Roma and the Kosovo conflict
15 July 1999
Claude Cahn, Tatjana Peric
Roma have been the most manipulated population of the long Yugoslav crisis. Comprising up to 5% of the population of Kosovo, their loyalty was bid over in a conflict which tolerated no neutrality. Roma were forced to choose a side in a conflict in which there was no Romani side and in which neither side accepted them as ethnically their own. In 1989, in an action which will likely not be forgotten soon by the Kosovo Albanians, some Roma in Belgrade demonstrated under a banner stating „We are behind you, Slobo" in support of the abrogation of the autonomy of the Kosovo province. Romani leaders from Kosovo attended the negotiations over Kosovo in Rambouillet, France in the early months of 1999, as members of the Serbian delegation. The overwhelming majority of Roma remained politically unengaged and desperately attempted to carve out niches for themselves where they might be spared the coming ethnic maelstrom; in a move pondered over with wonder by some anthropologists in the West, small groups of Roma in both Yugoslavia and Macedonia who had formerly declared themselves to be Albanians in the Yugoslav census, registered themselves as „Egyptians" and entered into dialogue with the Egyptian embassy in Belgrade. Legends spread in an increasingly isolated Serbia, such as the newly-invented folktale, calculated solely to exact exaggerated displays of loyalty, that „If the Roma abandon us, Serbia is truly alone." On the ground in Kosovo, as legends of Romani loyalty to Milošević became embedded in the hearts and minds of ethnic Albanians, exacting standards of loyalty among the Albanian community on the one hand, and the omnipresent Serbian police on the other, rendered Roma effectively mute. Roma who fled abroad to places where they could speak freely decried the conflict as not their own.
The following is a necessarily fragmented and incomplete catalogue of the war on Roma in Kosovo. The first piece documents wartime abuses of Roma in Kosovo, including expulsions, rape and forced labour by the Serbian police and killings by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Following this, the Romani flight abroad, to Montenegro and to the Yugoslav interior is documented, along with an episode of attempted lynching in a refugee camp in Macedonia. Next, accounts of anti-Romani violence and expulsions by returning Kosovo Albanians are presented, along with the forced return by the Serbian police of fleeing or expelled Roma to Kosovo, from other parts of Yugoslavia. The „Field Report" section of Roma Rights which follows the „Notebook" contains the record of ERRC missions to document the situation of Roma in Kosovo, June 30 - July 7, and in Albania to document the situation of Kosovo Romani refugees, May 29 - June 6. Next, the „Advocacy" section of the newsletter presents the declaration of a joint European Roma Rights Center/Human Rights Project conference on Roma, Peace and Security in the Balkans. Finally, Orhan Galjus talks about what it was like growing up Romani in Kosovo.
When not specified otherwise, the spelling of geographic names in Kosovo is in the Serbian language.
Wartime abuses of Roma in Kosovo
ROMA in Kosovo were victims of both Serbs and Albanians during the conflict there, and their suffering was intensified with the NATO war against Yugoslavia, according to the testimonies of displaced Roma from Kosovo. There were cases of Romani families expelled from their homes by the Serb police, and of murders of Roma committed by the Serbs in Kosovo, reportedly because the Roma were Muslim. Mr Milazin Krueliju, a 28-year-old Romani man from KaĂ¨anik, southeast Kosovo, was interviewed by the ERRC on April 18, 1999, in Skopje, Macedonia, where he arrived on April 3 after his family had been expelled from their home by Serbian police. At the time of the interview, he was staying with relatives. Mr Krueliju told the ERRC: „We, the Roma, were like a stone in the street kicked by everyone who happened to come across it. Since we were mistreated by the Serbian military and the Albanians, we fled to Macedonia." In a similar account, Bekir Ahmetovski from Priština told the reporter of the Romani programme of Macedonian TV in early May, that one month earlier the Serbian army had chased him and his family out of their house and set the house on fire.
