Roma and the Kosovo conflict

03 April 1999

In the first months of 1999, Roma fell victim to human rights violations in Yugoslavia as a direct result of the conflict between ethnic Albanians on the one hand, and Yugoslav security forces and ethnic Serb paramilitaries on the other, as well as the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

A bomb explosion in the main market of Kosovska Mitrovica, north-western Kosovo, killed a Romani girl named Elizabeta Hasani on March 13. The Belgrade radio station B92 reported that two other people died in the blast, and at least thirty were wounded. According to the Belgrade news-paper Politika of February 14, unknown perpetrators killed Sali Salija, a Romani man from the village of Jerli Tainovac. Several days earlier, according to the same source, the corpse of Avdi Džavit, a Romani man from Priština, was found on the road from Priština to Uroševac. Two Romani men were among nine wounded after a bomb exploded in the southern Kosovo town of Uroševac, according to B92 on February 13. According to the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia the bodies of two Roma, twenty-year-old Mr Džemalj Smaći and sixteen-year-old Ms Sabaheta Zeka, were found on February 8, in Djakovica - they were allegedly killed with automatic weapons by ethnic Albanians. The same source reported that an armed group of ethnic Albanians beat six Romani men - Rahman Rahmani, Hamiti Miftar, Baškimi Miftar, Sami Miftar, Arben Miftar, Gazimend Miftar and Bedri Bahtiri - on January 14 in the village of Brusnik, near Vučitrn.

In Serbia proper, on April 7, the TANJUG news agency reported that the NATO bombing had caused a significant damage to the building of a primary school attended predominantly by Romani students in Niš, central Serbia. On the same day, the radio station 021 based in Novi Sad, northern Serbia, reported that NATO planes bombed a local oil factory, causing damage to the neighbouring predominantly Romani settlement of Šangaj. In both instances there were no casualties reported. A witness from Novi Sad alleged that local non-Roma initially did not allow some Roma into a shelter during an air raid at the end of March.

The number of Roma who have fled from the violence-affected province to other parts of Serbia is estimated to be in the thousands. On April 2, RTV Serbia reported that up to 60,000 refugees, among them an unspecified number of Roma, arrived from Kosovo to Serbia proper in the first week of NATO bombing. On April 1 and 2, two groups of 300 refugees from Kosovo arrived to Belgrade, both groups reportedly including Roma. Belgrade Romani organisations state that there are as many as 5000 Romani refugees from Kosovo in and around the capital city.

Amnesty International reported that as of April 6, 130,000 refugees were registered in Macedonia. Local Romani NGOs recorded 1500 Romani refugees from Kosovo; Romani member of Macedonian parliament Mr Amdi Bajram stated during a session on April 7 that the number might be as high as 8000. As of April 12, most of the Romani refugees in Macedonia were in Šuto Orizari, the Romani municipality of the Macedonian capital of Skopje. Other large groups of Romani refugees are in the towns of Gostivar, Tetovo, Kičevo, Debar and Kumanovo. Some Romani refugees state that other members of refugee convoys told them menacingly that they should declare themselves as ethnic Albanians in order to make the number of displaced Kosovo Albanians higher. In some cases, Mace-donian border authorities reportedly did not allow Roma into the country until their Macedonian relatives arrived and took financial responsibility for them. Some Romani refugees interviewed by the ERRC in Macedonia stated they fled from Kosovo because of heavy NATO bombing in the area; some said they were expelled by Yugoslav Army and the police. Some Roma from Kosovo are Muslim, some are Christian. Muslim Roma are reportedly treated as Albanians by Serbian authorities and have been expelled from their homes. Christian Roma allegedly suffered violence and threats from ethnic Albanians.

There are reports of Romani refugees being discriminated in the distribution of humanitarian assistance. Mr Amdi Bajram stated that at the Yugoslav-Macedonian border crossing he saw ethnic Albanians receiving food from members of El Hilal, a local Muslim humanitarian non-govern-mental organisation, while Romani refugees were not given any. Mr Bajram said he witnessed the same kind of discrimination against Roma by the Macedonian Red Cross.

In Albania, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on April 8 that twenty-six Roma from the Kosovo village of Orahovac were the only people who managed to cross the Yugoslav-Albanian border at Morina, near Kukes, on April 7, before it was closed by Yugoslav authorities. The Roma interviewed stated that Serbian soldiers had expelled them from their homes several hours earlier.

(Amnesty International, B92, ERRC, Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia, Politika, Radio 021, RTV Serbia, TANJUG, UNHCR)

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