Macedonia 30 March 2020
Situation of the Roma people in Saraj
Report sent from a pastor
“We are writing to you in order to illustrate the serious consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic on the lives of Roma in the Saraj community. The short stories recounted below paint a good picture both of the gravity of the current situation and of what may happen if the crisis is much prolonged.
“The Coronavirus pandemic has brought important changes to people’s lifestyles in North Macedonia. A week ago, the authorities have declared a state of emergency. At the time of writing, there are 259 confirmed cases of Covid–19 and 6 fatalities. This has brought restrictions on people’s freedom of movement and ability to find work.
“As far as we are aware, there are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the Roma community of Saraj yet. Nevertheless, people are in voluntary self-isolation. Consequently, those who were employed have found themselves out of work. Even if this was not so, the restrictive measures in place would make it virtually impossible for them to find the sorts of employment that their level of education permits.
“Consider the experience of a nine-year-old girl. The current circumstances mean that neither she nor her two siblings can go to school because they are closed until further notice. Her mother used to work as cleaning lady at a local restaurant. Now she has been laid off because the work of all public places of entertainment had been deemed dangerous for the spread of Coronavirus. Her father was similarly affected. He is no longer able to work in the fast food industry. The cumulative effect on the life of this bright girl is that starvation is not too far away.
“The consequences of the situation are no easier on adults. One young woman, a mother of two, may serve as an illustration. Shortly before the crisis she fell victim to an abusive husband who took custody of her loved ones. Having returned to her parents, her precarious social position means that she has to provide for herself. Finding-short term employment like planting vegetable and helping to collect the harvest, or assisting in food packaging, before the crisis made sure she did not go hungry. The current situation is likely to have changed that for the worse.
“The crisis is arguably the most difficult for the elderly. In addition to being most at risk from the Coronavirus, virtually none of the senior Roma have any pension benefits. The experience of a couple we know is typical. The wife is still recovering from a brain tumor surgery. She needs regular access to medication. Her husband, who worked as a painter/decorator, provided some of the funds needed. Her children were also able to chip in. Now people’s fear about allowing strangers in their homes means that he cannot find any work whatsoever.
“The above stories provide an overview of the problems the new restrictive measures have caused on life in the Roma community of Saraj. They also communicate a clear warning for the near future. Staying in self-isolation has affected these people’s ability to provide for themselves. Consequently, many of them survive on one regular meal a day or less.
“At present, North Macedonia has enough food, which is available to anyone who can afford it. But the borders are closed. Difficulties with supplies are, thus, to be expected.
“If the current crisis is much prolonged and if they are left to their own devices, the coronavirus pandemic will test the Romas’ ability to cope to the maximum.”