The ERRC recorded an instance of rape of a Romani woman by the Serbian police. In an interview the ERRC conducted in Kumanovo, Macedonia, on May 24, 22-year-old Romani woman Q. Z. gave the following testimony: „It was in February 1999; my cousin K. and I were at the bus station in Prizren waiting for a bus to Dečani. Suddenly five Serbian policemen approached us. One of them asked me where I was from and if I was Bulgarian, to which I responded I was not and that I was with my cousin waiting for a bus to get home. Then he asked me if we had documents. We gave him our IDs. He said we had to come with them to the police station. So we got into the car with them. There were three of them while the other two policemen remained at the bus station. They did not take us to the police station. They took us to a forest where they raped us. I did not report the case because I was afraid that they would harm my family."
The Serb police and military forced Roma to work for them. In a New York Times article on April 25, an ethnic Albanian refugee testified that Serb paramilitaries had forced the local Roma to collect the bodies of those shot by Serbs and to bury them in a mass grave, on April 18, in a small village west of Lipljan, Kosovo. A number of Roma from Kosovo, who escaped together with Kosovo Albanians to Albania, testified to the Tirana-based Roma organisation Amaro Drom that in some cases Roma were forced by Serbs to loot and destroy property of Kosovo Albanians, so that Roma would be blamed too.
In other cases, Roma provided testimony about threats and murders committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In testimony published by the Ontario-based National Post on May 6, a 48-year-old Romani farmer from Suva Reka, Kosovo, said he believed his 26-year-old son was first kidnapped and then murdered by the KLA, as the son was a friend of the local police commander who was a Serb. A woman from a Romani family from Uroševac now living in the Dračevo settlement near Skopje told a journalist of the Roma program of Macedonian television in early May that just before they came to Macedonia in early April her niece was raped in Uroševac, Kosovo by ethnic Albanians. (For more details on the alleged murders and kidnapping of Roma by KLA in 1998 and early 1999, see „Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, Autumn 1998).
In many cases Roma testified that they witnessed abuses from both sides. Agron Beriša, a 23-year-old Romani man from Kačanik, Kosovo, was a member of the Serb police force. In a testimony given to the ERRC on April 19 in Skopje, he alleged there were cases in which ethnic Albanians attempted to force the Roma to declare themselves Albanians. Meanwhile, he saw the Serbian police physically abusing Roma. Agron Beriša decided to flee to Macedonia on April 15, while his wife and their baby stayed in Kosovo. Mr Nuhi Asani from Uroševac in Kosovo arrived to Dračevo near Skopje in early April. He told Macedonian television journalists in May that he and some of his family decided to flee to Macedonia as they were afraid of Serbs; on the other hand, some other members of his family went to Belgrade as they allegedly thought it would still be safer than with ethnic Albanians in Macedonia.
Ms Mamudije Krasići, a 33-year-old Romani woman from Dečani, a village near the Albanian border with Kosovo, told the ERRC on May 23 in Kumanovo, Macedonia: „There was shooting everywhere around us. The Albanians from one side, the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the Serbian military and police from the other. We were abused by both sides — Roma were beaten and our lives depended on the money, food and other goods that we were forced to give to anyone who asked for it. Our lives became even worse after the beginning of the NATO strikes. When the NATO bombing started, the Serbian police and military started to maltreat us more intensively, because they considered us Albanians. So we had to run away, and we did so in April. Since we had no passports, we decided to go through the forest and to cross the Macedonian border illegally. While running through the forest we noticed Serbian military on patrol. We all lay down, so they did not see us and passed us by. So we crossed the border and now we are in Kumanovo."
