Turkey’s long-marginalized Roma population marked April 8, International Romani Day, with emergency appeals for help as they grapple with the fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic, saying they are among the hardest hit, according to the Al-Monitor news website.
In a bitterly worded declaration, 48 Roma associations said they continued to face “deep discrimination” and that their people’s biggest battle currently was not so much against COVID-19 as with the starvation likely to ensue from loss of work and state neglect.
“The Roma are unable to avail themselves equally of their most basic rights. When they try to do so they face discrimination and serious obstacles,” the statement read.
The groups charged that predominantly Roma neighborhoods were not being disinfected by municipal authorities on the grounds that “Roma carry the virus anyway.” The statement did not identify the neighborhoods by name.
The Roma groups listed 14 demands for the duration of the pandemic, including regular cash injections and free food and hygiene supplies to the most needy.
İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu did not forget İstanbul’s Roma, wishing them a happy International Romani Day on Twitter. “The coronavirus pandemic has severely hit hundreds of thousands of Roma citizens who earn their livelihoods from precarious work. We will get through these hard days together, as one,” he pledged.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who touts himself as a champion of the poor, made no mention of the Roma today. It remains unclear whether they will benefit from additional relief measures announced yesterday by Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak.
Their exact numbers remain unknown, but up to 2 million Roma are believed to live in Turkey. Many typically eke out a living from gathering recyclable garbage, flower vending, shining shoes and playing musical instruments at weddings — activities that have been suspended by a slew of restrictions introduced by authorities in a bid to contain the pandemic.