Lately | Minority Rights

The pandemic worsens conditions in Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities

By - 20.07.2020

Institutional support for non-majority communities is inadequate.

The deteriorating social and economic conditions of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, the lack of access to tests for COVID-19 as well as the difficulties that students face in following the online learning process are among the main findings of a study by the Admovere organization, whose focal points, among others, is education.

As part of the discussions on how the pandemic has been managed by state institutions, Admovere has published the report “Challenges of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community in Kosovo during the COVID-19 Pandemic” The report examines the measures taken by the central and local governments to address the needs of these communities, as well as their implementation on the ground.

A series of decisions has been taken by the government to prevent and manage the COVID-19 pandemic. The first ones go back to the end of February 2020 and were further intensified on March 13, when the first people in Kosovo tested positive for the virus. Initially some municipalities were quarantined, then the movement for citizens was restricted and many business sectors were closed.

In the first week of June, almost all restrictive measures were lifted, and since then the number of those affected by COVID-19 has increased significantly.

There is a lack of data on the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities at the local and central institutions.

Data for the report has been collected since the first government decisions at the end of February until June 1, with a focus on the municipalities of Ferizaj, Lipjan and Fushë Kosovë, where most members of these communities live in Kosovo.

Durim Jasharaj, one of the authors of the report, has closely followed what the members of the three communities in three municipalities faced during the pandemic, while they have continued being left out by the institutions.

Exclusionary measures

The common finding from almost all the institutions that the Admovere organization has contacted for the drafting of the report — both at the central and local level — is that there is a lack of data on the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.

“It is important to have specific statistics for these communities, given that they live in more difficult economic and social conditions,” says Jasharaj. ” The [Institutions] have told us that, when collecting data, they start with the principle of equality, they do not make ethnic differences.”

“Everyone has been affected by the pandemic, but these communities are more vulnerable,” he continues, adding that he believes that if they had collected specific data, the institutions would be much better aware about the plight of members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities and could more effectively inform the masses to come to their aid.

Jasharaj comments on the closing of many sectors of the economy for a period of several weeks during the pandemic, he says that the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities “are not hit hard, as they are excluded from economic activities anyway.”

In addition, it is not known how many of those who were employed lost their jobs, as most were not formally registered and did not have contracts. Therefore, according to Jasharaj, many of them did not benefit from the measures of the government Emergency Fiscal Package aimed at supporting employees and those who lost their jobs during the pandemic, as one of the conditions was to be registered workers.

He mentions another measure of the Package, that the members of these communities could also benefit: Measure 15, which provided for a monthly assistance of 130 euros from April to June for families without any employees and who are not beneficiaries of any social program.

Meanwhile, according to Jasharaj, measure 9 of the emergency package is the only one that is specifically focused on these communities as it provides 2 million euros to finance projects “aimed at improving the lives of non-majority communities.”

Although this measure was welcomed, according to him, there were organizations and activists working for these communities who complained that the application procedure for these funds was not done properly, as potential beneficiaries included organizations that have nothing to do with these communities. “A mountaineering association has also benefited,” is an accusation that Jasharaj heard in an interview during the research.

On the other hand, the data released by the Kosovo Democratic Institute (KDI) show that three and a half months after the approval of the Emergency Fiscal Package, institutions have not yet distributed a single cent based on the 9th point of the scheme. Of the total amount of aid in the Package — around 180 million euros — only 45% of the money has been distributed.

No access to testing and education

Over the course of three months, the small number of members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities that were tested for COVID-19 stands out in these three municipalities.

Until June, 1,600 people were tested in Ferizaj; of them only two were members of the Ashkali community. In Lipjan, over 100 people were tested, but there is no data on the number of people tested from any of the three communities. Similarly, in Fushë Kosovë, where close to 200 people were tested but there is no data on whether any of them were members of the three non-majority communities and if so, how many.

The report states that neither the Ministry of Health nor the National Institute of Public Health have data on the number of people from these communities who were affected at the central level.

Another concerning finding is the low participation of members of these communities in distance learning, which began to be offered in early April. In the municipality of Ferizaj, over 50% of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian students did not attend distance learning.

The current situation could increase the number of students dropping out of school.

“Out of 828 students from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, 425 did not attend distance learning,” the report says. None of the levels of education have a regular teacher from the Roma, Ashkali or Egyptian community. There are only three teachers engaged in supplemental teaching.

The situation was similar in the municipality of Lipjan. “At the primary and lower secondary level, out of 441 students, 115 or 26% did not attend distance learning, while at the upper secondary level, out of 30 students, 19 or 63% of the students from these communities did not attend distance learning,” the report writes.

The municipality of Fushë Kosovë, however, did not provide data on how learning went for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian students.

Jasharaj says that students from these communities have had difficulties due to lack of internet or technological equipment and as a result have not participated in distance learning. According to him, these figures are worrying because in conversations with organizations and activists near these communities, it was said that the current situation could increase the number of students dropping out of school. Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities continue to be among the groups most affected by school dropout in Kosovo.

“In difficult times, the weak are hit the hardest,” says Jasharaj.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.