Turkey's Roma hit hard by COVID-19 outbreak – The National

Turkey’s measures to tackle the COVID-19 coronavirus have hit its vulnerable Roma population particularly hard, The National said.

“Unfortunately, coronavirus has probably affected the Roma community the most,” said Emin Karameşe, a Roma man from Izmir told The National. 

“The main reason is we earn our living from unregistered, casual work in the streets. Roma who have lost their livelihoods are currently in a situation where they are unable to pay their rent, water and electricity bills and are now struggling with starvation,” Karameşe said.

An estimated four million Roma people live in Turkey - Europe’s largest Roma population - and they have long faced discrimination and poverty. 

Many Roma people live in neighbourhoods with poor access to basic services such as electricity and clean water, with a high risk of infection due to crowded living conditions. Many struggle to reach online health services due to low rates of literacy and internet access, The National said. 

Özcan Purçu, a member of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Turkey’s only Roma parliamentarian, told The National that COVID-19 testing has been limited among the Roma community.

“In the crowded neighbourhoods where Roma citizens live, there is no data on the number of cases or even whether there have been cases or not,” he said.

Many Roma people in Turkey make a living in the informal economy as collectors of recyclables, street vendors, and musicians – and measures that have left cities and towns under lockdown are having a disproportionate effect on their livelihoods.

“Many Roma families don’t have a regular income to allow them to stay at home because they don't have social security,” Hacer Foggo, who established the Deep Poverty Network to support low income families during the pandemic, told The National.

“So, when we were told to ‘stay at home’ during the pandemic, Roma families had difficulty getting food on a regular basis,” she added. “Also, for families crowded into small one-bedroom homes, the call for social distancing is meaningless.”

Purçu told The National that, while COVID-19 aid programmes have provided some relief for Turkey’s Roma, the pandemic has underlined the need to address the community’s many existing issues.

“Policies that are guaranteed to meet employment, education, health and housing problems are needed as soon as possible,” Purçu said. 

“National policies aimed at better integrating Roma in society should be developed by addressing the differences between Roma's living conditions and those of society in general.”