Mainly Serbian sources have reported on a number of Roma killed or injured in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. On June 7, three days before the bombing formally ended, the predominantly Romani settlement of Šangaj in the northern Yugoslav city of Novi Sad, which is located just next to an oil refinery, suffered greatly from the fifteenth attack on the industrial complex as reported by the local radio station Radio 021 on June 8. One of the missiles in the attack reportedly fell at the edge of the settlement. Nine persons were taken to the Novi Sad hospital, of whom four were Romani. According to Radio 021, one of them was a severely injured 11-year-old Romani boy. During the night of the attack, 2500 persons were evacuated from the settlement, and returned after the end of the air raid; this procedure had been previously followed during each of the attacks, for fear of fire and chemical poisoning from burning refinery products. The Yugoslav state news agency TANJUG reported on June 2 that a NATO missile landed just a few metres from a Romani settlement Mali Rit near Pančevo, thirty kilometres north-east of Belgrade, on June 1, damaging one house. In this incident a Romani woman was injured by flying glass, reported the Belgrade-based Romani Information Documentation Centre (Romski informaciono dokumentacioni centar — RDIC) on June 2. According to RDIC, on May 31, during an air attack on Belgrade and its vicinity on the night of May 30, NATO bombs killed one elderly Romani woman in the nearby village of Ralja. In the same attack, bombs completely destroyed the house of the Romani family Saitović, and several members of the family had to ask for medical aid at a Belgrade hospital. Bombs dropped on Belgrade's Volga and Milan Rakić streets the same night destroyed two homes inhabited by Roma. The same source reported on May 7 that Sulja Salijević, a 45-year-old Romani man, was injured in the bombing of Niš, south-eastern Serbia, on that day. Sofija Jovanović, a 23-year-old Romani woman from the Vračar neighbourhood of Belgrade, died in hospital on April 30, as reported by RDIC on May 6 and confirmed by Deutsche Welle TV on May 18. She reportedly was wounded in a NATO attack two days earlier — her mother was injured as well, their family house destroyed, and the rest of the family accommodated in a nursery school. Belgrade-based Beta news agency reported on April 28 that a Romani settlement named Mala Bistrica on the left bank of Južna Morava river, near Leskovac, south-eastern Serbia, was bombed by NATO on April 27. One person was seriously injured. In Prizren, four people died and eight were wounded in a NATO air raid on a Romani settlement on the night of April 28, according to Priština-based Media centar of April 29. The bombs reportedly fell on Podrinska street, and fatally wounded a whole Romani family: Maksum Zuljfuri (2), his two-and-a-half-year old sister Kasandra, mother Djulja (24) and father Bećir Zuljfuri (25). In the same incident, Eljvane (15), Sefedin (14) and Emrija Krasnići (46), Fatmir Bitići (43), Imer Pačak (46), Altina Zuljfuri (47), Biljkiza Taškran (40) and Vlaznim Pačak (17), were severely injured. The two missiles also caused considerable damage to the neighbourhood, with at least ten houses destroyed. According to RIDC, on April 27, Nikola Nikolič, a 21-year-old Rom from the Kolonija settlement close to the village Bazen, municipality Veliki Crljeni, near Vranje, central Serbia, was killed in the NATO bombing on April 26. Blic reported that a Romani settlement in the village of Pavlovac, near Vranje, southern Serbia, was targeted by NATO on April 14 — 65-year-old Mr Mijalko Trajković and 14-year-old girl Milica Stojanović were reportedly killed.
Many Yugoslav Roma currently in Macedonia reported that they fled their home country because of NATO bombing. On May 12, the daily update of the Skopje-based NGO Macedonian Center for International Co-operation (MCIC) reported on the story of Mr Remzi Beriša and his eleven-member family from Kačanik, south-eastern Kosovo. At the beginning of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia their hometown was almost completely deserted with the exception of their family and eleven other Romani families who stayed because they produced their own food and upon leaving their homes they would have to buy food, which they could not afford. According to the article, the Serbian police advised the families to move to any bigger town. The family moved in with their relatives in Uroševac, to a house in the vicinity of military barracks. In early April, in a NATO air raid on the barracks, the Roma house was destroyed as well, and the family decided to leave. They arrived in Skopje, Macedonia, on April 12. As they told the ERRC on April 3, the Dalipi family originally from Bujanovac in south-eastern Serbia, now in Vinica, eastern Macedonia, are victims of war for a second time. First they left Bosnia at the beginning of the Bosnian war and came to Bujanovac, which they left on March 26 as „the missiles and bombs fell all around them", according to 33-year-old Demir Dalipi. (Amaro Drom, Beta, Blic, Deutsche Welle, ERRC, Macedonian Center for International Co-operation, Media centar, National Post, New York Times, Radio 021, Roma Program of Macedonian Television, Romani Documentation Information Centre, TANJUG)
Attempted lynching in Macedonian refugee camp; Romani refugees from Kosovo
A violent anti-Romani incident took place in the refugee camp Stenkovec 1 near Skopje, Macedonia, on June 5, 1999, when ethnic Albanians physically attacked Romani refugees, claiming that one of the Roma had taken part in crimes against Albanians in Kosovo.
