Not included – Kosovo Roma refugees and the Decade for Roma Inclusion
“We declare the years 2005 – 2015 to be the Decade of Roma Inclusion and we commit to support the full participation and involvement of national Roma communities in achieving the Decade’s objectives and to demonstrate progress by measuring outcomes and reviewing experiences in the implementation of the Decade’s Action Plans.”
(Terms of Reference/Decade Declaration, as signed by the Prime Ministers of the Participating Governments in Sofia on 5 February 2005, emphasis added)
Launched in February 2005, the Roma Decade is termed „an unprecedented political commitment by governments in Central and South Eastern Europe to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma within a regional framework.” The initiative is supported by the European Commission, the World Bank, national governments and major international donor organisations. Its actions focus on four priority areas: education, employment, health, and housing, with the governments being encouraged to also take into account, poverty, discrimination and gender main streaming.
Among the countries of South East Europe, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia, have been part of the Decade since the beginning. Most of these countries have sizeable refugee and IDP communities from Kosovo which is not reflected in the national programmes. As a result, Kosovo Roma refugees as well as returnees from Western Europe remain excluded from the benefits of the Decade.
The Macedonian Decade Action Plan does not include any initiatives aimed to address the plight and the hardship of Kosovo Roma refugees including their de facto exclusion from education, health care and employment (Decade of Roma Inclusion – Republic of Macedonia: Action Plans)
The National Strategy for Roma briefly mentions the situation of Roma refugees from Kosovo and points out to the fact that their access to employment is barred by administrative provisions. It also says that their “undetermined time of stay” (sic!) puts additional pressures on housing (Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Republic of Macedonia, Strategy for Roma in the Republic of Macedonia, December 2004, p. 24). Finally, it recommends to facilitate their access to healthcare together with other marginalized groups (ibid, p. 58).
Kosovo Roma refugees are further mentioned in the country assessment produced by the Roma Education Fund which even mentions the potential number of 7,000 to 8,000 refugees which was put forward in 2000, but does not set out specific strategic directions on how to address their educational needs (Roma Education Fund: Advancing Education of Roma in Macedonia: Country Assessment and the Roma Education Fund’s Strategic Directions, 2007)
The failure to address the specific needs of the refugee communities has been underlined in the Decade Watch report which notices:
“[S]ome extremely vulnerable categories are entirely left out of the DAP. There is no provision for securing personal documents and resolving citizenship issues for Macedonian Roma who do not have identity papers or have not acquired Macedonian citizenship following independence. (…) Similarly, there are no provisions made for the approximately 2,000 Kosovar Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians who are living in Macedonia with no clear legal status since the Kosovo conflict … . Because of their tenuous legal situation, Roma in these categories cannot access a host of human rights, including civil rights, political rights and basic rights relating to housing, education, employment and health.” (Decade Watch: Roma Activist Assess the Progress of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005 – 2006, p. 96)
Serbia and Montenegro
|“Common access barriers to [social] services for Roma include lack of information about available services and benefits as well as language barriers and multiple forms of discrimination. However, most importantly, access barriers are driven by chronic under-registration among the Roma communities, in particular among Roma IDPs, and includes both citizenship and residential registration.” (World Bank: Poverty, Social Exclusion and Ethnicity in Serbia and Montenegro: The Case of the Roma, 2005, p. 6, emphasis added)”[I]t is obvious that the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro need to intensify efforts in particular to ensure residential registration of Roma, including those residing in settlements and in particular Roma IDPs, to ensure access to municipal services even without legalizing such settlements.” (p. 7)”Within the education system, it appears that increasing access to pre-schooling for Roma children is a priority, in particular for IDP Roma children who often do not speak Serbian.” (p. 7)”In September 2004 UNHCR estimated that there were about 18,000 IDPs living in Montenegro, of which 26 percent were estimated to be RAE. In Serbia, the displacement problem may be exacerbated by the recently initiated repatriation to Serbia of Kosovo Roma refugees from Western Europe, with up to 40,000 from Germany alone.” (p. 10)”There is … anecdotal evidence that many RAE from Kosovo never held registration or identification documents even prior to their displacement. This creates a circular or intergenerational problem: In order to obtain basic citizenship documents, one needs to provide evidence that one was born in Serbia; however, such proof is impossible if the parents were not registered in the first place.