3 August 2012 – A coalition of Roma rights NGOs has called on the Montenegrin government to provide adequate housing solutions for some 850 Kosovo Roma refugees, who have become homeless following of a fire, which destroyed large parts of a refugee camp at the outskirts of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica. The camp had been set up in 1999 in order to accommodate several thousands of Kosovo Roma, who were expelled from Kosovo, in the aftermath of Kosovo conflict.

In their letter, the NGOs recognised that Montenegro had been very generous, when accepting to take in these refugees, who had no other place to go. However, they argued that the continued existence of the camp, thirteen years after its creation, had become tantamount for the Montenegrin authorities’ unwillingness to provide a durable solution for the Kosovo Roma and integrate them into society.

The NGOs criticized the grossly inadequate living conditions in the camp, characterised by the absence of running water, electricity, and sanitation, and the situation of permanent overcrowding. They reminded that fires have been a frequent occurrence in the camp and expressed surprise that no preventive measures had been taken to avoid these fires to spread over the entire camp, which hosts more than 1,300 people.

The NGOs reminded that the conditions in the camps had been criticized by international organisations, which asked for their rapid closure. They mentioned, in particular, a recent report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), which criticized the situation of de facto segregation of the refugees and asked for their relocation in standard housing, in other parts of the town or country.

Taking stock of this criticism, the NGO criticised a project, which has recently been granted the support of the European Commission, who will contribute 2,5 million Euros to its realization. It consists in the creation of 90 housing units and a community centre in the area of the camp, which has been destroyed by the fire. The NGOs argued that this project will only perpetrate the ghettoisation of the refugees and their isolation from the remaining society.

Regarding the current situation, created by the fire, the NGOs said that the refugees should be provided alternative housing at the earliest possible date. They argued that this should happen before the end of Summer, in particular for those families with school-going children, in order to allow the children to be enrolled in a new school. They said that while the accommodation of the refugees under tents was acceptable as an emergency solution it was not made to withstand for several weeks and eventually months, as currently envisaged. They also criticized the planned relocation of the refugees in containers and asked for the refugees to be provided individual or family housing.

The NGOs said that the handling of the emergency situation, which was created by the fire, had only served to reinforce their fears regarding the lack of willingness of the Montenegrin authorities to integrate the Roma refugees in society. They said that the refugees might ultimately be faced with the choice, either to continue living in barracks and cardboard shacks or to return to Kosovo.

The NGOs asked the Montenegrin government to revise their housing projects and involve the refugees in its. They also asked the refugees to be compensated for their personal losses as result of the fire and suggested that parts of the money collected via the emergency fund could be used for this purpose.

Chachipe a.s.b.l.

Konik, a provisional solution made to last (Chachipe ©)