At the gate of the camp, which at the time of the attack was home to almost 40,000 refugees, one Albanian refugee reportedly recognised Nazmi Halili, a 42-year-old Romani man from Podujevo, Kosovo, as a member of the Serbian police unit who had killed his father and expelled his family. Joined by several other refugees, the man attacked Mr Halili and his nephew, 22-year-old Avdula Halili, and a third Romani man present, 25-year-old Vaznen Malići from Uroševac, who was not related to the other two Roma. As the group of Albanians beating the Roma became larger, aid workers intervened and took the Romani men and three Romani children to the building of the Catholic Relief Services. According to Macedonian press, some 5000 ethnic Albanian refugees massed around the building, threatening to break into the building and kill the Roma. Albanian refugees also demanded that NATO forces take the Roma away and send them directly to the Hague for a war crimes trial. At the invitation of the UNHCR, US Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill arrived in the camp and convinced the protesters that the Roma would be tried and punished if found guilty. The crowd dispersed around midnight, and the injured Roma were taken to the Skopje Military hospital. According to a UNHCR press release of June 7, the UNHCR evacuated the other seventeen members of the Romani families from the camp on the day of the incident, and accommodated them in a tent guarded by the police just outside the camp. Nazmi Halili and Vaznen Malići were released from the hospital on June 10; Avdula Halili left the hospital on the following day. The seven-member Halili family is now staying with relatives in a village near Skopje. The whereabouts of Vaznen Malići were unknown as of June 24.
Officially there were very few Roma in collective refugee camps, and their percentage was in fact very small in comparison with the overwhelming number of ethnic Albanian refugees, according to local Romani activists. There was only one Romani man among aid-workers in refugee camps, Kumanovo-based Romani association Drom reported on June 15, which also made it more difficult for aid to reach Roma. The Stenkovec 1 incident was not the first anti-Romani incident in the camps. Drom previously warned on May 1 that there were conflicts between Albanian and Romani refugees in the camps, which was confirmed by a UNHCR spokeswoman, according to the Skopje-based daily Nova Makedonija on June 7.
On May 25, 1999, the Romani humanitarian association Mesečina in Gostivar, western Macedonia, reported a case in the Čegrane refugee camp in April, in which ethnic Albanian refugees first refused to share a tent with a Romani family and then threatened them with physical violence, as some of the Roma allegedly had been in the Yugoslav Army. The family fled from the camp two days after the threats began; their whereabouts are unknown. An international aid worker told the ERRC on June 9 that in late March two Romani children were found sleeping outdoors in the then Brazda, later Stenkovec 1, refugee camp, in cold and rainy weather, as no Albanian family wanted to share a tent with them. The children were found accommodation with a Romani family in Šuto Orizari, a largely Romani district of the Macedonian capital Skopje.
