Without fairs or markets, Roma in Portugal face difficulties amid coronaviruses

LISBON, Apr 14 (Reuters) – Portugal has stepped up efforts to support its impoverished Roma communities during the coronavirus pandemic, but human rights groups say they need more help, as many families saw their incomes drop to zero with markets and closed street fairs across the country.

The country has been in isolation since March 18.

After 33 people tested positive for coronavirus in the precarious settlement of Moura, a municipality in the Alentejo region, the government introduced specific measures targeting Roma communities on Sunday, 26 days after the start of the confinement.

Home to about 200 people, the settlement was closed, disinfected, and local authorities delivered food and medication to confined neighbors.

Initially, distressed residents had to pay for the delivered goods, but Claudia Pereira, Secretary of State for Integration and Migration, told Reuters that those without income receive it for free.

He added that the government and local authorities will work to support “in the coming days” other vulnerable Roma communities scattered throughout the southern European nation.

“Some of these communities live in unconditional places, in tents and camps,” he told Reuters. “Some do not have access to clean water,” he added.

Those without income will receive the essential goods for free. And those who receive social integration benefits will pay a reduced rate.

The initial lack of support led activist Bruno Goncalves of Letras Nomadas, an association that helps Portuguese Roma communities and other communities buy food vouchers for needy families.

Goncalves now fears that government support will not reach anyone. He said there is “famine in the community” due to the closing of fairs and street markets.

“Those who lived by selling two or three T-shirts per day are in a very difficult situation,” he said. “Those people have no savings,” he added.

The Government introduced several other measures to help the families hardest hit during the pandemic, including the temporary suspension of electricity and water cuts, as well as the payment of some rents and support for companies.

Around 37,000 Roma live in Portugal and, as in other European countries, many are victims of discrimination, poverty and social exclusion, according to the 2018 report of the High Commission for Migration of Portugal.

(Report by Catarina Demony. Edited in Spanish by Lucila Sigal)