Kosovo Romani refugees in Serbia and Macedonia: an update

11 July 2000

The situation of Kosovo Roma outside of Kosovo remains dire. In Serbia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) census conducted from March 1 to April 19, 2000, registered over 180,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), including 18,796 Roma and 583 Kosovo Egyptians, according to UNHCR of July 5. Local Romani organisations believe the number of displaced Roma may actually be much higher: as of June 29, the Belgrade-based Roma Information and Documentation Center estimated the number of Kosovo Roma in Serbia to be 50,000, out of which 18,000 were in Belgrade. In Pančevo, near Belgrade, a large group of Kosovo Roma lived in the garbage dump beneath the Pančevo bridge, according to the Belgrade magazine Svedok of June 1. For more than a year they lived without water and electricity, in shacks made of pieces of wood and cardboard, making a living mostly through collecting scrap metal and paper. In a similar case, in Kuršumlija, southern Serbia, several hundred Roma from Kosovo have lived since July 1999 without minimal hygienic requirements, electricity and water. This situation created a serious threat of epidemic for both the displaced Roma and the rest of the inhabitants of the town, according to the main epidemiologist of the town's medical center, reported the Belgrade daily Danas on April 25. The majority of this group lived in the unfinished building of the future local medical center, in the vicinity of several illegal garbage dumps; the living conditions of a smaller part of the group, living under a bridge at the edge of the town, was reportedly worse.

Recently, some displaced Kosovo Roma have left the South of Serbia, where they previously had fled, from fear that the recent conflicts between Serbs and Albanians would spread to this area. A group of 200 Kosovo Roma left the town of Bujanovac, on the Serbian border with Kosovo and arrived in the Pećinci municipality of Vojvodina, according to the Novi Sad Humanitarian Center on March 19. Other Kosovo Romani groups are expected to arrive from the south. The Roma had reportedly been living in substandard accommodation in Bujanovac, according to ERRC sources. For example, in the "Salvador" camp for displaced Kosovo Roma, Roma lived in overcrowded and unhygienic tents, and suffered from constant skin infections.

The deadline for the stay of Kosovo Roma currently in Macedonia has been extended to September 28, 2000, according to the Macedonian daily Nova Makedonija of June 22 . The Macedonian government extended the deadline seven days before the expiration of the previously set deadline of June 28; this is the third time the Macedonian government has threatened Kosovo Roma with deportation and then extended their stay in the last week of the period of protection.

According to Nova Makedonija of June 6, the UNHCR-sponsored construction of a prefabricated housing camp with complete infrastructure for around 1500 Kosovo Roma began in the Šuto Orizari municipality of Skopje on June 5. Around 2000 displaced Kosovo Roma were accommodated in resorts throughout Macedonia as of May 15, reported the Macedonian daily Dnevnik. On the same day, Kosovo Roma accommodated in the "Majski cvet" children's resort in Struga, southeastern Macedonia, petitioned the UNHCR, the European Union and the Macedonian government for transfer to another location and to solid buildings. In Pretor, local non-Roma want the Kosovo Roma to leave: on April 3, Dnevnik reported on the request by the local Social Democrats to the Macedonian government to remove 535 Kosovo Roma from the two Pretor resorts, otherwise they would hold the government responsible for "all consequences and damage caused to the municipality."

Statistics on the numbers of displaced persons in Macedonia vary greatly. On April 11 the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior estimated the presence of around 8529 registered and 2000 unregistered persons from Kosovo and southern Serbia, including 2785 Kosovo Roma and several dozens of Roma from southern Serbia among the registered ones. However, the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs estimated the overall number to be 13,599, including 4285 Roma, according to the Nova Makedonija daily of April 7. Local Romani organisations estimate the number of displaced Roma to be higher: as of March 27, the Gostivar-based organisation Mesečina registered 4465 Kosovo Romani persons staying with relatives in only twenty-two locations around the country.

(Danas, Dnevnik, ERRC, Mesečina, Nova Makedonija, Novi Sad Humanitarian Center, Svedok, UNHCR)


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