(…)Analysis conducted by an inter-agency legal working group on IDP issues … shows that “presently, there is no legal mechanism in place for the chronically unregistered to become registered”. With missing registration representing the primary access barrier to social services, efforts to address poverty and social exclusion of the Roma need to begin with introducing a straightforward procedure to obtain missing documentation..” (p. 11)”Roma poverty for both sub-categories is dramatically higher than that among the non-Roma internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees. Moreover, internally displaced settlement Roma are substantially more likely to be poor than non-displaced settlement Roma.” (pp. 12 – 13, emphasis added)”Roma IDPs stand out from within the Roma population in terms of poverty and deprivation. The poverty rate for Roma IDPs stands at 72.1 percent, almost 20 percent higher than the already worryingly high poverty rate of 60 percent among the overall Roma population.” (p. 14, emphasis added)”[A]lmost half of the surveyed Roma IDP households individuals did not speak any other language than Romani, while a staggering 20 percent of domicile Serbian Roma households do not master Serbian language. (…) [L]anguage barriers are a likely key explanation for the substantially worse poverty incidence among Roma IDPs compared to non-Roma IDPs.” (p. 24, emphasis added)Some Roma IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro have been residing in collective centers. With IDP collective centers progressively being closed, there is a risk that Roma IDPs end up in often more precarious settlements. In order to prevent this, the authorities would need to focus on ensuring that the availability of alternative housing is commensurate with collective center places being lost. (p. 31)”[D]isplacement adds to the barriers to accessing social benefits: Almost 80 percent of Roma IDPs did not even apply for the MOP [Materijalno obezbeđenje porodice, material support for poor families], as compared to 45 percent of non-IDP Roma. This underlines that Roma IDPs in Serbia, possibly for registration reasons, find it particularly difficult to access the social protection system. This is worrying especially in the light of humanitarian aid having been phased out in the meantime.” (p. 41, emphasis added)”[I] t is obvious that the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro need to intensify efforts in particular to ensure residential registration of Roma, including those residing in settlements and in particular Roma IDPs, to ensure access to municipal services even without legalizing such settlements.” (p. 44, emphasis added)|
Despite the fact that a World Bank survey (see above) published in 2005, in the forerun of the Decade, underlined the fact, that Kosovo Roma IDPs are particularly affected by poverty and social exclusion, none of the Decade Action plans drafted by the governments of Serbia and of Montenegro seeks to address this issue.
Of the four sectoral plans drafted by the Government of Serbia only the programme on housing addresses the specific needs of the Roma IDPs from Kosovo where it sets three targets:
“1. Set up a welfare housing group to meet the needs of the Kosovo Roma as part of the Housing Agencies envisaged by the Draft law on Welfare Housing; 2. Measures and actions conducive to the return of the Roma to Kosovo; 3. Measures and actions geared to lasting integration.” (Republic of Serbia: Roma Housing Action Plan, p. 3, emphasis added)
The country assessment produced by the Roma Education Fund in 2007 points out at the fact that Kosovo Roma IDP children are sometimes banned from school because they do not have a residence permit (Roma Education Fund: Advancing Education of Roma in Serbia: Country Assessment and the Roma Education Fund’s Strategic Directions, p. 31)
It well sets out supporting the policy of civil registration as one of its future strategic orientations, but does not put forward any particular actions targeted at IDPs and returnees. (ibid., p. 12)
The Montenegrin Action Plan takes note of the strong presence of Roma refugees and IDPs which, accordingly, make up for one third of the Roma population in the country (Government of Montenegro: National Action Plan for “The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015″ in the Republic of Montenegro, p. 5).
