KOSOVO ROMA TODAY
Since independence in 2008, Kosovo remains a dangerous place for Roma. The ethnic minorities living in Kosovo prior to 1999 were: Serbs, Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (Albanian speaking Roma), Turks, Gorani (Muslim Slavs), Bosnian Croats, Jews, and others. According to UN figures, 230,000 ethnic minority people were driven out of the Kosovo region in the late 1990s. This was the second largest ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and was barely reported in the world news.
According to Human Rights Watch,"Kosovo's Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians are historically its poorest and its most economically, politically, and socially marginalized minority. In recent years, many have been displaced because of the war, ethnic conflict, extreme poverty, and political instability. Their numbers decreased from more than 200,000 before the war in 1999 to 38,000 today. The Roma have often been the targets of violent attacks, spurned by some Kosovo Albanians - the largest ethnic group in Kosovo - as "collaborators" with the minority Serb population. Some of them have obtained refugee status abroad, while others remain under temporary protection mechanisms."
Freedom of movement is still one of the biggest concerns for Roma in Kosovo; most are unable to go to work, shop for their families, or attend schools. Few international NGOs will hire Roma as translators because most NGOs are either run by Albanians uninterested in integrating Roma, or because they fear that they might be targeted by extremist Albanians. Many Roma are unable to travel to the hospital for routine or emergency treatment. The hospital in Mitrovica is more than an hour's drive from the Serbian enclaves near Pristina where many displaced Roma live. Most of the Roma that remain in Kosovo today live either in Serbian enclaves in Internally Displaced Persons' (IDP) camps.
For over a decade 500-700 Roma lived in three UN-created refugee camps in north Mitrovica (Cesmin Lug, Osterode and Leposavic), where they were exposed to harmful lead contamination. The camps were constructed on heavy metal mines which had fallen out of use after the Kosovo War of 1999. The residents, especially children, suffered severe lead poisoning due to lead levels that were 10 times the permissible level; this was carefully documented and repeatedly condemned by then World Health Organization. Only recently were most Roma moved from these camps; however, their new residences are still sub-standard.
Today, in independent Kosovo, Roma find it very difficult to obtain a birth certificate in the place where they were born. Roma have lived in Kosovo for 700 years, but they remain abused, persecuted, and ignored. In Western Europe, thousands of Roma are facing forced repatriation, and hundreds have already been deported from Denmark and Germany back to Kosovo.
In October 2010, Human Rights Watch released a 77-page report, "Rights Displaced: Forced Returns of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians from Western Europe to Kosovo," which documents the serious human rights problems faced by those who left Kosovo for Western Europe but were subsequently sent back. They experience problems getting identity documents as well as regaining possession of any property they own. They also have difficulties accessing housing, health care, employment, and social welfare services. Many end up in places where they are separated from family members. The deportations are especially hard on children, few of whom stay in school due to the lack of language skills, curriculum differences, and poverty. See http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/10/27/kosovo-europe-returning-roma-face-hardship
Voice of Roma is working tirelessly to promote human rights and to support advocacy programs to increase the safety, stability, and economic opportunities of Roma living in Kosovo or as refugees elsewhere in Europe.