COVID-19 Emergency Response: Shielding vulnerable Roma

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the world – devastating life as we know it. Yet, the impact it has and the threats it poses are different everywhere – and different for everyone. In the countries where Dorcas is present, the situation is particularly critical. In Ukraine, the Roma population are already vulnerable – facing discrimination, abuse and social exclusion on an almost daily basis.

Many Roma people across the country are living in mud huts in densely populated communities where basic needs such as food, water and healthcare regularly go unmet. Not just the health risks posed by the virus itself, but also the restrictive measures put in place to contain it, are having grave repercussions. Families living week-by-week in low paid often seasonal work have seen their source of income wiped out. Roma working abroad have returned home to strained households for fear of the borders closing.

The closure of schools has also seen many children stay home and stress levels reach an all-time high when there is simply no food to put on the table. As fighting escalates in the east of the country and restrictions on everything from movement to media consumption remain in place, Roma people are being backed into a corner. Official information on the virus regularly fails to reach households, heightening existing vulnerabilities.

Meeting basic needs

Through our emergency humanitarian response in southwestern Ukraine Dorcas is taking every action to support Roma families and meet basic needs. We are working with EO Metterdaad and our partners on the ground to adapt our existing relief programmes and deliver vital food and hygiene supplies to people in hard-to-reach areas. Our response during this crisis aims to ensure that we stabilize the most vulnerable Roma households – and prevent them from taking additional risks. Our Food for Cash initiatives help meet urgent needs in a flexible manner.

Awareness-raising is key to our activities – proven to carry weight in previous public health emergencies. Our information campaign on preventative measures that all households can take (based strictly on WHO hand washing and physical distancing guidance) is designed to bolster government broadcasts and avert panic and misinformation. We are taking our message to the heart of Roma communities by going door-to-door with leaflets featuring simple information and pictograms.

Moving fast – together

With our own movements restricted, collaboration is more important than ever. We have enlisted the help of a number of local partners including Roma organisations, local churches, community leaders and regional governments who have helped us move fast and respond swiftly to the complex and changing situation on the ground.

The safety of our staff, volunteers and partners is also an ongoing priority. To eliminate the risk of infection during implementation, all staff have been provided with personal protective equipment such as medical masks, rubber gloves and glasses that they must wear during all field activities.

Maintaining quality

Even in times of crisis, it is vital that we maintain quality. The Dorcas Ukraine team carried out a needs assessment by interviewing eight Roma community leaders in the Transcarpathia region. The study indicated that only three out of 200 Roma communities had obtained state help or humanitarian assistance from (I)NGOs. This has helped us steer our efforts and make sure the items that communities receive are the ones they actually need. We also set up a list of ‘vulnerability criteria’ based on the families we surveyed and their current situation. These criteria don’t only protect chronically poor households; they serve to support families with additional needs such as a child with disabilities or a single mother. Lack of education and illiteracy is also common across Roma society – by taking the time to consider this prior to roll out, we were able to disseminate information that was easy for everyone to access. This approach will continue to inform our activities.

10 August 2020