According to the government, the national Decade Action Plan aims to include both, the local Roma population and the refugees and IDPs, where it says that a strategy towards a sustainable solution for refugees and displaced persons is being drafted and at the final stage of elaboration. (ibid.)
The DAP concludes that there are particular groups of children which continue to be excluded from elementary education including refugee children and IDPs and states and asserts that it is one of the priorities of the Montenegrin education policy to include all children into the process of education. (ibid., p. 16)
Among the concrete measures being envisaged the Decade Action Plan merely mentions the “elaboration and implementation of adjusted literacy programs for Roma population and children who have not started their education on time” and the need to provide “curricula that meet the needs of Roma children and youth” (ibid., p. 8).
Here it says: “Additional problem is the fact that a number of Roma children, refugees and internally displaced persons do not speak well the local language in which the teaching is delivered.” (ibid.)
Furthermore the report evokes the need to design “various programs and models of work with groups with specific needs” including IDPs from Kosovo and “deported immigrants” (ibid., p. 11)
In the part on housing:
“Recent examinations carried out for the needs of PRSP and Household Survey of Roma, Ashkelia and Egyptians, Refugees and IDPs in Montenegro … have shown that the greatest poverty rate could be found among RAE population. (…) Domestic RAE receive social help and live in temporary objects, while refugees and displaced persons often live in residential objects without basic living conditions.” (ibid., p. 23, emphasis added)
According to the document, “Housing issue has been included in the Action Plan for Decade of Roma Inclusion as one of the main tasks in improvement of RAE living conditions.” (ibid.), but with the exception of improving the access to drinking water no concrete actions are mentioned.
No mention is made of the situation of Roma refugees and IDPs in the sections on health and employment where Roma IDPs from Kosovo face additional barriers due to the fact that the national legislation imposes a particular tax on their employment.
While the Serbian country report is almost mute about the situation of Kosovo Roma IDPs and Roma immigrants and refugees deported from Western Europe, the failure to address their situation in the context of the Decade Action Plan is amply reflected in the section on Montenegro and in the separate country report (Decade Watch: Country Report Montenegro).
The Decade Watch report starts noticing:
“[N]o representatives of organizations working with internally displaced persons and refugees, such as the UNHCR, participated in the drafting of the [Montenegrin] DAP. As a result, the DAP does not reflect the needs of internally displaced and refugee Roma, Egyptians, and Ashkalia (hereinafter, RAE), who have lived in Montenegro since the outbreak of the Kosovo conflict and who are by far the most disenfranchised categories in the country.” (Decade Watch: Roma Activist Assess the Progress of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005 – 2006, p. 103, emphasis added)
The report further highlights:
“[T]he [Montenegrin] DAP [Decade Action Plan] fails to list any measures for RAE returnees from Western Europe who need help to reintegrate into the community.” (ibid., p. 104)
With regards to education the report says:
“Segregation is another problem that RAE children face in the Montenegrin educational system. Classes entirely made up of Roma and Egyptian students have been reported, particularly in areas with large numbers of internally displaced persons from Kosovo. Such classes appear as a consequence of the school administrators’ assumption that these students speak mostly Albanian – though many of them speak Serbian as well. (…) The Ministry of Education has indicated that it intends to develop desegregation plans for such situations, but, as of this writing, no progress appears to have been made on the issue.” (ibid., p. 107, emphasis added)
With regards to employment the report notices:
“Unofficial surveys indicate that the unemployment rate among Roma is as high as 82 percent … This estimate is even higher when taking into consideration refugees and internally displaced persons, who have a particularly difficult situation in accessing employment.” (ibid., p. 108, emphasis added)
The report points out at administrative barriers which have resulted from by the Law on Employment which was adopted 2002:
“The problems in securing employment faced by internally displaced and refugee Roma have been compounded by the adoption of a new Law on Employment in 2002 and the Law on the Employment of Foreigners in 2004. In addition to erecting extra layers of bureaucracy for job-seekers, these new regulations mean that those who hire refugees and internally displaced persons must pay additional taxes, which naturally act as a disincentive for any employer.” (ibid., p. 109)
With regards to housing the report notices, that “[m]any informal settlements grew and became more compact with the addition of refugees and internally displaced persons, especially during the Kosovo conflict.” (ibid., p. 110)
Given its particular administrative status, Kosovo did not participate in the Roma Decade. However, in 2006, under the pressure of the international community and donor organisations, the Provisional Institution of Self-Government (PISG) adopted a “Strategy for Roma Inclusion” which is currently developed further.
