March 13, 2015 http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/medicine-passports-mediators-help-ukraine-s-roma-get-what-they-need?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=osffbpg&utm_source=europe_A&utm_medium=email&utm_content=d7ihPLkcMeZOtzhMYFQrimivXtUm9lQxEaFOVEbvWgU&utm_campaign=europe_A_032415
The Roma and Open Society
During the height of the Maidan protests, as thousands took to the streets to reject injustice as a way of life, a marauding gang made its way into a Roma settlement in Korosten, Ukraine. They entered homes by force, threatening the occupants with brandished weapons, taking everything they owned—money, jewelry—before giving the residents a choice: leave the city or be killed.
Their goal was to destabilize Ukraine at a pivotal moment, and no one made for an easier target than the Roma, a marginalized demographic numbering, officially, 48,000. In reality, there are close to 400,000 Roma in Ukraine, an ethnic minority whose already difficult existence has been made that much harder by the ongoing upheaval.
In the conflict regions, Roma are facing widespread hunger. Bread and water are scarce. At a time of year when temperatures are well below freezing, their winter clothes are inadequate. Many are sick or disabled, and unable to access medical treatment because doctors and nurses have fled the region. Even where medicine is available, for many Roma it’s prohibitively expensive.
Making things worse is the daily discrimination faced by Roma throughout Ukraine. In Izmail, a city in the southern part of the country, Roma have reported being refused service in cafeterias and restaurants. Other Roma families have said that when they ask their neighbors for water, the door is slammed in their faces. The routine discrimination Roma endure has become life-threatening as the conflict has intensified.
Unemployment has climbed as the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated and small businesses have closed. Even social benefits have been disrupted as government budgets have been cut. In response, the International Roma Women Charitable Fund Chiricli provides health and social mediators who can help Roma citizens navigate the often byzantine process of accessing support. These mediators meet with families and liaise between them and the various social institutions, and assist in filling out forms and acquiring the necessary documentation.
Helping Roma secure official documentation has been crucial for those displaced. From the beginning of 2013 to June 2014, our mediators helped register about 7,200 people, allowing them to access social benefits and pensions. We assisted 1,900 people in obtaining passports, and helped get birth certificates for 2,878.
Chiricli also helps supply Roma women with birth control, breast cancer screenings, and other medical information. And it invites doctors to Roma communities to perform checkups and vaccinate children. Fifty-five Chiricli mediators have sent 6,407 Roma to see doctors. We helped get 1,118 Roma children vaccinated, registered 200 medical cards, and conducted focus groups on everything from patients’ rights to reproductive health.
Mediation is a two-way street, which is why Chiricli has been working with Ukraine’s minister of social policy to develop a governmental standard based on the experiences of the Roma mediators. Earlier this year, we secured a commitment from the ministry that the proposal submitted by our experts, along with other proposals, will be used to create a single state standard on providing mediation services.
Now one of Chiricli’s biggest priorities is to institutionalize the mediator program, and to make it a profession regulated by the state standards of services. We want it to exist not just for Roma, but for all minorities in Ukraine. The end of conflict starts with connecting people more closely with the rest of society.