The Coronavirus pandemic has brought numerous challenges to the already shaky economies and poor health systems of the Western Balkan countries. From the first diseased and ordered measures to prevent the spread of the virus, authorities confusion was evident. This was also felt by the Roma population, as one of the most marginalized group, whose children did not have adequate access to online school, a but also large part of this population to health care system, while they were deprived of the right to work due to the imposed measures. In this situation, local non-governmental organizations and international organizations found themselves on the field as a helping hand. Šejla Pepić comes from such a organization, more precisely the Center for Roma Initiatives from Nikšić. For our site, she shared the experience of the Roma population during the COVID 19 pandemic in Montenegro.
What effect did the Coronavirus pandemic had and it still does on the Roma and Egyptian population in Montenegro?
When it comes to the Roma and Egyptian population in Montenegro, we face challenges every day. During the COVID 19 pandemic, which affected the whole world, including us, we encountered numerous challenges, primarily the inability of children to continue school online and the increase of domestic violence.
Women were in fear of the bully on a daily basis. We can say that during the first wave, in March 2021, we had 50 calls on the SOS phone line.
Did authorities of Montenegro help the Roma and Egyptian population during the pandemic and how?
When we look at COVID 19 we can say that we had some help from the institutions, but we also have a specific case of how the institutions treated the confidential person. According to that case, we also did a case study. If we omit that segment, we can say that during the pandemic we had a good connection with institutions, especially with the police administration, local non-governmental organizations and international organizations.
Are we talking about short-term solutions?
These were mostly short-term solutions. There was an isolated Roma settlement in Podgorica. They were there for more than 14 days and they lived thanks to short-term help such as packages of food and hygiene products. In Nikšić, we helped to satisfy some everyday needs of Roma people.
There was no long-term solution. The question that Roma and Egyptian people asked every day was „What we will do tomorrow“.
With the support of CARE International, we have provided work vouchers, and other vouchers so that Roma and Egyptian people could buy stuffs for their own needs in stores. We had more help from international organizations than we had the help of the state.
Has the Coronavirus pandemic further exacerbated prejudices tahat are already present?
Prejudices, stereotypes, discrimination were especially visable during that first wave of Coronavirus pandemic. This was especially present when the first case of coronavirus appeared in the Roma and Egyptian communities. There was a headline in the media that a member of the Roma population was infected with a COVID 19 with his full name and surname, but this was information that was not verified. The comments on social media were horrible. People blamed Roma and Egyptian people for the Coronavirus pandemic. Hate speech was really expressed.
Five days ago, a regional conference “Forgotten communities: Roma Men and Women during COVID 19″ was held in Belgrade, organized by CARE International Balkans. You also attended the conference as a representative of Montenegro and the Center for Roma Initiatives in Nikšić. How important for youwas the conference and what is it that you will be able to start applying from the conference in the direction of more adequate action when it comes to the Roma and Egyptian population in Montenegro?
The conference will help us in some further activities, in cooperation at both the state and regional levels. We could see examples from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, which helped us to compare the situation in our country. It will help us to further concretize some other cases and it will motivate us to continue working and to be based on children’s arranged marriages.