, on the basis of shared situations and experiences as migrant women. Social media groups are organised by topic, diasporas, or debates and try to solve recurrent problems. This social work of guiding and accompanying a migrant population is the result of social and collective participation that has been self-organised, in the shadow of institutions. The need to be listened to, to find information about regularising their stay, job search, health, what to do and where to go when they face violence, to get recommendations from experts, promotion of events and products are some of reasons Spanish-speaking diasporas use social media networking.

The Covid-19 crisis shows us how social and health services are confronted with rapidly increasing numbers of patients including migrants, women with children, women experiencing violence and isolation. But the system in place ignores their circumstances. Social and health services are not prepared to provide child protection or offer immediate solutions and access to women who are undocumented. They also often not suited to understand and meet the needs of migrant women.

We are changing as a society; we have to transform together in this spring of confinement, and ensure that everyone’s health is a priority.

The impact of Covid-19 on asylum seekers

Jasmine Joelle Tsimi Abega, Migrabo LGBTI, Italy
24 March 2020

The spread of the COVID19 virus is a global emergency now. Governments have put in place measures to have as few infections as possible. Those who break these rules face serious penalties.

From a legal point of view, measures have been envisaged for asylum seekers in Italy that affect some aspects of the procedure for the recognition of international protection for those who break the rules.

From an administrative point of view, the offices of police stations and territorial commissions are closed until further notice. This means no renewed residence permit for those who were already working. It seems that the life of the asylum seeker has stopped. A double burden to bear compared to all other citizens.

From a social point of view, the coronavirus prevents mobility except for essential needs, and the operators who deal with asylum seekers are no longer able to guarantee their presence in structures for asylum seekers. In addition, it becomes difficult to provide basic sanitation material and moral support.

It seems that no measures are implemented to date to safeguard health and decrease the possibility of contagion among the residents of reception facilities for asylum seekers and refugees.

This epidemic represents - as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) underlines - a global challenge, and can only be faced by ensuring solidarity and cooperation on an international scale. For this reason, the answer must include and focus on the needs of each individual, including those forced to flee their homes.

The situation for migrants and refugees in Greece

19 March 2020

Ahmed Moawia, Greek Forum of Migrants

We are deeply concerned about the way Greece and the European Union are handling the refugee and migration issue. We ask that as a matter of shared responsibility among EU member states, the current situation in the Greek islands and north borders should be treated as it is, a European issue. The right to asylum and the respect for human rights must be protected. With the Covid-19 pandemic we should take extra care of all vulnerable people.

• EU Member States should immediately relocate refugees and asylum seekers -especially families with children and unaccompanied minors - from the islands of Greece to the mainland and to other Member States
• The EU should revise the EU-Turkey Agreement.
• EU Member States should refrain from stigmatising some countries as being responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic.

We must act with solidarity for all.

Maddalena Avon, Centre for Peace Studies, Croatia

National governments, in particular in Greece, must consider using public and private empty buildings to accommodate people in overcrowded refugee camps and asylum seeker centres, in order to ensure basic health services and proper hygienic living conditions to inhabitants. EU and national governments should also ensure solutions for all those refugees finding themselves in unstable and unsafe situations at the external borders of the EU.

Solidarity and community based responses

Karen Taylor, Chair of the European Network Against Racism
19 March 2020

To overcome this crisis, we urgently need community-based responses. We need to revive the power of the collective to resist individualism and isolation, and use the time we have to organise solidarity actions. We must continue to organise for justice and make solidarity contagious within our own communities. In addition, EU Member States should adopt comprehensive national action plans against racism as a way to address structural racism and discrimination.

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About This Blog

The ENAR blog aims to stimulate debate on anti-racism, racial equality, and key issues impacting ethnic and religious minorities and migrants. It is a space open for respectful debate, discussion and ideas on race and racism-related issues in Europe and beyond.

The blog does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of ENAR or its members.

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With the support of the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme of the European Union, the Open Society Foundations, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Sigrid Rausing Trust