The conflict between Serbs and Albanians has caused massive displacement of Roma from Kosovo within Yugoslavia and outside its borders. The number of Romani refugees from Kosovo and the rest of Serbia who escaped to Macedonia and were registered with various local Romani NGOs was around 2000 as of April 19, 1999, according to the US-based Refugees International. This is allegedly not the overall number of displaced Roma in Macedonia, since many Roma reportedly declared themselves ethnic Albanians. Another difficulty in determining the number of displaced Roma in Macedonia was that on many occasions at which refugees officially register, ethnicity had not been asked for. Also, many Romani refugees moved from one Macedonian town to another, in search of better places to stay. The majority of Yugoslav Roma in Macedonia are presently staying with friends and relatives. The data of the Roma Center of Skopje and the Romani human rights association Avutnipe confirmed that there were almost 2000 registered refugees of Romani ethnicity in Romani settlements in the capital of Skopje and in villages around it, as of June 25. Most refugees were accommodated in the mainly Romani municipality of Šuto Orizari. The Gostivar-based organisation Mesečina registered 21 displaced Roma in Gostivar, 45 in Debar, 9 in Kičevo, 40 in Tetovo and 10 in Prilep, all towns in western Macedonia, as of June 14. In Kumanovo, Drom registered 153 Roma from Yugoslavia as of June 15.
Romani refugees have been discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity by humanitarian organisations operating in Macedonia. The Gostivar-based Romani organisation Mesečina witnessed that in early April at the Jazince border crossing near Tetovo, western Macedonia, Romani refugees were prevented from using buses to reception centres in Macedonian towns organised by the humanitarian organisation El Hilal. According to Mesečina, El Halil refused Romani refugees entry to the buses with the excuse that there was no accommodation for them, as Albanian families did not want to house Roma. In one of the reception centres near Tetovo, the family of Avnija Mustafi from Priština, Kosovo, waited for three days to be found accommodation. Mesečina intervened and transported the Roma to their relatives in the village of Trubarevo, close to Skopje. In almost all refugee camps that Mesečina visited, Romani refugees testified that ethnic Albanian refugees were instantly found accommodation, while Roma had to stay in the open for as long as several days until tents were set up for them as well. Alleged discrimination against Roma by the Macedonian Red Cross in provision of humanitarian aid (see „Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, No. 1/99) reportedly continued: several Romani organisations told the ERRC that the Macedonian Red Cross never contacted them, while they worked with Albanian humanitarian organisations in the region. According to the daily update of the Macedonian Center for International Co-operation (MCIC) of April 28, the aid of the Macedonian Red Cross covered „Kosovo Albanians, Albanian refugees from other parts of FRY, and Macedonian citizens living in Kosovo". No mention was made of displaced Roma.
In Macedonia, Roma coming from Kosovo are able to obtain the status of „persons assisted by humanitarian organisations" from Macedonian authorities: the state accords refugees temporary provision of food, accommodation and health care. Roma from the rest of Yugoslavia are considered visitors and are the financial responsibility of their host families. The majority of the host families live below the poverty line and themselves need assistance.
In Serbia, excluding Kosovo, as of May 21, 1999, it was estimated by local Romani organisations that the number of Roma displaced from Kosovo in the end of May, during the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia, was around 20,000, of which there were 5,000 in the capital of Belgrade alone. The Democratic Association of Roma (Demokratsko udruženje Roma) from Belgrade organised non-stop shifts at the main train station during the time of the initial major refugee influx in late March and early April; the refugees needed assistance with basic necessities such as food and accommodation, or had difficulties because they did not speak Serbian. Numerous families were reportedly separated during their flight to Belgrade. For many of the Roma from Kosovo this was the second round of forced displacement, as they had fled to Kosovo from Bosnia or Croatia during the armed conflicts in those regions. The association reported that the refugees were in urgent need of basic food items like flour, oil, and sugar, and over-the-counter medicines. Information on the numbers of refugees in the rest of Serbia at that time was scarce — according to various Romani organisations, as of May 26 there were 460 Roma in Zemun, the outskirts of Belgrade, 150 families in Obrenovac, 30 kilometres southwest of Belgrade, 214 families in Kostolac, 60 kilometres east of Belgrade, and 1500 Roma in Kragujevac in central Serbia. The aid that Romani refugees in Serbia had received by May from the few charities providing assistance was welcome but far from sufficient, several organisations told the ERRC. After the end of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the return of KLA into Kosovo, the influx of Roma into Serbia continued — on June 6, the Belgrade-based Romani Information Documentation Centre (Romski informaciono dokumentacioni centar — RDIC) reported that 48 Roma from Prizren, Kosovo, had arrived in Belgrade and moved in with friends and relatives.
