Local Authorities Pledge Assistance to Roma in Brcko, Bosnia and Herzegovina

29 October 2003

Authorities of the Brčko District in northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina decided to allocate apartments to fifteen Romani families, according to a May 13, 2003 press statement of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to Bosnia and Herze-govina. The families, living in the informal Prutace Romani settlement, were to be evicted from their houses in May. At a meeting with the OSCE officials, District authorities decided to allow the Roma to stay in Prutace and announced that they would undertake measures to legalise the neighbourhood.

Before the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, some two thousand five hundred Roma lived in the town of Brčko, mostly in the settlements Suljagića Sokak and Broduša, according to field research conducted by the ERRC in partnership with the Bijeljina-based non-governmental organisation Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska (HCHRRS). During the war, the majority of the community fled to the territory of what is known today as the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina or to western European countries. As the former Romani settlements were located on the confrontation line, their houses were almost completely destroyed during the war.

The return of the community began in 1997 and as of the January 2003 ERRC/HCHRRS visit to the Suljagića Sokak settlement, it housed one hundred and forty-five Romani families with five hundred and sixty members. None of the Roma were employed, in comparison with fifty Roma employed at state-run companies before the war. Women and children from many families were reportedly forced to beg to make a living, while men from the settlement collected scrap metal. Mr Smajo Duraković, a 38-year-old Romani man, alleged that Roma are discriminated against in the employment process. He worked for the municipal Public Utility Company before the war, but his former employers now tell him there are no new openings. Mr Duraković noted that new people have been employed at the Company but none of them were Romani. Only ten families in Suljagića Sokak received state-provided social welfare; Ms Ramiza Beganović, a 37-year-old Romani woman with a disabled husband and four young children, told the ERRC/HCHRRS that her social welfare amounted to only 32 Euro per month, which is barely enough for basic food items.

The majority of local Romani children attend school, however truancy is extremely high and children rarely attend school after the sixth grade. Some Romani parents complained to ERRC/HCHRRS that they cannot afford to provide their children with good clothing and shoes or school equipment, which then exposes Romani pupils to the ridicule of non-Romani children. Many Roma interviewed by the ERRC/HCHRRS felt neglected by the non-Romani community and accused non-Roma of "wishing that the Roma never came back to Brčko." There were also complaints that the local police officers often verbally abuse Roma and make unjustified accusations that Roma are thieves. "If there is a theft in the town, the police immediately come to us to ask us if we are involved," Mr Ahmet Šečić, a 33-year-old Romani man from Suljagića Sokak, told the ERRC/HCHRRS.

According to the Roma Association of Brčko, the biggest problem for the community is housing. More than half of the community reportedly lives in substandard, improvised houses. Only some of the houses have electricity. Running water is accessible in only a few houses and its low quality makes it usable for technical purposes only. Earlier, the community received a donation of thirty-six construction sites. However, the majority of Roma to whom the sites were allocated do not have the financial means to start building. Some of the Roma whose houses were destroyed still lived in rented flats at the time of the ERRC visit.

Housing is generally one of the most serious problems faced by Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some 50 to 70 percent of Roma in the country live in informal settlements and have no clear title to the land they occupy, making them vulnerable to forced evictions by municipal authorities. The OSCE has also reported that housing policies are often administered in a discriminatory manner when it comes to Roma.

(ERRC, HCHRRS, OSCE, Roma Association of Brčko)

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