Controversy over Bulgarian Health Minister’s call on ‘barring ambulances from Roma areas’ where medics have been assaulted
Statements by Bulgarian Health Minister Petar Moskov that from December 8 ambulances would not respond to calls from addresses where medics had been assaulted and that most such assaults took place in Roma areas led the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee to accuse him of racism and the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) to call for Moskov’s resignation.
Further, reports that Moskov and the Interior Ministry had agreed that police would escort ambulances in areas where there was a high risk of medics being assaulted were followed by Interior Minister Vesselin Vuchkov saying on December 9 that was impossible for a number of reasons, including lack of money.
In the National Assembly on December 9, the MRF – which has claimed that the most recent parliamentary election saw the party significantly increase its voter base among Roma people – called on Moskov to resign.
MRF MP Tuncher Kurdjaliev said that in three sentences, Moskov had violated six laws and conventions on the rights of minorities.
Kurdjaliev told the House that Moskov had said two days earlier, when commenting on two new cases of violence against doctors, that whoever chose to live like a brute got the right to live like one, and he would issue an order absolving regional centres of responsibility to provide medical assistance.
Moskov responded that it was an honour for him that the MRF was demanding his resignation.
He told Parliament that he had said that he would do anything within his power to ensure the safety of emergency medical assistance teams.
Society was obliged to ensure the safety of emergency medical assistance teams because these teams worked for everyone, Moskov said.
“What words I said is a different matter. I would like to apologise if I offended anyone but I back the sense of these words,” Moskov said.
He said that there had been 227 attacks on medics since the beginning of 2014 and three-quarters of these had taken place in residential districts where Roma people live.
“Am I to blame for speaking and would the problem not exist if I had not said that?”
Moskov said that when such incidents occurred, the medical team was unable to help other people the following day. People would be discouraged from working in health care for fear of being assaulted, he said.
He said that emergency medical assistance teams would go to places after their safety was secured. He added that such incidents took place not only in Roma areas, giving the example of an incident in Isperih where the assailant was not Roma.
Earlier, Sofia-based human rights watchdog the Bulgarian Helsinki Committeee alleged that Moskov had issued a “racist threat”.
Daily Sega said that emergency medical teams were assaulted almost daily and now Moskov had loudly raised the issue, finding himself isolated as a result.
His “empty threats” would scare no one because the right to emergency medical care was in the Bulgarian constitution, the daily said, adding that mayors would hardly be keen to heed Moskov’s call to negotiate with Roma leaders to prevent such attacks – and adding that after years of projects and foreign money, the state had done nothing about Roma integration.
On December 9, Interior Minister Vuchkov said that there was no possibility of police patrols to guard ambulances.
Vuchkov said that the ministry could not carry out such a large-scale service for all civil servants, saying that if medics were guarded, so too tax collectors and forest wardens should be guarded.
He acknowledged that there was a problem with attacks on emergency doctors, and said that regional directorates would convene meetings between police and ambulance services to decide when and in which neighbourhoods there would be such protection.
Vuchkov said that it was clear that the problem was worse in some regions of the country, more than others, but emphasised that Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry did not collect data on the ethnic origins of people who were suspected offenders.