In Montenegro, as reported on June 1, 1999, by the Kotor-based non-governmental organisation Anima, around 7800 Roma who fled from Kosovo were registered as internally displaced persons with the Secretariat for Refugees of the southern Yugoslav republic. According to Anima, most of the displaced Roma were accommodated in the Romani settlements of the towns of Podgorica, central Montenegro, Rožaje in the northeast of the republic, and to a smaller extent in Ulcinj, on the southeastern Montenegrin border with Albania.
The Tirana-based Romani organisation Amaro Drom reported on June 19 that there were around 860 Roma from Kosovo in Albania, of whom approximately five hundred were in the Korça province, southeastern Albania. There were also Roma from Kosovo in the towns of Tirana, Elbasan, Fier, Berat and Durrёs. According to a May 18 report of Amaro Drom, similar to the situation in Macedonia, the Roma among Kosovo refugees did not want to declare themselves as Roma allegedly for fear of abuse by ethnic Albanian refugees. On June 11, it was reported to the ERRC that Kosovar refugees in one refugee camp in that town were demanding the removal of Roma from the camp, claiming they were accomplices of Serbs. One Romani family in the camp was reportedly too frightened to leave their tent. In Korça, Romani refugees were accommodated in refugee camps with poor living conditions. (For more information on Kosovar Roma refugees in Albania see „Field Report" in this issue).
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a large group of Roma arrived in Banja Luka, northwestern Bosnia, in late April. Around seventy Roma fled from various places in northern and central Serbia, to settle in tents made of plastic sheets and branches on a meadow close to the main bus station. During the war in Bosnia, almost the whole Muslim Romani population of Banja Luka was expelled — the new arrivals from Serbia during the Kosovo war were Christian Orthodox. Apart from a single delivery of aid from a British charity, these Roma have reportedly received no other assistance, and most of them beg in the city streets. According to the local office of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), a group of 31 Roma refugees from Kosovo arrived in Mostar, Herzegovina, on April 22. Some of them reported being forced to leave their homes at gunpoint. The total number of refugees from Yugoslavia currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina was estimated at 68,000 as of May 6, according to the European Union Humanitarian Office. On July 12, the Society for Threatened People reported to the ERRC that there were 4000 Romani refugees from Kosovo in Sarajevo.
There are Romani refugees from Kosovo in other countries bordering Yugoslavia. In Romania, a group of fifty Roma from Kosovo were staying in the Banat region in southwest Romania as of May 13. In Hungary, a group of around twenty-five Roma from Kosovo stayed for a number of weeks in a Budapest hotel, while trying to acquire visas for Western European countries. Hungarian authorities resolved that none of the displaced Yugoslavs, regardless of their ethnicity, are eligible for refugee status in the sense of the United Nations' Convention Related To The Status Of Refugees and accorded successful applicants a temporary status instead. As of June 14, some Roma from the group left Hungary illegally, and others decided to return to Kosovo despite the very unstable situation in the province. As of June 25, one family managed to go back to their home in Priština; another Romani family was prevented from entering the province by the police and stayed in Belgrade instead. During the state of war in Yugoslavia, men of draft age were forbidden from leaving the country — some Romani men who managed to leave the country allege that border officials both on Yugoslav and Hungarian side of the border demanded bribes to let the men cross the border.
An official at the German embassy in Budapest told the ERRC on June 22 that although conditions for the allocation of entry visas to Yugoslav citizens remained identical to those before the crisis, the review process would now be far more strict, „due to the suspicion that persons applying might attempt to apply for refugee status once in Germany."
