No More Lifeline to Survival - Assistance for Roma Holocaust Victims Ends

Stefan Lupa?co is overwhelmed. The 73-year old Roma from Moldova just received a food package, some winter clothing, medicine and a load of coal. The assistance was delivered by the Salvation Army, an implementing partner of IOM’s Humanitarian and Social Programmes (HSP). The programme was established in 2002 to provide assistance to Roma, Jehovah’s Witness, homosexual and disabled victims of Nazi persecution.

“During the last three years,” says Lupa?co, “we only survived because of the assistance we received. Without the coal, we would long since be dead.”

While he slowly unpacks and examines the content of the white bag with basic foodstuffs including oil, rice and salt, Lupa?co does not stop to shake his head. Although the early spring sun is gently warming the air, he refuses to take off the new blue winter jacket he has just received.

Stefan Lupa?co is one of more than 2,300 elderly and needy Roma Holocaust survivors in Moldova who has benefited from HSP assistance since 2003.

Born in 1933, Lupa?co suffered much during the Second World War. His fate is similar to that of many Roma during German occupation. Both his parents were deported to a concentration camp. Their children were left on their own and some of Lupa?co’s siblings died of hunger. As Roma had no access to education, Lupa?co never learned how to read and write. When younger and able to work, he sometimes landed a job as a seasonal worker in the local vineyards. Today, Lupa?co is sick and poor. Both he and his wife live on a pension of US$ 8 a month.

The economic crisis in the country has hit the Roma hardest. Unemployment among this vulnerable group is high, family links have been loosened as younger members go abroad in search of work while the welfare system is overstrained.

IOM’s humanitarian and social programmes began not a moment to soon for victims of Nazism unable to help themselves. IOM provided basic assistance, including food, firewood, coal, hygienic supplies, but also medical aid to victims in Moldova and in another 16 European countries.

“During the past few years we were able to build trust among the Roma community here. This stable partnership could be used to further improve the living conditions of the elderly Roma and ease their final years,” says Martin Wyss, IOM’s chief of mission in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.

But these hopes will most probably remain unfulfilled. The depletion of the funds made available by the German Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” and the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York that is administering the distribution of the Swiss Banks Settlement Fund meant IOM had to close its programme by the end of March 2006. Not just in Moldova, but in the other 16 countries as well.

Nearly 74,000 people were assisted through the programme. But that is only half of those who needed it. At least another 75,000 Holocaust victims haven’t been reached. The humanitarian assistance IOM and its partners have been able to provide to those it reached was not just a lifeline, but also the first formal recognition of their suffering in more than 60 years. For those that couldn’t be helped, that recognition is still eluding them.

But for Stefan Lupa?co and the many thousands like him, it is what is left of the future that concerns him. As we leave, he waves us goodbye with a trembling hand. Looking defenceless, he wonders how he and his wife will manage to survive future winters without this assistance.