Roma groups in Türkiye felt the impact of the earthquake more than others Türkiye and Syria earthquake

Istanbul, Türkiye The earthquakes that struck southern Turkey a year ago left millions facing the loss of their loved ones, homes and jobs. But none have been hit harder than those already living at the lowest rungs of society – Turkey’s Roma, Abdal and Dumari communities.

Although not recognized as minorities in Turkey, these groups, who migrated from northern India over the past millennium, are estimated to number up to five million people living in poverty, social exclusion and discrimination.

Following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake — a second, of almost equal magnitude, that followed moments later — that struck in the early hours of February 6, killing more than 50,000 in Türkiye And 8,000 people in northern Syria, Roma, Abed and Domari families found themselves struggling the most to access aid and support.

Türkiye anniversary of the Rome earthquake
“Roma” is used as an umbrella term but there are three distinct groups in southern Turkey, one of which is the Domari (Hamra Nida via Non-Discrimination Association/Al Jazeera)

“Since the first days of the earthquake, Roma have faced serious problems accessing aid, clean water and shelter,” said Serkan Baysak, co-founder of the Romani Judi civil society group. “The biggest (reasons) are prejudices and accusations against Roma.”

While “Roma” is used as an umbrella term for those who left India at different times, there are three distinct groups in southern Turkey – the Roma, related to those who crossed into Europe; Al-Dumari, who left India at a different time and did not reach Europe; and Abdal, who identify only as Turks but still face discrimination as “Gypsies.”

High bias encountered Roma, slave and dumari in Türkiye Since the earthquakes, they have fueled far-right hate speech, according to Jonathan Lee, director of advocacy and communications at the European Roma Rights Centre.

“What happened with the earthquake is what we saw after the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. “When such events occur, existing discrimination and prejudices are inevitably exacerbated.

“Racism doesn’t take a break because there’s a war, an earthquake, or a pandemic.”

Türkiye anniversary of the Rome earthquake
Many Domari do not have identity cards or official documents (Hamra Nida via Zero Discrimination Association/Al Jazeera)

Many Roma, Abdel and Doumari live in overcrowded households and do not have identity cards or other official documents, making it difficult to access services such as education and social assistance, even during normal times.

These groups have long suffered from exclusion, discrimination and negative stereotyping, including repeated bouts of displacement as a result of urban renewal and outbreaks of racist violence.

In 2010, then-Turkish Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted a meeting of Roma, Abdel and Dumari in an attempt to address their problems.

There have been other initiatives in recent years to promote integration and improve access to services.

However, according to research conducted by Romani Godi (Association for Roma Memory Studies) in 2021, inequality and poverty still persist. The study found that monthly income was about 50 percent below the poverty threshold and that nearly four out of five were unemployed.

When earthquakes struck, declaring a state of emergency in 11 Turkish provinces, the Roma, Abd and Domari found their problems worsening.

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Exclusion has forced many families to set up tents far from aid distribution areas, often near polluted waterways or garbage dumps. (Hemra Nida via Zero Discrimination Association/Al Jazeera)

As survivors’ fears of plundering of the ruins increased, old prejudices also came to the surface, and Roma, slave and Domari families were targeted with false accusations, sometimes leading to vigilante violence.

That many gypsies, slaves, and doumari earned a living collecting recyclable materials reinforced perceptions that they were seeking to plunder antiquities.

“Dom citizens who wanted to receive aid in Hatay were met with sentences such as: ‘The Roma plunder and steal,'” said Elmas Aros, head of the Association for the Elimination of Discrimination.

“Women were beaten while trying to get help in Hatay, and Mukhtar shot in the air to scare women who wanted clean water, driving them away.”

Aros added that exclusion forced many families to set up tents far from aid distribution areas, often near polluted waterways or waste dumps.

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Roma children, like these two Domari boys, face overt discrimination from the parents of other children at school (Hamra Nida via Non-Discrimination Association/Al Jazeera)

“Roma groups on the outskirts… find it difficult to reach the city center and health services there,” she said. “The unhealthy environment they live in makes them contract various diseases. The elderly, pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable.

Children also found themselves bearing the brunt of ostracism, according to Erkan Karabulut, project coordinator at the Hatay-based Civic Dreams Association.

“Before, people used to say behind closed doors: ‘We don’t want our child to be in the same class with Roma children,'” he said. “After the earthquake, this was said directly in the faces of the Roma communities.”

When dealing with official agencies, the lack of documentation also created problems in obtaining financial aid and allocating container homes.

“In Hatay, Malatya, Maras and other places, many people still live in tents because they do not have any documents, so the state does not provide them with a container,” said Baysak from Romani Gudi.

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Advocates are calling for a more equitable distribution of aid and concrete steps to address discrimination (Hamra Nida via Non-Discrimination Association/Al Jazeera)

He added that due to the multiple families living in one house registered for only one family, those whose names are not mentioned in the title deed are not eligible for state support.

Low levels of literacy and lack of access to the Internet hinder the ability of Roma, Abdel and Doumari to access assistance.

Far from the disaster zone, minorities also faced discrimination, according to Roman Godi and the Civic Dreams Association, which jointly sought to house a group of 20 slaves in Ankara.

“They forced them to leave after just one night, claiming that they were not earthquake survivors. They had come to Ankara to work and accused them of theft,” Baysak said.

Those calling for more support for Roma, slave and Domari people demand a fairer distribution of aid and concrete steps to address discrimination.

“These people don’t just want to be comforted by blankets, stoves, etc.,” Karabulut said.

“We all have the right to a life worthy of human dignity, and we believe that these people should be allowed to live lives worthy of that dignity.”

Türkiye anniversary of the Rome earthquake
Many rights groups are fighting to help people like Fatma Katlik (Hemra Nida via Zero Discriminating Association/Al Jazeera)

(Tags for translation) Features

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