Turkey’s ruling party sends Roma group on Umrah pilgrimage

Turkey’s ruling party sends Roma group on Umrah pilgrimage

Turkey’s ruling party sends Roma group on Umrah pilgrimage

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Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has sent a group of Roma citizens to Saudi Arabia in order to perform the Umrah pilgrimage, with a senior party executive saying they wanted to raise “awareness” about the presence of Roma people in the country through the initiative.

A ceremony to send the group of 33 Roma citizens from the Aegean provinces of İzmir and Manisa to Medina was held at the airport in Ankara on May 12 ahead of their departure, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Selçuk Özdağ, the AKP’s deputy chair in charge of civil society and public relations, recalled that two Roma citizens had asked for his help in order to perform the Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca which can be undertaken at any time of the year, while speaking to reporters at the ceremony.  

When he briefed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu about this request, they wanted to launch a project, Özdağ said. Then, as the first step of the project, they decided to take 33 Roma citizens living in İzmir and Manisa to the Umrah with support from various civil society organizations, he added.

Özdağ said the group would stay five days in Medina, the first leg of their visit, and would then proceed to Mecca for another five days.

The group will return home on May 21 and will visit President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 22, he said.

In late April, an action plan to prevent discrimination against Turkey’s Roma citizens came into effect after being published in the Official Gazette. The plan consisted of measures in education, employment, housing, healthcare and social services in order to improve the living conditions of Roma people. 

“The Strategy Document for Roma Citizens” and the “First Phase Action Plan” were published in the Official Gazette as part of efforts by the Family and Social Policies Ministry to eliminate the problems experienced by Roma citizens, who reside in the most disadvantaged and impoverished neighborhoods of their respective hometowns.