Kosovo Roma Clamor for Attention

Living in deplorable conditions below the level of human dignity, the ethnic Roma minority who fled Kosovo during NATO's campaign to halt the ethnic cleansing by Serbian forces in the province are clamoring for attention to their daily distress.

Kosovo Roma Clamor for Attention

"All we want is a roof over our heads," Ramadan Berisha told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in the Rasadnik Sever camp in the suburbs of Pozarevac, around 70 kilometers (44 miles) southeast of Belgrade.

"How long do we have to think about it until someone gets us out of here," the 38-year-old man asked resignedly.

Berisha was forced to move his extended family into a three-by-three meter (32 square-foot) room partitioned off from one of the few shacks still intact after a fire swept through their shantytown on a windy night several weeks ago.

"We sleep like sardines," said his wife Zeneli.

Berisha's family is among an estimated 50,000 Roma who fled Kosovo during the NATO bombing campaign to end the Serbian massacres against the ethnic Albanians in the province.

Many of them were accepted as refugees in Western Europe, notably Germany.

Roma have usually adopted the dominant religion of the host country. Most Eastern European Roma are Catholic or Orthodox Christians.

Those in western Europe and the United States are mostly Catholic or Protestant. In Turkey, Egypt, and the southern Balkans, the Roma are split into Christian and Muslim populations.

The UN refugees agency says 75 percent of Kosovo Roma live in "abject poverty."

"Today, most Kosovo Roma live in truly deplorable conditions, often well below the level of human dignity," it said in a report released last week.

Overall, the Serbian government says there are some 110,000 Roma in all of Serbia though their real number is estimated at between 300,000 and 500,000.

Vulnerable Children

The Roma children are taking the brunt of the appalling living conditions are subject to violence, bullying and racial slurs.

"They called my five-year-old son 'dirty' and told him to get some new clothes," said Emina Berisha standing outside the family shack, a hotchpotch of scrap wood, tin and tarpaulin.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that more than 80 percent of Roma children skip school to take on adult roles.

They often suffer from illness and stunted growth resulting from hunger and malnutrition.

Unsanitary conditions also plague the refugee camps, promoting illnesses such as hepatitis, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

Across Serbia, 74 percent of Roma children displaced from Kosovo cannot get the medical treatment they need due to obstacles in registering for health cards, according to local non-governmental organizations.


Rajko Djuric, an ethnic Roma deputy, said the dilemma of the Roma minority has been largely ignored by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari in year-long talks to resolve the future status of Kosovo.

Roma were the victims of "the most horrific ethnic cleansing to have been carried out in Kosovo, but nobody, including Mr. Ahtisaari, is mentioning the Romani problem," Djuric told AFP.

He said that many of Roma refugees in Europe were being returned en masse "not to Kosovo, but here in Serbia".

"Quite simply, they were delivered here like trash," he lamented.

Introducing his highly anticipated report to the Security Council on Monday, March 26, Ahtisaari concluded that independence is the "only viable option" for Kosovo, gaining worldwide support, chiefly from the US and the EU.

The UN refugees agency has warned that Kosovo Roma face an uncertain future in Serbia, in a kind of legally vulnerable no man's land with "a chronic lack of documentation".

"One of the consequences is that many live in 'illegal' settlements," it said.

"But even for those recognized as Internally Displaced Peoples, lack of documentation means difficult or no access to education, citizenship, employment and pension."

International organizations say that Serbia, on its own, is still not equipped to deal with the problem of Roma refugees.

"Finding a solution to this problem is not so easy," according to Ivana D'Alessandro, the manager of a Council of Europe project to improve Roma rights, describing the Roma discrimination a "tragedy."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16