Information Notice on the issues affecting the Roma population in the context of the coronavirus pandemic

Today, together with the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and my fellow Deputy Commissioner, we issued a joint statement on the issues affecting the vulnerable groups in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. As Deputy Commissioner for the Protection of the Rights of National Minorities in Hungary, the issue is particularly relevant to a significant number of Roma communities within my powers and competence, and I therefore consider it necessary to publish a specific information notice addressed to them.

The pandemic crisis is worsening in Hungary, too, and its complex economic and social consequences, together with the related state measures, are making life difficult for everyone and restrict us in many ways and forms. We have to face challenges and losses that most of Europe's present population has not yet met: the devastating epidemics of the past are known for us only from books.

The basic situation of particular groups of the population is not the same, indeed, it is significantly different in some cases, likewise, the ability and the capacity to cope with emergencies is not the same for the members of different social groups.

We all need to know, both public institutions and citizens, that the social groups are not equally prepared to prevent, manage, and respond to the health risks associated with the pandemic. We also need to be aware that the transition of educational institutions to distance learning, the isolation, the reduction or termination of job opportunities, and the consequences of various restrictive provisions in general, place extra burden on the members of already vulnerable groups at risk, and their difficulties may be escalated to excesses.

The necessary and unavoidable epidemiological measures to slow down and contain the pandemic can now make the people living in the most difficult economic and social conditions face a particularly difficult situation. There is no doubt that particularly vulnerable members of the population, including in particular the elderly, the sick, people with disabilities, the homeless and other existentially deprived people, including children, are among the most vulnerable. I need to underline that a significant part of the members of the Hungarian Roma minority are among those challenged by multiple disadvantages. These weeks and months, in some regions of the country, Roma families living in difficult circumstances irrespective of the present situation, including many of them living in segregated settlements, are facing extreme nutritional, hygiene, health and educational challenges.

Therefore, in our communication, we drew the attention of all stakeholders to the fact that it is the duty and the responsibility of the relevant state and local government bodies as well as the health and social institutions that they operate to assist, support, identify and reach members of vulnerable groups. I am aware that this work is already underway and that – in an emergency, with the necessary health precautions – institutions are working to ensure that disadvantaged groups, including a large number of Roma people, have access to food, toiletries, medicine needed for their health, and ultimately to their life.
Social and health care is facing an enormous challenge, therefore, in addition to the continuous and targeted actions of state and municipal institutions entitled and obliged to act in times of emergency, civil initiatives of individuals and groups, donations from church communities and the involvement of local Roma minority self-governments can only achieve their real aims with appropriate financial background, reasonable and professional organization and the responsible provision of information. 

I strongly urge all concerned parties not to leave behind the neediest Roma communities and their members in this extremely trying period of our lives!

In the light of the above, I consider as a good practice of dealing with the emergency the recent establishment of a special task force to coordinate the volunteering and donation activities. In our joint communication, we recommended that relevant policy makers consider setting up a task force to provide extraordinary protection and support to vulnerable groups, and in particular to help disadvantaged children and their families, to which we offered our professional experience. The setting up of the task force can be particularly important for the Roma people living among multiple disadvantages: it is of key importance to safeguard the results of the social inclusion steps taken in the past years both for preventing the serious consequences of the present situation and for the undisturbed future continuation of the projects.

Together with the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and the Deputy Commissioner, we sincerely appreciate and thank all governmental and non-governmental employees, healthcare workers, ecclesiastic persons and civil activists who work with their utmost power, patience, discipline, and perseverance to curb the pandemic while respecting everyone's health and life: their own as well as that of our Roma and non-Roma fellow citizens.

As the Minority Ombudsman, my colleagues and I are constantly analysing the impact of the extraordinary challenges on the nationality communities, in particular the Roma population, in the changing circumstances. In view of the protracted nature of the epidemic, I will continue to seek regular information from the state institutions responsible for the social, health and educational conditions of the Roma population.

Should some of our readers need help, please contact the institutions providing social services in the relevant settlement, taking into account that they are usually on call duty and specifically request telephone calls or e-mails from their clients. The local Roma nationality self-government can optimally assist in finding appropriate assistance and contact. The staff members of the Hungarian Red Cross and the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service, as well as of the charity or assistance organisations operating locally or regionally are trying to help those in need, and most of their institutions are still available.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to work with my colleagues at home to deal with the ongoing and incoming cases of the nationality communities and of their members. Should you encounter any problem regarding the procedures by the authorities or the bodies providing public services or suspect discrimination regarding the measures concerned, please send your submissions and professional documents to nemzetiseg.info@ajbh.hu or panasz@ajbh.hu.  You can find the latest information on our Facebook page or on this channel, www.nemzetisegijogok.hu.

I wish all of us wisdom, patience, and broad caution in dealing with the challenges of the next period!

ke care of each other, take care of ourselves!

Budapest, 26 March 2020.

Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay
Minority Ombudsman