Austria accepted refugees from Kosovo only within the rubric of a programme run from Albania. It was not possible to enter Austria as a refugee from anywhere else. The Vienna-based organisation Romano Centro commented on Austrian practice in the face of the wave of persons fleeing Yugoslavia, „Persons wishing to reach safe haven in Austria may only do so with a tourist visa. For this one needs an invitation from Austria with guarantees as to available money, proof of income, an insurance policy for the duration of stay in Austria, rental contract and registration form. In addition, it is necessary to convince authorities that one will leave the country after the expiration of the visa. We received news of desperate groups of Roma brought illegally into the country by smugglers and arrested immediately after their entry into Austria."
Many Roma fleeing Kosovo have crossed borders illegally. Two Romani women and five children from Priština, Kosovo, were detained by Hungarian border police on May 4 while attempting to enter Austria, and taken to a closed camp for illegal immigrants run by the Hungarian government in Győr, northwestern Hungary. The families had previously spent three weeks in Budapest unsuccessfully trying to acquire visas for Germany. They were released on May 14, after the intervention of a Hungarian Romani activist; the two families also had to pay for their accommodation in Hungary for one month in advance before authorities would grant them permission to stay in the country. Smugglers reportedly demand 10,000-15,000 German marks per family (approximately 5600-8000 euros) to transport Roma from Hungary to western Europe.
According to Swedish daily newspapers Expressen and Aftonbladet of April 17, 1999, two Muslim Romani families from the towns of Raška and Novi Pazar in south-western Serbia were found in a dark container with cat food that had arrived at the harbour of Gothenberg on April 16. Seven children and seven adults travelled in the container for four days, according to the Nordic Business Report of April 26. The Roma told Swedish authorities that they fled for fear the men would be drafted, and asked for asylum in the country. They were placed in a refugee institution and the authorities were deciding on their stay in Sweden. As of June 23, the Swedish government agreed to grant temporary asylum for 5000 refugees from Kosovo for eleven months, with a possibility of prolonging the period if the war situation has not changed after that time. All ethnic groups will be accepted, but only those fleeing from Kosovo - Roma or Albanians from other parts of Yugoslavia can not be granted this special temporary protection, according to the Swedish Foreign Office. The Swedish government thus does not regard the Yugoslav Roma as a group with specific reasons for protection in the current war. (Aftonbladet, Amaro Drom, Anima, CMA, Catholic Relief Services, Democratic Association of Roma, Drom, ERRC, European Union Humanitarian Office, Expressen, Macedonian Center for International Co-operation, Mesečina, National Post, Nordic Business Report, Nova Makedonija, Refugees International, Roma Center of Skopje, Romani Information Documentation Centre, Romano Centro, UNHCR)
Anti-Romani violence as Kosovo Albanians return; more displaced Roma
The international media and rights organisations have reported that as Kosovo Albanians returned to Kosovo during and after the withdrawal of Yugoslav armed forces from the region, anti-Romani abuses multiplied in an atmosphere in which Roma as a group were held responsible for collaboration with Serbs.
CBC, Reuters, Daily Telegraph and the Washington Post reported on June 18, 1999, that German NATO troops had raided the former Serbian Interior Ministry police headquarters in Prizren the same day and disarmed around twenty-five KLA members who apparently had imprisoned and severely beaten fifteen elderly Roma, including a man found chained to a chair who had died, German army officials said. The German officer who led the raid said the victims had told German troops that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army had detained them for allegedly looting the homes of ethnic Albanians. While searching the building, German soldiers reportedly found numerous torture instruments, including sticks with protruding nails, batons with chains and „special skewers", according to Lieutenant Colonel Dietmar Jeserich, a German NATO spokesman. They reportedly found KLA members standing guard over fourteen elderly men and one woman who had been brutally beaten. Some were handcuffed to radiators, and others had their hands bound behind their backs with rope. The badly beaten body of a man around 70 years old was found chained to a chair; he had died just hours before the troops entered the building, German officials said. The German soldiers disarmed the KLA, said Major Dietrich Jensch, who led the search of the building. One of the Romani men found detained in the building, Mr Gani Berisha, said he had been held for two days and nights without food or water after being hauled away from his home by KLA soldiers. He told members of the international press, „They told us, 'You all have to leave here. You co-operated with Milošević.'" Another prisoner showed that his rib cage was black and purple with bruises. German officers took the names of 25 KLA members and turned the members over to the local KLA commander. It was unclear whether charges would be filed against them. „They were smirking like they got their hands caught in a cookie jar," said one person who witnessed the scene. The Roma were treated by German army doctors. The Washington Post reported that, „German officials said they would have to investigate the incident before deciding whether to hold the Gypsies, and if so, for how long and on what basis." The episode was reported in the international press as an incident raising doubts about the discipline of the KLA, rather than evidence of strong anti-Romani sentiment among the returnees and an indication of the present danger to the Romani community of Kosovo.
