Mihai Calin Bica, a campaigning and policy worker for the Roma Support Group, has written a powerful description of the impact of the disease and lockdown on Roma communities in the UK, published in the Independent on 9th May under the headline “Already vilified, the Roma are struggling in a crisis.”
Mihai sets the Roma experience of the pandemic in the context of discrimination and prejudice. In addition Roma continue to suffer the uncertainties about status resulting from Brexit.
As families face financial insecurity, a disproportionate risk of infection and reduced access to education and services, the UK’s Roma community has also been met with an increase in discriminatory attitudes.
He tells of a young victim of Corvid whose families face the “almost impossible task” of returning their bodies to their homelands. He also suggests that in some localities Roma are suffering disproportionately.
Diana Blaj from Ideea Rom Association, a Nottingham-based Roma organisation, reports that about 40 of the 400 Roma they’re working with have been infected or had symptoms.
He explains how many Roma are employed informally or through agencies and their work has just disappeared with lockdown.
Most Roma in the UK live in poor areas and the majority are renting in the private sector, from unscrupulous or rogue landlords. Even under lockdown many are threatened with eviction.
“Our own community has risen to the challenge”
Mihai tells of Roma volunteers in London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Crewe delivering food parcels to vulnerable families in their local areas, organising social networks and challenging discrimination.
During this time of lockdown – when all of us are vulnerable – we need to come together, increase our understanding of each other, find common ground and common decency. We are not asking for special treatment. We want fairness.
This is a moving and comprehensive article which should be widely distributed and read.
I thank God that kids aren’t in school right now. After Thursday’s airing of Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches: The Truth of Traveller Crime’, I wouldn’t go back to school for a week. When a program like that has been aired, it is always seen by the parents of children that I go to school with. They spread their hate to their children. It is seen by the children themselves a lot of the time as well. Let the racist comments begin.
And everytime something like that is aired, the levels of racism go up. Not to the point where I am openly targeted in the playground, canteen or classroom, but more to the point where people ask me if it is true, and there are racist slurs written on bathroom stalls.
How could I be expected to go to school and have to face this?
The Gypsy Roma Traveller community has so many battles to fight. And now they have another one – against Channel 4. How dare Channel 4 air this program. They have set our community back by decades. Any battles which we have won in the past have been wiped from memories as we face racist comments on social media and in real life as a result. One Twitter user, after the show was aired, posted, ‘I’ve never wanted a certain group of people to get wiped out by coronavirus so much #dispatches’.
I ask why there has been no legal action taken against posts like these. I ask why there is currently no legal action being taken against Channel 4 for producing and airing such a vile, vulgar and vindictive program.
I ask why this program was not filtered and changed. Why is it okay to air such a one-sided program on our community?
Why is racism at our culture the last acceptable form?
There has been a wave of anger and frustration that Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches: The Truth about Traveller Crime’, shown Thursday 16th April at 9.00pm, once again perpetuated crude racist stereotypes and generalisations under the guise of a serious documentary.
ACERT and other organisations have been wary of cooperating with C4, especially since Big Fat Gypsy wedding did so much damage. Pauline Anderson, Chair of the Traveller Movement, contributed to the programme and made a strong case for educational inclusion and opportunities, but her contributions were cut with footage which effectively undermined and contradicted what she had said.
For those of you who saw the broadcast, you’ll know it was an unbalanced and damaging portrayal of Gypsy and Traveller people which has set excellent community cohesion work back by 20 years. Since the broadcast aired, we’ve seen an alarming spike in hate speech against Gypsy and Traveller communities on social media. Given that Gypsies and Travellers already experience very high levels of racism and discrimination, this is indeed worrying and totally unacceptable.
The Travellers Movement request for solidarity and support
If you saw the programme you may wish to make you views known:
– Tweet your condemnation, tag Channel 4 and Ofcom. Please also tag TTM (@GypsyTravellerM) and use the hashtag #AfterDispatches
The Traveller Movement and ACERT took the lead in highlighting the particular impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures and lockdown on the education of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children.
The letter highlighted the potential impact of disrupted education on an already low achieving group, subject to low teacher expectations and digital exclusion.
It mentioned the impracticality of social isolation for many families as well as the caring roles taken by some children. It also expressed concern that the education of some students may not restart after the disruption.
It is crucial that the government ensure that the educational gaps Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children already face are not widened further by the response to the pandemic.