The “Education component 2007 – 2017″ of this strategy, which was issued by the PISG in July 2007, does not pay particular attention to the specific needs of the 21,000 IDPs in the province, many of which Roma. However, it includes specific measures towards the school integration of returnees.
Measure 3 labelled “Offering programs for re-integration for children returnees from Diaspora” involves: “Intensive courses of six months are organized for children who have lived abroad. Courses are offered in the language of instruction chosen for further education. These courses will also serve for getting familiar with the culture and traditions of the country. Additional courses are organized, on a case by case basis.” (PISG/Ministry of Science, Education and Technology: Strategy for Integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo, p. 22, emphasis added)
The emphasis put on integrating pupils who do not even know the Kosovo realities demonstrates that the main drive for including returnees comes from the governments of host countries who seek to get rid of failed asylum seekers.
In 2005, the Open Society Institute produced a brochure introducing the Roma Decade, The Decade of Roma Inclusion: Challenging Centuries of Discrimination. On its cover page, it shows Kosovo Roma refugees in Macedonia during their protest at the Medzitilja border crossing where they sought entry into the EU in order to apply for asylum.
Already at that time, NGO provided an alarming picture about their situation, and Human Rights Watch stated in a report:
“During the four years of refuge in Macedonia, however, their housing, educational, and employment situation deteriorated to such an extent that it became incompatible with their background and, in some cases, a violation of fundamental economic, social, and cultural rights.” (Human Rights Watch: Out of Limbo? Addressing the Plight of Kosovo Roma refugees in Macedonia, December 2003)
Five years later, most of the Kosovo Roma refugees are still in Macedonia; hardly anyone of them has been granted asylum. They remain excluded from education, employment, and healthcare, and from the Decade of Roma Inclusion which is limited to Macedonian nationals.
Kosovo Roma Website©
Roma Decade: Terms of Reference/Decade Declaration, As signed by the Prime Ministers of the Participating Governments in Sofia on 2 February 2005, available at:
Open Society Institute: The Decade of Roma Inclusion: Challenging Centuries of Discrimination, 2005
Decade Watch: Roma Activist Assess the Progress of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005 – 2006, 11 June 2007, available at:
Ministry of Labour and Social Policy/Republic of Macedonia: Strategy for Roma in the Republic of Macedonia, December 2004, available at:
Decade of Roma Inclusion – Republic of Macedonia: Action Plans:
Decade Watch: Macedonia (country report), available at:
Roma Education Fund: Advancing Education of Roma in Macedonia: Country Assessment and the Roma Education Fund’s Strategic Directions, 2007, available at:
Human Rights Watch: Out of Limbo? Addressing the Plight of Kosovo Roma refugees in Macedonia, December 2003, available at:
Government of Montenegro: National Action Plan for “The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015″ in the Republic of Montenegro, January 2005
Decade Watch: Montenegro (country report), available at:
Common action plan for advancement of Roma Education in Serbia, available at:
Republic of Serbia: Roma Employment Action Plan, December 2004, available at:
Health Care Action Plan (Preliminary draft), September 2004:
Republic of Serbia: Roma Housing Action Plan, September 2004, available at:
Decade Watch: Serbia (country report), available at:
Roma Education Fund: Advancing Education of Roma in Serbia: Country Assessment and the Roma Education Fund’s Strategic Directions, 2007, available at:
PISG/Ministry of Science, Education and Technology: Strategy for Integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in Kosovo, Pristina, July 2007, available at: