United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Evaluates Situation of Roma, Ashkaeli and Egyptian IDPs from Kosovo in Serbia
20 November 2007
In a March 2007 report on the "Situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from Kosovo in Serbia", the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) distinguished the Roma, Ashkaeli, and Egyptian communities (RAE) as particularly vulnerable groups amongst IDPs in Serbia. Many live in substandard conditions without access to proper housing and basic utilities. Most RAE IDPs are ethnically Romani and are subject to continued discrimination, according to the report.
Since most RAE have not registered with the authorities, it has become easy for the Serbian government to overlook their current situation. As a result, the UNHCR reports, many RAE IDPs become "forgotten and further marginalized." The RAE communities' failure to register seems to stem from a legacy of "chronic unregistration". Without legal registration, RAE cannot legally register at an address and cannot register their newborn children upon birth. Perhaps most tragically, without an IDP card or a basic identification documents, they are unable to access basic socio-economic rights such as health and social care, employment, education, or even their right to citizenship. This in turn perpetuates their poor standard of living and serves to create a "parallel world of people outside the system." Currently, there is no legal mechanism that aims to aid the "chronically unregistered" in gaining access to full citizenship, though several NGOs have endeavoured to provide assistance to RAE in obtaining such documentation.
Most RAE IDPs live in Belgrade spread out amongst 150 largely illegal and informal settlements. The standard of living in these settlements is nothing short of deplorable:
People live in cardboard boxes or find shelter in deserted barracks, containers, or junk car bodies. They lack access to basic utilities such as heating, sanitation, and electricity. They are often subject to evictions or to the threat of evictions. RAE living in these conditions have few options for improving their lot.
Reliable information on the health condition of RAE IPDs is scarce, a situation which, according to the UNHCR, "presents a serious failure in the [healthcare] system." Many RAE reportedly avoid medical treatment, making the community as whole vulnerable to contagious diseases. Furthermore, many RAE who realise their right to medical treatment are subject to discrimination within the heath-care system.
Most RAE IDP children – about 76% – do not attend school. The UNHCR suggested that these children are prevented from attending school because of chronic illnesses they may suffer from discrimination, poverty, and language and cultural barriers. Finally, the UNHCR noted a strong resistance on the part of the Serbian authorities to consider RAE IPDs a "special group".