Belgium's traveller community adjusts to lockdown

Pont-a-Celles, Belgium (Reuters) – With travelling the roads a way of life for the Sinti community, Belgian Etienne Charpentier and his family say that having their freedom restricted due to the coronavirus epidemic is hitting them especially hard.

“Life is not the same anymore, everything is turned upside down, everything has changed, we can’t do what we wanted to anymore,” Charpentier, the president of Belguim’s national committee of travellers, told Reuters.

The Sinti are a European Roma community. While millions of people across the continent are locked down inside their homes to stop the spread of coronavirus, Belgium’s travellers are finding it hard to remain settled in one place without moving around freely.

“Our house is our trailer so we don’t have as much ease staying indoors as we do outdoors,” Charpentier said in an interview in his camp, set up in a car park near the decrepit industrial part of the Belgian town of Pont-a-Celles.

The biggest difficulty, he said, is not being able to visit family members in France who are affected by the COVID-19 disease.

“It is something that touches us, because we have a family life and for us, family life is something sacred, it is something that is important.”

Travellers likely face more weeks off the road. Belgium’s federal government has extended containment measures to control the spread of the coronavirus to May 3, with only a slight easing of restrictions to allow home improvement stores and garden centres to open and limited visits to care homes.

“It’s not always easy,” Charpentier said. But he added: “With time, we adapt.”

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