On June 19, The Independent reported that Roma from Kosovo were fleeing their homes „in the thousands". In Vojvodina, Novi Sad-based Radio 021 reported on June 22 that there were dozens of refugees from Kosovo — most of them Roma — arriving to Novi Sad on a daily basis. The same source reported on June 30 that 847 internally displaced persons from Kosovo had arrived in Novi Sad in the previous ten days. According to the local NGO Ecumenical Humanitarian Organisation, which is providing aid to the displaced persons, more than 90 per cent of them were Roma. Belgrade-based Centre for Anti-War Action reported on July 8 that 400 displaced Roma from Kosovo lived in a meadow in the Novi Beograd municipality; another group of 150 Roma from Kosovo settled in a park near the main train station in Belgrade. The Serbian government is trying to persuade the fleeing non-Albanian population of Kosovo to return to the province — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on June 21 that „hundreds" of Serbs and Roma from Kosovo left the Serbian cities of Belgrade, Kruševac and Kragujevac on that day. On June 23, the Guardian reported that Serbian police had returned at least one busload of Roma after they fled Kosovo and arrived in the town of Niš in southern Serbia. Police told them to return to Kosovo Polje. As of July 2, approximately 3,500 Roma were sheltering in a school in Kosovo Polje. The Guardian reported that many of the expelled Roma came from the town of Obilić, approximately five miles north of Priština, where mobs of ethnic Albanians had ransacked their houses. One Romani man interviewed by the Guardian, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated, „Serbia doesn't want to accept us. There is no peace in Kosovo. We should go find our own state, but we don't have one." Kosovo Roma have continued to flee to Montenegro has continued as well. The Podgorica-based daily Vijesti reported on July 5 that 125 Roma entered Montenegro from Kosovo on that day. Almost all of them reportedly stayed in the bordering town of Roaje. On July 10, Montana-fax news agency reported on another 165 Roma from Kosovo arriving at the Roaje border crossing. In Italy, a boat with 510 Roma from Kosovo arrived from Montenegro at Puglia, southern Italy, on June 29, according to La Stampa of June 30. Another boat carrying 250 Roma from Kosovo, including over 100 children, arrived to southern Italy on July 1, as reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on July 2. According to the Associated Press, another such instance on July 6 involved a boat with 700 Roma from Peć, Kosovo, who claimed fleeing for fear of revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians. Italian coast guards escorted all three boats to the port of Bari. Numerous groups report that displaced Roma from Kosovo who found shelter in Macedonia do not want to go back to the province, for fear of reprisal attacks by ethnic Albanians. Finally, ERRC research indicates that as of July 4, Rom were massively displaced inside Kosovo. In one impromptu refugee camp in the village of Kosovo Polje alone there were Roma from the following places: Belaćevac, Brnica, Crkvena Vodica, Djakovica, Eležani, Kosovska Mitrovica, Lipljan, Nakarada, Obilić, Priština, Prizren, Štitnik, Slatina, Subotič, Vučitrn. (CAA, CBC, CMA, Daily Telegraph, EHO, ERRC, Guardian, Independent, International Herald Tribune, MCIC, Montana-fax, Reuters, Radio 021, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington Post, La Stampa, Vijeśti)