The 14th Roma Platform, taking place 20th-21st September, focused on mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on Roma communities and the national strategic frameworks for Roma inclusion. Opening remarks were given by President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in which she emphasised the importance of Roma culture and history to the shared history of Europe. She highlighted the need to see real change across member states in the coming decade. Considering this, for the first time, the EU’s Roma Framework has measurable and quantifiable targets, with the aim of cutting the gaps across education, employment and access to basic sanitation.

Two thematic workshops, focusing on national strategies and the impacts of COVID-19, took place on the first day. Eurodiaconia’s Policy Officer Abriel Schieffelers was the rapporteur for the latter, in which participants called for a greater focus on education and spatial segregation in order to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Participants shared that the pandemic had exacerbated the marginalisation of Roma children in education, especially through classroom segregation and lack of access to digital learning. The often segregated and overcrowded living conditions endured by many Roma communities also facilitated the rapid spread of COVID-19.

In the workshop dealing with national strategies, the tension between mainstreaming and adopting Roma specific policies and interventions was raised. Participants emphasised that mainstreaming and intersectional approaches can only function if antigypsyism is acknowledged and addressed as a systemic and institutional atmosphere of discrimination and violence.

On the second day, two political panels addressed the topics presented on the first day. The conversation continued to develop around mainstreaming, focused interventions and the capacity of member states and communities to utilise recovery funds. One challenge that was raised was the need to support marginalised Roma communities in accessing and utilising funds focused on ‘green’ and ‘digital’ approaches. Digital approaches do not work without electricity and turning the home into a classroom and an office is not viable for many of Europe’s most vulnerable Roma.

The platform sought to highlight the importance of supporting Roma communities in their recovery from the pandemic and how this would fit within broader national strategies. At the same time, participants were encouraged to imagine the legacy of the Roma strategic frameworks by 2030.

There was a sense of urgency in the responses of many participants, a strong desire to see an end to the marginalisation that Roma endure and that blights Europe’s history. Unsurprisingly, frustration and perhaps fatigue were not far from the surface either, as several participants expressed frustration with soft polices, inaction and questioned whether real change could happen in the next decade.

However, the feeling of hope was also expressed. As this meeting demonstrated, there are people engaged at all levels of European society in confronting antigypsyism and seeing the full emancipation of Roma across Europe. Practical interventions made by local government, NGO and CSO actors in response to COVID-19 proved that there is some level of political and societal will to engage on the topic of Roma inclusion. This lays the challenge now, for national governments, to step up and deliver effective recovery strategies and national frameworks that lead to measurable change.

At Eurodiaconia we will continue to support our members in their work with Roma across Europe and are looking forward to meeting these challenges together.