Hygienic Boundaries: Roma Communities and the Racialisation of Public Health Discourses during the COVID-19 Pandemic
2. Materials and Methods
3.1. Public Health Measures and Combatting Pandemics
3.2. Public Health Measures during the Outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic
3.3. Pre-Existing Stereotypes and Prejudices against Roma
4. Analysis and Results
4.1. The Socio-Economic Impact on Roma Communities and Limitations to Their Abiding by Public Health Regulations
‘In my opinion, during the adoption of all those measures (…) the state did not take into account at all how it could affect a specific citizen, and especially the inhabitants of Roma settlements. I don’t think any analysis was done at all or anything about how that could affect them and whether people could eat at all during that period. There was a kind of emphasis on reducing the infection … and whether people might die of hunger or some disease (…), I don’t think anyone talked about it.’(Serbia, Roma activist, male, Interview 1)
‘[Here] the water system works only one hour per day. If families have only one-hour running water, how can they keep hygiene? The minimum requirement in this pandemic is to have plenty of water to wash hands, I am not counting in having a shower every day. With just only one hour, it is difficult to do the laundry, to have a shower for yourself and children. This part was really difficult.’(Albania, Head of Roma organisation, female, Interview 4)
‘Not all buildings have running water. There is also an issue of water quality, and this is a problematic one.(…) I would say that most families did not comply with all the quarantine requirements. Because both the mask regime and the sanitary regime are difficult to observe when there is no water in the houses, when it is not possible to wash your hands.’(Ukraine, director of Roma NGO, female, Interview 8)
‘I think the tank with water was provided to them only once during the pandemic. Thus, maintaining hygiene and increased hand washing as a preventive measure was practically impossible.’(Serbia, director of human rights NGO, female, Interview 4)
‘How could the lockdown be observed if, first of all, hygiene was lacking due to the lack of water, due to the lack of regular toilets (a toilet is outside) because the toilet may be visited by 100 people or even more, if we are talking about camps.’(Ukraine, Roma activist, male, Interview 4)
‘In the area of Selita, I have been in contact with people whose electricity has been cut, due to the debts. So in this case, I do not pretend that this family could practice the regulation that was set from the government for the COVID-19 situation. It is hard to keep the regulation when you are in darkness (due to lack of electricity), as well as if you have limited access to water, therefore some people could not keep the same level of hygiene if they did not have the minimum infrastructure conditions.’(Albania, Roma activist, female, Interview 6)
‘So, life in a Roma settlement carries constant risks of some infection and some disease, precisely because you do not have asphalt in the settlement, you do not have a water supply network, some people use water from one tap. In 46 percent of the settlements, you do not have any sewerage network at all. And in some cases when it exist, it is just some outlines of a sewer. So, Roma settlements have a very poor infrastructure and simply the risk of getting sick if you live in one such settlement is constantly high, even when there is a regular situation. So this state of emergency further aggravates the whole thing.’(Serbia, Roma activist, male, Interview 2)
‘Roma housing is very bad, in the sense that we have households in which several family members live, over 8 even up to 10, with one bathroom. I am aware that it was very difficult to respect isolation measures when there are a large number of family members.’(Bosnia and Herzegovina, Roma activist, female, Interview 1)
‘The distance could not be kept. We are aware that this is not possible in Roma communities. It is rare for families to have two or three rooms so that children can have their own room and parents theirs. (…) I know a family where 14 members live in one room. I know a family where 14 members live in one room of 40 square meters. Imagine someone in that family getting sick.’(Bosnia and Herzegovina, Roma mediator, female, Interview 7)
‘As a rule, 3–4 people live in a single room. There is no such a thing as a separate kitchen because there is always someone living in the kitchen. (…) The situation, in my opinion, is difficult. (…) Roma settlements are located close, house to house. 3–4 houses can have a common yard, if there is a common water supply. So, up to 20–30–50 people can drink from it. These are no simple things.’(Ukraine, Roma activist, male, Interview 3)
‘Their low economical condition did not allow them to buy protection materials such as masks or gloves, so they used handmade basic hygienic tools.’(Albania, project manager Roma NGO, female, Interview 1)
‘It was difficult for the Roma to comply with the quarantine rules due to lack of finances, in some localities the Roma reported a lack of disinfectants and a lack of water supply.’(Moldova, local politician, female, Interview 2)
‘There are families to which the electricity is turned off, they take electricity from neighbors. (…) So, today if someone works, he/she earns 10–20 EUR, and needs to refuel, the rest is spent to buy food for children.’(Montenegro, Roma mediator, male, Interview 1)
‘(…) for those that live separated from the society, and without any monthly income, it is very difficult for them (…) and then we return to the stereotype that Roma do not maintain hygiene, and in fact all this is because they have no way to maintain those hygienic conditions.’(North Macedonia, Roma activist, female, Interview 1)
4.2. The Racialisation of Hygiene Discourses during the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic
‘They are a hotbed for the spread of COVID-19. They don’t follow any rules. Ordinary people are fined, but [the Roma are not], are they outside the law? No action is taken against them. They can urinate in the park. I am outraged, there are people who tell me that they are afraid to walk on the street. Nor children, nor adults over 40, they do not wear protective masks. I try to stay away from crowded places and not communicate with them.’
‘Fear. The fear of the employees towards the Roma community, because of their appearance and because of their hygiene, [it] is the same as before and with the pandemic, so I think that both sides are connected (….). If you ask them, they will not tell you that it is the ethnic [background], but the appearance and place of residence [is the problem], the way of maintaining personal and collective hygiene in Roma neighborhoods. If you ask them, they will say no, it’s for protection, personal to the medical staff and the team in general.’(North Macedonia, public official, male, Interview 5)
‘More than 20 buildings, around 20 buildings, and only one person has been infected. It was something that was so visible and discriminatory when this case emerged, and then what you can see in the comments about that case, that it is really astonishing.’(Montenegro, Roma activist, male, Interview 4)
‘For example, in Nerubaiske (…) police posts were set up at the entrance to three or four streets after there had been an increase in the epidemic, with nine people ill and forty suspected. Of course, these people had come in contact with all the [non-Roma] inhabitants of the village in shops and other public places. But the blocks were set up on those separate streets [delineating the settlement]. And the Roma were not able to leave the village for two weeks.’(Ukraine, head of Roma NGO, female, Interview 2)
Institutional Review Board Statement
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Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Cârstocea, A. Hygienic Boundaries: Roma Communities and the Racialisation of Public Health Discourses during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Soc. Sci. 2023, 12, 188. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12030188
Cârstocea A. Hygienic Boundaries: Roma Communities and the Racialisation of Public Health Discourses during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Social Sciences. 2023; 12(3):188. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12030188Chicago/Turabian Style
Cârstocea, Andreea. 2023. "Hygienic Boundaries: Roma Communities and the Racialisation of Public Health Discourses during the COVID-19 Pandemic" Social Sciences 12, no. 3: 188. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12030188