Statement of the Roma, Askalija and NGOs defending their human rights, participants to the OSCE SHDM

15 November 2004

The OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting "Internally Displaced Persons", 4-5 November, 2004, is a welcome occasion to highlight the plight of Roma, Ashkalija, Egyptians (RAE) IDPs from the Southern Balkans, and especially from Kosovo. The grave problems facing RAE IDPs and possible solutions of their situation were discussed during the side event "Situation of the Roma Internally Displaced Persons in the Framework of the Implementation of the OSCE Action Plan" held by the OSCE/ODIHR Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues on November 4, 2004 and were also raised at the Supplementary Meeting. Several interventions called on the government of Serbia and Montenegro to urgently react to the current acute problems of RAE resulting from lack of access to the mechanisms for legal registration of IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro. An appeal was addressed to the international community to assist the government of Serbia and Montenegro to solve these problems.

Roma, Ashkalija, Egyptians (RAE) and others perceived as Gypsies from Kosovo, who are currently in a situation of internal displacement in Serbia and Montenegro, are faced with inhuman and degrading conditions. The actual number of RAE IDPs is not known to the authorities; according to unofficial data, many RAE IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro are not registered as IDPs and consequently have no access to humanitarian aid. The prevailing number of RAE IDPs are denied access to basic rights such as adequate housing, health care, education, social assistance. In addition, RAE returnees from Germany and other Western European States, some of whom originate from Kosovo, are also subjected to a critical human rights situation. RAE from Kosovo are not able to return due to lack of security for minorities in Kosovo and are forced to remain in Serbia and Montenegro in internal displacement. Participants expressed concerns about forced return of RAE to Kosovo or Serbia and Montenegro and called for clear commitment of the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro to ensure, including though special measures, that those RAE who were returned have access to all rights guaranteed to other citizens in Serbia and Montenegro. An appeal to the Conference was sent by participants in a meeting in Strasbourg November 4-5, held in connection to the European Forum of Roma and Travellers, recently acknowledged by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers as a partner for closer cooperation. The participants expressed their concerns about problems facing different groups of Roma from Kosovo: those seeking asylum in Macedonia; the IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro; and Roma living in Germany as "tolerated" (the so called Duldung status) and facing threats of forced return to Serbia, including Kosovo.

In view of the current precarious situation for minorities in Kosovo, which prevents and delays voluntary return of RAE to Kosovo, the government of Serbia and Montenegro should find durable solutions for the integration of the RAE IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro. To that end, having in mind the failure so far to implement adequate measures for ensuring access to fundamental rights for RAE IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro, and learning from the OSCE meeting about good practices in dealing with similar situations, we have the following proposals to be included in the recommendations for the report of this OSCE SHDM:

I. Establishment of a Task Force (Working Group or Support Group) for IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro with participation of government officials, international organizations and representatives of the RAE IDPs.

The Task Force shall deal with the following issues:
 

  1. Assist RAE IDPs with obtaining personal documents and registration in the places where they live, taking into account both existing legal provisions and their specific situations resulting from their forced expulsion from Kosovo. Evidence produced during the meeting illustrated that many of them are de facto stateless persons.
  2. Organise a process (including a survey) of establishing the actual number of RAE IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro.
  3. Map out of the situation of RAE IDPs in terms of personal documents (non)availability of legal residence, registration as IDPs, housing conditions, access to education, health care and other social and economic rights.
  4. Particular attention should also be paid to (involuntary) repatriation of large number of families to Serbia and Montenegro, including Kosovo, as part of the bilateral agreements for readmission concluded by the government of Serbia and Montenegro and governments of States on which territory the ex-Yugoslav citizens look for refuge and shelter after the wars and inter-ethnic conflicts in the 1990s.
  5. Carry out genuine consultations with RAE IDPs aimed at identifying their choices regarding voluntary return to Kosovo versus integration in Serbia and Montenegro, and/or other personal/family options.
  6. Assist those RAE who wish to return to Kosovo with repossession of their property and obtaining property ownership documentation. Particular attention should be paid to Albanian-speaking Ashkalija and Egyptian IDPs who are confronted with prejudices on account of their mother tongue.
  7. Initiate a process for legalization of the housing of RAE IDPs where this is possible and find solutions for provision of alternative accommodation for individuals occupying private property and threatened by forced evictions.
  8. Assist RAE IDPs with the enrolment of their children in mainstream education.
  9. Assist RAE IDPs with accessing employment.
  10. Design awareness raising programs for workers in the social services aimed at combating prejudice towards Roma and in particular Roma IDPs.

An initial pledge of financial support and advise has been made within the framework of the on-going EC/Council of Europe/ODIHR project "Roma and Stability Pact in South-Eastern Europe". The National Council of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro signatory to this statement pledge their resources – political, moral, and human – to support and cooperate with the governmental agencies in setting up this Task Force (Support Group) and making it effective.

II. We call on the OSCE States to consider a regional approach to the issues of RAE IDPs and Refugees in SEE and Europe-wide. As part of this political regional approach, we propose

  • Regional Conference to be organized on this issue.

The purpose of this conference should be to acknowledge and define the unique situation of the RAE IDPS and refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro resulting from the inter-ethnic conflicts and wars in 1990s and early 2000; to promote inter-State cooperation, including better coordination among the IGOs and the NGOs; to involve RAE representatives in the political negotiations and processes of stabilization of particular countries/provinces, and of the SEE region as a whole; to find durable solutions to the RAE IDPS and refugees, according to their free choices and in the framework of exiting legislation and policies; to address in a comprehensive way the status and situation of RAE population in the countries of SEE, of both autochtonous communities, IDPs and refugees.

We ask the OSCE States, and in particular the OSCE Field Missions in the countries of SEE, to take an active role in initiating and organizing such conference. RAE representatives should be included in all phases of this proposed regional conference & political process.

Regional Coordination Working Group to be established with the task of assessing the social and economic situation of RAE IDPs and refugees in the Balkans. The Working Group should include representatives of the national Commissariats/agencies dealing with IDPs and refugees; representatives of intergovernmental organizations mandated to secure human rights of IDPs and refugees; relevant OSCE officers; and humanitarian organaisations specilised in IDPs and refugee issues.

Council of Roma of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr Dervo Sejdic
European Roma Rights Center
International Romani Union, Mr Novica Stizanin
National Union of Roma in Kosovo and Metohija
Roma National Council, Serbia and Montenegro
Mr Vitomir Mihajlovic
Mr Ljuan Koko
Mr Mefail Mustafa, Ashkali from Kosovo

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