Romas seek temporary accommodationBelgrade, 4 April 2009 – Residents of a Roma shanty town in New Belgrade, whose ramshackle homes were razed yesterday, persist with their demands.

The Roma were evicted from the illegal settlement on Friday in order to build an access road to a Student Games 2009 venue.

Some of them spent the night at the shacks owned by their neighbors, which have not been removed yet, while others protested in front of the Belgrade Assembly, asking to be compensated and provided with temporary accommodation.

Mayor Dragan Đilas says he will try to provide the Roma with accommodation but that he will “not succumb to blackmail”.

Yesterday, the settlement’s residents blocked a major road in New Belgrade before crossing the river to protest in front of the Belgrade Assembly building.

“Several dozen citizens of Belgrade cannot hold hostage the rest of the city. They were settled there illegally, and it is necessary that they move from there in order for a new boulevard to be built that is needed for the development of that part of the city, and for the events will be held there,” said Đilas.

“As for their rights, I said they could realize their rights if they really are citizens of Belgrade and have no other housing options, in line with policy that applies to all our citizens.”

On the other hand, Citizens’ Ombudsman Saša Janković voiced severe criticism of the demolition of the shanty town houses, saying that bulldozers and police cannot solve the problem of Roma settlements, “nor do they implement the Roma decade in Serbia”.

“It is quite clear that it was necessary to in advance prepare such measures, identify those who have a right to adequate emergency accommodation, prepare that accommodation, avoid the use of force and a situation where citizens and children of Roma ethnicity find themselves on the street,” said Janković.

Some 47 families lived in the settlement before yesterday.

Meanwhile, Roma organizations say they are dismayed at the demolitions, and the mayor’s statements.

“This is not at all in line with the goals of the Roma Decade that Serbia is this year presiding over,” the Roma Center for Democracy, the Youth Forum for Roma Education and the Forum for Internally Displaced Roma said in a statement.

“By destroying their houses, destroying their property, their basic human rights are being violated and it demonstrates that authorities in Serbia do not have a systemic solution for the problems that have accumulated with decades of discrimination based on ethnicity,” the statement said.

The Roma organizations also stated that “most of the citizens whose houses were demolished do not have personal documents”, and therefore cannot seek help from Social Welfare Centers.

Source: B92, Beta

See also: Saopštenje za javnost povodom rušenja romskog naselja u Novom Beogradu (PR, in Serbian)