Displaced Kosovo Roma and Egyptians Face Evictions in Serbia and Montenegro
29 October 2003
Three communities of displaced Kosovo Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro are facing forced eviction and homelessness. Eighteen Serbian, Montenegrin and Muslim families from Nikšić, northern Montenegro, requested the removal of a neighbouring settlement of Kosovo Egyptians, according to the Podgorica-based Montenegrin daily Vijesti of May 5, 2003. Around fifty Kosovo Egyptians arrived in Montenegro in 1999 and were accommodated in pre-fabricated shacks on the banks of the river Gračanica in Nikšić, under the sponsorship of humanitarian organisations. The settlement is located across the road from the eighteen Serbian, Montenegrin and Muslim socially-vulnerable families, who are also accommodated in shacks donated by charities, and who, on May 4, 2003, reportedly filed a request with local authorities that the Kosovo Egyptians be forced to leave. As reported by Vijesti, the neighbours claimed that the Kosovo Egyptians harass them and their children, play loud music and are armed. The eighteen families also offered to move themselves and leave the settlement entirely to the Kosovo Egyptians, provided that the local authorities or others find suitable replacement accommodation. The group reportedly threatened that this would be their last peaceful protest against the Kosovo Egyptians and that, in the future, they would "take justice into their own hands." In their defence, the Egyptian community denied having provoked their neighbours and considered this a case motivated by racial hatred, claiming that the eighteen families verbally abused them. The community has been given police protection since the neighbours' protest commenced, after alleged threats that their shacks would be set on fire, reported Vijesti. A local Romani organisation mediated between the two sides and managed to persuade the non-Egyptians to discontinue protesting. In the meanwhile, the organisation appealed to the Montenegrin Commissariat for Refugees and Displaced Persons and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to find alternative accommodation for either of the groups. As of August 4, 2003, the Podgorica office of the non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), informed the ERRC that the Kosovo Egyptians were still living at the same place, although no permanent solution had been found.
Earlier, a group of more than two hundred displaced Kosovo Egyptians, including over one hundred children, living in the "Riverside-Talum" refugee camp near Berane, in northern Montenegro, were informed that they had to leave their current homes by May 13, 2003, according to Vijesti of April 18, 2003. The term Egyptian refers to an Albanian-speaking minority in Kosovo viewed as Roma by outsiders, but who claim to have originated from Egypt. For more than three years, the Egyptians have been accommodated in three buildings and twenty-five pre-fabricated shacks, under the sponsorship of the international charity World Vision. According to a July 21, 2003 press release of the HLC's Belgrade office, Mr Rajko Marković, the owner of the land, agreed in December 2001 to allow the refugees to stay in the camp rent-free until May 13, 2003. At this time, the buildings and the infrastructure that World Vision had provided the refugees would become Mr Marković's property. However, in February 2002, Mr Marković signed another agreement with World Vision, which enables the refugees to remain in the camp from May 13, 2003, through May 13, 2005, at a cost of 25 Euro per home, according to the HLC. According to the press release, the Kosovo Egyptian families had been living illegally in the camp since the May 13, 2003 deadline, as they can not afford the rental payments. On May 26, 2003, just thirteen days following the commencement of the rent-paying period, Mr Marković reportedly filed a request for the eviction of the Kosovo Egyptians with a local court. According to the HLC, on July 15, 2003, Mr Marković offered to give the land, the buildings and the infrastructure to either the refugees of the government for the sum of 200,000 Euro. Since then, the international non-governmental organisation Caritas offered to pay the rental fees of the refugees until May 2004. As of the July 21, 2003 HLC press release, Mr Marković had not stated whether or not he would accept this offer.
According to the HLC, one hundred and forty Romani inhabitants, including fifty-eight children who fled from Kosovo in 1999, living in the so-called Palestina settlement, near the village of Jaz in the Budva municipality, on the Montenegrin Adriatic coast, are also facing forced eviction. The settlement was built without legal permission and does not have running water. Caritas provides the settlement with one tanker of water daily. In January 2003, one of the owners of the land on which the settlement was built announced that he intended to build an industrial plant there and threatened to forcibly evict the Roma and demolish their shacks, unless they left by January 25, 2003. In their press statement of January 24, 2003, the HLC asked the Montenegrin government, the Budva Municipality and the Commissioner for Refugees and Displaced Persons to provide Roma from the Palestina settlement with adequate alternative shelter. On February 20, 2003, Vijesti reported that two of the Romani families decided to leave the settlement under pressure. The families were reportedly displaced in various parts of Montenegro, while the remainder of the community stayed. The daily also wrote that the Budva Municipality promised to ask the landowner to delay the eviction for several months, in order to provide them with time to find an adequate solution for the Roma. As of August 4, 2003, according to the Podgorica office of the HLC, the Roma living on the part of the land on which the industrial plant was to be built had been moved to another section of the settlement. According to the HLC, the Roma of the Palestina settlement still had no clear prospects for the future.
Previously, on February 19, 2003, Mr Marek Nowicki, the Kosovo Ombudsman, stated during his visit to Montenegro that internally displaced persons from Kosovo live in very bad conditions in Montenegro, according to the Belgrade radio station B92. Mr Nowicki noted that many humanitarian organisations are in the process of closing down their operations in Montenegro, and the fate of the internally displaced people (IDPs) is left in the hands of the local authorities. Mr Nowicki also stressed the responsibility of the international community in addressing the situation of the IDPs and appealed to the international community to assist the Montenegrin government in solving the problems of IDPs.
(B92, ERRC, HLC, Vijesti)