Roma unable to return to their homes in Bosnia-Herzegovina

05 September 1999

The Sarajevo-based Centre for Protection of Minorities' Rights reported in their newsletter of June 15, 1999, that Roma from Bijeljina, in the northeast of the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska, face serious obstacles returning to their homes. According to the organisation, more than 100 Romani families have returned to Bijeljina since the end of the Bosnian war. However, only 16 families have managed to return to their homes and as of June 15, only one Romani family was able to return to their house without paying local authorities or the persons occupying their homes. The Ministry of Displaced Persons and Refugees reportedly found alternative accommodation for a Serbian family occupying the house of Mr Ruždija Mustafić, a Rom. The Mustafić family moved back into their house under the condition they share it with another Serbian refugee family. There are reports that Roma reportedly have had to pay financial compensation to Serbs occupying their homes in order to move back. Figures quoted ranged between 5000 and 10,000 German marks (approximately 2550-5100 euros).

Apart from the difficulties they face moving back into their own homes, Romani returnees have little chance of maintaining an acceptable standard of living in Bijeljina. According to the Centre for Protection of Minorities' Rights, none of the approximately six hundred Roma in Bijeljina are employed and only three children attend school. In addition, since March 1999, there have been three cases in which unknown perpetrators have thrown bombs into the yards of Romani houses in Bijeljina and numerous cases of verbal abuse of Roma. The tense atmosphere has resulted in Romani returnees moving either to neighbouring municipalities under Bosniak (i.e. Bosnian Muslim) rule, or returning to Germany, where many of them spent the war.

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska has also recently reported that Roma and other non-Serbs still face a difficult human rights situation in Republika Srpska. According to their recent newsletter covering the period of February to June 1999, several hundred Bosniak and Romani families who were expelled from their homes during the war in Bosnia are still waiting for a response from local authorities to return to Republika Srpska. A number of returnees have lived in sheds and garages in Bijeljina since the end of the war in 1995 as Serbian refugees from other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina occupy their houses. The report states that Bosniak and Romani citizens suffer discrimination in employment, in educational institutions, communal administration, health institutions and the legal system. Bosniaks and Roma wishing to start private businesses cannot obtain necessary licenses. Additionally, minorities have difficulties obtaining identification documents, and the problem is especially grave in the eastern part of Republika Srpska, where all Bosniaks and Roma were expelled at the outbreak of the war. Many Bosniak and Romani families whose telephone lines were cut during the war are still waiting for them to be reconnected. Local authorities allegedly obstruct repairs. The religious liberties of Bosniaks and Roma are restricted in schools; all children reportedly must study the Christian Orthodox faith. Ethnic Serbs have destroyed all of the mosques in Republika Srpska. The majority of Roma in Republika Srpska are Muslim.

(Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska, Centre for Protection of Minorities' Rights)

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