In Serbia, Displaced Kosovo Roma Face Harsh Reality and Little Assistance

07 May 2002

According to recent reports, displaced Roma from Kosovo accommodated in Serbia still live in extremely difficult conditions and experience difficulties and discrimination in all aspects of their lives. Their situation is aggravated by the fact that most are Muslim in a predominantly Christian Orthodox country. The Niš-based non-governmental organisation Roma Education Centre (REC), an ERRC local partner in monitoring Roma rights in Serbia, reported on the situation of displaced Roma in the Medijana camp for displaced persons, five kilometres from Niš, southern Serbia, where the local Roma claim that they suffer discrimination in the provision of humanitarian assistance. According to testimony provided to REC by Ms Kezibana Ajdini, a 40-year-old displaced Romani woman originally from Priština, on January 8, 2002, the non-Romani inhabitants of the camp receive assistance from the local office of the Serbian Red Cross, while she was refused by the same authority when the officials saw her (Muslim and Albanian) name in her identity card. Ms Ajdini also sought help for her children from the local Serbian Orthodox Church, where the local priest reportedly sent her away, with the words that she should “go to a mosque and ask for help there.”

Similar problems among displaced Kosovo Roma were also reported by the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) in their press statement of November 26, 2001. According to HLC, around 80 displaced Romani families living in the towns of Požarevac and Kostolac, both southeast of Belgrade, lack even the basic amenities. Their housing is below any standards: In Kostolac, Roma live in the ruins of a slaughterhouse, while in Požarevac, another group lives in the abandoned barracks for manual workers and temporary houses made of tin sheeting, cardboard and nylon sheets. HLC reported that these Kosovo Roma live in extreme poverty, as none of them are employed, and that they make a living by collecting scrap materials for recycling. Additionally, a great majority of these Roma do not have any personal documents. They cannot register their residences, as they live in illegal settlements, and without registered residence they cannot get so-called “green cards” – temporary documents for displaced persons in Serbia. Roma not possessing so-called “green cards” do not have access to humanitarian aid or state-provided health care. In their press statement, HLC described the case of Ms Djulijeta Beriša, originally from Podujevo in Kosovo, who suffers from a severe neurological disorder. Mr Alji Beriša, her grandfather, told HLC that the last time he took Ms Beriša to visit a doctor, they were told that this was the last time they would be received without proper documents. When Mr Beriša went to the municipal office in Požarevac to seek assistance for his wife, he was asked for a citizenship certificate, which Ms Beriša cannot get because she has not been legally registered as a resident. After several subsequent attempts to receive medical assistance at the same office, an employee told Mr Beriša not to come anymore. In their press statement, HLC appealed to the government of Serbia to address this problem and to speed up the process of obtaining personal documents for internally displaced Roma from Kosovo.

(ERRC, Humanitarian Law Center, Roma Education Centre)


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