Roma Protest Attempts at Forced Eviction in Yugoslavia
07 November 2002
After several eviction deadlines in the course of this year (see: Evictions of Kosovo Roma in Serbia and Montenegro ), Roma living in the Tošin bunar settlement of the Stari Aerodrom neighbourhood in Zemun, near Belgrade, were faced with more eviction threats, which resulted in a public protest staged by Roma from the settlement on September 2, 2002. The community, consisting of some two hundred and five Romani families, one hundred and thirty-eight of whom are internally displaced from Kosovo, has been living illegally on land sold by a state-owned company to a private company earlier in the year. Since then, the state-owned company in question has been trying to evict the Romani inhabitants, and in April and May 2002, deadlines were set for the Romani inhabitants to leave. However, no alternative accommodation was offered by either the state-owned company or any of the city authorities who had been alerted to the issue. Several months later, new deadlines have been set: According to ERRC field research in the Tošin bunar settlement on August 7, 2002, conducted in co-operation with the Belgrade-based Minority Rights Center (MRC), an official from the state-owned company visited the Romani settlement on August 2, 2002, and warned that, in two weeks, the buyer would commence construction on a part of the land which housed thirty-six families. The official reportedly informed the Romani inhabitants that the area would be fenced, patrolled by security guards with dogs and that electricity and water supplies would be cut off from the section. The official also reportedly said that unless the families living on that section moved away in time, they would not be allowed to leave it once it had been fenced off.
Subsequently, the municipal authorities slated September 2, 2002, for the eviction of the first group of Roma from the land, as reported by the Belgrade radio station B92 on September 1, 2002. After this decision was announced, later the same day, more than two hundred Romani families from the settlement, including babies and small children, protested in front of the building of the Presidency of Serbia in the centre of Belgrade. Roma from the settlement sent requests to the Serbian Prime Minister, the Mayor of Belgrade, and the Federal Minister for National Minorities, stating that they expected urgent economic empowerment for their families and the establishment of conditions for their children to regularly attend school. The Belgrade-based daily newspaper Politika wrote on September 3, 2002, that the Minorities Minister spoke with Romani representatives from the settlement and offered to move the community to an abandoned military barrack, but the gathered Roma had refused this offer. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia and the Humanitarian Law Center, human rights organisations based in Belgrade, joined the protest and, on September 3, 2002, issued a joint statement alleging that local, city and republican authorities "believe that Roma do not have the right to homes like everyone else in Belgrade and Serbia," and that the authorities "demonstrated no understanding for the [housing] problem [of Roma]." According to the statement, the state-owned company had reportedly cut off electricity and water supplies to the settlement several days earlier in an effort to force the Roma out. As reported by B92 on September 3, 2002, the protest ended on the evening of the same day. According to B92, the forced eviction of Roma living in the settlement was postponed until October 1, 2002, after the Minorities Minister reached an agreement with the state-owned company. In the meantime, the city and republican authorities were reportedly ordered to find a durable solution for the housing of the Romani community. On October 3, 2002, the HLC reported to the ERRC that sixty families of internally displaced Roma from Kosovo and sixty-four families of local Roma remained in the settlement. Accommodation in collective centres was reportedly offered to thirty-nine families of Roma internally displaced from Kosovo. Thirty-seven families had reportedly moved out of the settlement and the remaining families were afraid that they would be moved out. On October 8, 2002, the UNHCR reported to the ERRC that sixty Romani families from Belgrade living in the settlement were entered on the list of the municipality and they were told that land would be allocated for them to buy and have all regulations approved, but that this would only be ready only in Spring 2003. On October 23, 2002, the HLC reported that on October 21, 2002, the demolition of the homes of Roma living in the settlement began. On October 23, 2002, the HLC filed a legal action, with technical support from the ERRC, on behalf of the Roma living in the Tošin bunar settlement claiming that the right of Roma from the settlement to adequate alternative accommodation had been violated.
(B92, ERRC, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Humanitarian Law Center, MRC, Politika, UNHCR)