Digitalization of public services turns into an obstacle for members of Roma Community

Snippet from news story on Euronews Albania

Romina Berisha is a 40-years-old woman from the Roma community who lives in Tirana.
She has a big family made up of eight people, her husband and six children. The couple shared with us some of the hardships they encountered when trying to access public services. The process becomes even more challenging as none of them can read or write well. It is their neighbors who usually help them with this problem.

But the chain of reactions that begins with the lack of information, the fact that they cannot read or write, poverty and inability to secure the necessary paperwork, ends up in a form of punishment for their children’s education. The Berisha family has not sent their kids to school, while now they risk not learning to read and write just like their parents.

Until not long ago, the Roma family thought that hardships had reached peak levels. But some days ago Romina discovered that many state offices were going to shut down and many services transferred online. This was all the information she had. Romina didn’t even know that the website e-Albania existed. She told us that she doesn’t know how to use properly the mobile phone, apart from dialing up numbers or sending a brief text message. Apart from that, she rarely has credit on her cellphone so that means no internet access.

Romina said that with the help of her neighbors she learned the location of some of the state institutions, but with services going online, she’s no longer sure about what to do. She fears that not even her neighbors will be able to help her out anymore.

“I don’t know what I will do. I just learned the location of some institutions where I was getting the paperwork that I needed to have access to some public services. Now that many services have gone online, I am forced to ask even for more help from others or I will be in God’s mercy”, says Romina Berisha.

Access in public services is one of the greatest challenges faced by the Roma community in Albania. Civil Society organizations have raised this as a point of concern, meanwhile they’re working with the community to help them out and orient them on how to access services.

Olta Tare, an activist of the Roma community, told us that it’s been a year since she raised the alarm about this problem. She and other volunteers are engaged to help out Roma get acquainted with the new rules enforced by the government. They started working on orienting the Roma community to the respective institutions they should go to for specific services. With the new rules, now they are learning how to use the e-Albania government platform and how to apply online for various services. In addition, they are encouraging the citizens of the Roma community to knock more on the doors of state institutions whenever they need to.

“One of the problems is that some offices and people are profiting from this difficult situation of the Roma community and asking them for money to help them out in informing them for public services, or downloading a certificate, something that is free of charge. We recommend continuing with the city hall’s ‘one stop shops’, which were created to offer free counselling to citizens for public services”, Tare said.

Another recommendation she made is appointing a person in every administrative unit to help out those who don’t know how to use e-Albania. Also, there need to be more ADISA offices (Agency for the Delivery of Integrated Services) due to the influx of citizens asking assistance for public services, in addition to having a bigger staff in existent offices.

Ms. Tare also said that the voluntary work and cooperation with various organizations to teach vulnerable citizens, including here the Roma community, on how to access services that they need from state institutions is a great help for them.

Activist Romina Sefa also says that support should be provided by institutions at the counters of the city halls until these families can access the governmental online platform themselves and gain the necessary digital skills, in addition various organizations should offer their help to facilitate this service for the Roma community.

We have asked the officials in charge of the e-Albania system how do they plan to overcome the situation of people that do not have the access to the digital services, but until now we do not have any response from them.

Regional Cooperation Council is working on the Digital Agenda and the importance of Roma not being left out. Digital Skills and Digital Economy is an area with vast opportunities for the inclusion and benefit of vulnerable groups, including Roma.
As of the youngest population in the WB, with the application of the Digital Agenda, Roma citizens can develop skills and acquire opportunities to educate themselves, act innovative and feel the benefits of digital transformation with the purpose to access the labor market and lift themselves out of poverty.
The recently introduced Economic and Investment Plan of the European Commission specifically mentions Roma in the digital transformation, in particular in the digital education action plan that aims to promote equality and access to online education. Roma and digital education for Roma are also mentioned under the Human Capital flagship, in particular related to the labor market and education, with a view that digital literacy will contribute to increasing employment opportunities.