As countries across Europe compete with each other to vaccinate their populations against COVID-19 in hopes of controlling the spread of the deadly virus and restoring some sense of normalcy, there is a risk that our vulnerable ones are already. and wounded Roman communities would fall through the cracks. .
There are more than 12 million Romans in Europe, comprising the largest minority on the continent. In some European countries, such as Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria, Roma make up almost 10 percent of the population. Therefore, if Europe loses COVID-19, it will be important for Roman communities to use vaccination.
However, a deep -rooted mistrust of public institutions has caused many Romans across the continent to refuse the vaccine. In fact, only nine percent of the Roma population in Hungary and 11.5 percent in North Macedonia say they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them.
The high level of vaccine skepticism among the Romans was a threat not only to the well-being of this already high-suffering minority group but also to the entire population of Europe. If a significant number of Romans refused to be vaccinated, the virus could spread to most of our communities, and new, more contagious and deadly strains could emerge. It could be dangerous not only to us, to the Romans, but to all of Europe and around the world.
To avoid such a scenario, European governments need to quickly and effectively address the three factors that cause vaccine skepticism in Roman communities.
The first of these factors is the combined experience of neglect. Governments across the continent have long refused to listen to our people’s desperate requests for basic public services such as access to clean drinking water, healthcare and housing. Indifference and neglect were exacerbated by the Romans not being able to protect themselves from COVID-19-it was almost impossible to stop the spread of the virus in overcrowded houses and dwellings without running water, sewage and electricity. Many Romans are now skeptical of the vaccine offered to them by governments that have long refused to respect their most basic rights.
The second reason for vaccine skepticism among the Romans is the poor treatment we have experienced at the hands of European health institutions for decades. Romani women in Europe, for example, have been subjected to forced labor for more than 50 years-most notably in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is therefore not surprising that many Romani women today fear that the COVID-19 vaccine offered to them is yet another sterilization device, and refuse to take it.
And Rome’s ill -treatment of European health institutions was not limited to the field of reproductive health. A Gallup study commissioned by the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office (RIO) conducted in North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Italy, Romania and Serbia found that about 44 percent of medical professionals in these countries are biased against Rome. In addition, 38 percent of the medical professionals involved in the survey said they support the segregation of Roma patients into separate wards. More than one in 10, meanwhile, reported that they were aware that some of their colleagues treated patients in Rome with little respect. Rome, which has faced routine discrimination from public health care providers for many years, is now understood to be refusing to participate in pushing for the COVID-19 vaccination.
The third reason behind the high level of vaccine skepticism among the Romans in Europe is the racial violence we have long experienced on the continent. The Romans in Europe still remember the genocide inflicted on our communities during WWII. In addition, we still face state-sanctioned violence in the form of arbitrary detention, forced and illegal evictions, and abuse of security forces in many European countries, from Bulgaria and Hungary. to Italy and Serbia.
As a result, many Roma in Europe whose negotiations with governments are often shaped by oppression, discrimination and violence are easily identified by the conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine being a deadly “control tool. population “.
In order to convince Roman communities to use the vaccine, governments must identify and address all three of the deep -rooted problems. And they also have to accept that communication, not blunt force, is the way to change Roman attitudes about vaccines. Any difficult government actions, such as curbing the actions of the unvaccinated or excluding them from the labor market, will exacerbate the situation.
Prior to COVID-19, Roman communities in Europe were already struggling within the boundaries of society. However, the pandemic turned our situation into a humanitarian disaster. Life today is harder and more difficult for the Romans in Europe than ever before. Many children in Rome who went to school before the epidemic return mostly during the lockdown – they are unable to participate in remote learning, as they do not have access to computers, the internet and reliable electricity. Some of them may not be able to catch up with their more advanced skills, or even drop out of school. The Romans who lived working in the street markets, agriculture, tourism, arts and entertainment before the pandemic were also in a desperate situation. Without government support, they may not be able to regain their standing.
Without vaccination, Rome could not have abandoned the pandemic and started building their lives.
Roman civic groups across Europe campaigned to raise awareness and convince Roman communities that COVID-19 vaccines are not harmful but can help them. Opre Roma in Serbia, Avaja in North Macedonia and Aresel in Romania are working with Roma media and medical professionals to address disinformation.
But civil society organizations cannot solve this problem on their own. We need governments, public institutions and also respectful cultural and religious leaders to directly respond to Rome and help alleviate their concerns and doubts about the vaccine.
Roman communities were hesitant to get the vaccine because they did not trust governments and health institutions. That is why the problem can only be solved if European governments take the necessary steps to address the root causes of our collective pain and anger.
We have seen some limited and short -term – but promising – growth in the Western Balkans. For example, Montenegro and Serbia provided critical assistance such as water, food and disinfectants to Roman communities during the pandemic. Bosnia and Herzegovina, meanwhile, provide children in Rome with technical facilities and additional support to further their education. The Albanian government offered temporary financial support to Rome and relief from increased debt. These are small steps in the right direction.
Even temporary relief efforts will not get us out of this pandemic or end the suffering in our communities. To ensure the positive outcome of their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, and the well-being of Rome, governments need to take more drastic measures and implement long-term measures to restore confidence in Rome in governments.
The option facing European governments today is simple: They can further alleviate Rome’s distrust of public institutions by continuing business as usual, or starting to build a new dialogue and relationship with our communities by offering us the high level of protection and support we so desperately need.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position.