Forced homelessness in Macedonia
07 November 1997
On July 2, 1992, two rows of huts and shanties in the Roma ghetto in Štip, east central Macedonia, burned to the ground, Tendering 150-180 Roma homeless. The cause of the fire remains, today, unknown. At the time of the blaze, according to the German non-governmental organisation Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, accusations ranged from accident to arson by two members of the Macedonian nationalist party VMRO to arson by unknown persons following a fight between a Serb and a Rom.
Following the fire, Roma Tendered homeless were housed in a student dormitory in the centre of Štip. However, when the school year began one and a half months later, they were evicted. Since that time, Roma who formerly lived in the huts have either had to leave the area, live with family or squat in abandoned buildings around Štip, since the city has not rebuilt the houses, provided alternative housing, or granted permission to the Roma to rebuild the huts. The ERRC visited Štip in August 1997. Mr Duško Stojanov of the Štip office of the Ministry for Construction and Urbanism told the ERRC:
"We approved a contract with a public enterprise to rebuild the barracks, but they didn't have money to complete the project. The previous local council also had an initiative to rebuild the bar racks in the old settlement, but they too could not secure financing. Since the land belongs to the Republic of Macedonia, they may not rebuild the houses on their own."
Mrs Biljana Kukuševa, the former director of the public enterprise contracted to rebuild the houses told the ERRC:
"We planned a project for a small apartment building, but there was a problem because there were more families than barracks, and therefore more families than apartments. Furthermore, the municipal offices which issue building permits wouldn't waive the fees for the various documents necessary. We would have had to pay for a permit for electricity, for a housing permit and a water and drainage fee, and since they wouldn't give us waivers, we didn't get a building permit. The Roma were interested in rebuilding on their own, but the problem is that the land is state owned, so they weren't allowed to do so."
The local council told the ERRC that it has nothing to do with re-housing Roma and Mr. Stanko Dimitrov, the director of the Stip social office told the ERRC that his office had assisted only in providing emergency accommodation and by distributing one-time emergency humanitarian help in 1992.
The result of this bureaucratic maze is that Roma who formerly lived in the houses are simultaneously not being provided with housing, and are forbidden from providing their own. The ERRC met with Roma who were still, five years after the fire, living with relatives in overcrowded conditions in nearby houses. Other Roma have been forced into a cycle of illegal tenancy and eviction; at the time of the ERRC visit in mid-August 1997, Mrs Melana Mehmedova was living with her four children in a mildewed basement they have illegally occupied in the centre of Štip. She told the ERRC: "Following the fire, we were put in a student's home, but when the school year started, they kicked us out on the street. For a long time after that, we lived in tents. Finally we found this basement and moved in."
This has caused the family problems: "We were in court and they ordered us to move out and they made us pay 2800 Denars [approximately 90 German Marka]. We didn't move though. Where would we go? A friend wrote an appeal to the court, but we haven't heard any thing about that. The police were here a month ago. They told us that we must leave this building. Also, our neighbours come all the time and shout that we must leave. The city has lied to us for five years. They told us we would receive housing, but nothing has happened."
Macedonian law does not formally acknowledge the private ownership of land and since 1991, almost the entire country has been the direct property of the state. At the same time, municipalities either cannot afford or don't want to pay to house Roma. This paradox has produced enforced nomadism for the families rendered homeless by the Štip fire.