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Strasbourg, 13 Septembrer 2013 – The Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has published its third Opinion on Kosovo* together with the comments submitted by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Source: Council of Europe

 

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Discrimination against Roma, Jews, and Other National Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

4 April 2012 – This 62-page report highlights discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other national minorities in politics and government. Much of this discrimination stems from Bosnia’s 1995 Constitution, which mandates a system of government based on ethnicity and excludes these groups from high political office. The report also shows the wider impact of discrimination on the daily lives of Roma in accessing housing, education, healthcare, and employment.

Source: Human Rights Watch

The report is available here.

Executive Summary

As signatories of the UN Convention of the Right of the Child, EU member states have long been committed to making the best interests of the child a primary consideration for public authorities. The new Treaty of Lisbon further commits the European Union and its member states to protecting the rights of the child in all internal and external policies. In December 2011, the protection of the rights of the child was declared an explicit priority for EU external action and efforts to promote human rights and democracy in the world.

Migrant children constitute a particularly vulnerable group. As children and as migrants they face poverty, social exclusion, exploitation and multiple risks, including risks to health. How to translate Europe’s commitment to protecting the rights of children in the context of migration, irrespective of nationality, legal status or social background, remains a particular challenge. Special attention is required to ensure that the rights and principles laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child apply to migrant children without conditions.

While respect for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is one key component of EU policies on migration, repatriation and a credible threat of forced return are held to be indispensable tools in Europe’s fight against illegal migration. Prompted by the lack of child-focused migration research, and concerns about a possible impact of repatriation on children’s psychosocial health, UNICEF decided to explore how repatriation and reintegration realities interact with children’s mental health. Focusing on children repatriated from Germany and Austria to Kosovo, this study aims to provide empirical evidence to allow for a more informed discussion aimed at protecting the best interests of children. How to make the rights of children an integral part of migration and repatriation policies thus lies at the heart of this research.

The evidence presented indeed points to an alarming situation: one out of two children describe their return as the worst experience of their lives. Especially foreign-born and minority children experience their repatriation as traumatic. Every third repatriated child suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome; nearly one in two teenagers suffers from depression and one in four reports suicidal ideation. Reintegration realities in Kosovo today are such that key factors that could help these children recover are almost non-existent: many returned children live in abject poverty, 70 percent of minority children drop out of school upon return, and the mental health care system in Kosovo is simply unable to meet the treatment needs identified in repatriated children and parents.

Europe’s commitment to act in the child’s best interests is put to the test in every return decision taken. The responsibility to protect children rights, however, does not end at a country’s border. On the contrary, as this study underlines repatriation practices and reintegration realities greatly impact a child’s wellbeing and psychosocial health. As a child’s health is a sine qua non for the exercise of all other rights, health considerations must take precedence over legal and political concerns in sending and receiving countries.

Source: UNICEF

March 2012

The report is available here.

Angst vor Tod und Gewalt, die Schrecken der Flucht, Alpträume, die noch nach Jahren wiederkehren. Das Grauen des Krieges bleibt für viele Familien in Deutschland ein prägender Teil der eigenen Geschichte.

Aus unserer Geschichte ergibt sich auch die besondere Verantwortung des Staates für Menschen, die heute von kriegerischer Gewalt bedroht sind. „Politisch Verfolgte genießen Asylrecht“, sagt das Grundgesetz. Und ich bin froh, dass Deutschland dem gerecht wird, wenn es gilt, Schutzbedürftige aufzunehmen. Das war auch so, als während der Balkankriege in den 90er Jahren Zigtausende Menschen Zuflucht bei uns suchten, unter ihnen etwa 50.000 Angehörige der ethnischen Minderheiten Roma, Ashkali und „Ägypter“ aus dem Kosovo.

Etwa 12.000 von ihnen sollen nun zurück in den Kosovo. Wenn nötig, unter Zwang. Unter ihnen sind bis zu 6.000 Kinder und Jugendliche, die meisten hier geboren, eingebunden in die Schule, in ihren Freundeskreis. Heute stellen wir in Berlin eine Studie vor, für die ein Team aus Psychologen, Ärzten und Sozialwissenschaftlern rückgeführte Jungen und Mädchen im Kosovo befragt hat (UNICEF-Studie “Stilles Leid”). Sie wurden in ein Land gebracht, in dem die meisten nie zu Hause waren, in dem sie am Rand der Gesellschaft stehen. Die Ergebnisse aus Gesprächen mit 164 Kindern gehen unter die Haut: Der Alptraum Abschiebung, und halten Sie sich nur das Wort „ABSCHIEBUNG“ einmal vor Augen, macht die Kinder krank. Viele klagen über Angst, Schmerzen, Nervosität. Sie berichten, dass nachts an die Tür geklopft wurde, dass sie angeschrien wurden. Noch einmal: Dies sind Kinder, deren Familien in größter Not vor dem Krieg geflohen sind. Auch viele ihrer Eltern bräuchten psychologische Unterstützung, haben Grauenhaftes mitgemacht.

„Bei allen Maßnahmen, die Kinder betreffen, ist das Wohl des Kindes ein Gesichtspunkt, der vorrangig zu berücksichtigen ist“ – das ist der grundlegende Gedanke der UN-Konvention über die Rechte des Kindes. Das heißt: Bei jedem einzelnen Kind, sechstausend Mal, müssen die Behörden prüfen, ob die Rückführung mit dem Wohl der Kinder in Einklang zu bringen ist. Oder ob es besser ist, wenn sie bleiben dürfen, nach all den Jahren Kindheit in Deutschland. Unsere Studie spricht hier eine deutliche Sprache.

Quelle: UNICEF Deutschland

On 29 September 2011, Jeta në Kosovo (Life in Kosovo) broadcast a debate on the issue of (forced) repatriation and (re-)integration into Kosovo society.

From the presentation:

“What happens to the dozens of people who every day landing repatriated from foreign countries at the airport in Pristina? Do they have where to go and where to live? In the case when most of them are children, who care for their registration in schools? A society deals with these people or do so only because of the liberalization of visa?

To discuss this issue, Jeta në Kosove has invited:
Verena Knaus, a researcher at UNICEF;
Vera Pula, the Open Society Foundation, KFOS;
Qylangjiu Daut, a journalist in the newsroom RTK Roma;
Sylvian Astier, from the Swiss Embassy;
Islam Caka, Ministry of Internal Affairs, or Director of Department for Citizenship, Immigration and migration in the ministry.

Before the debate, BIRN broadcast a documentary film which tells the true situation on the ground, focusing on children who are repatriated, in most cases do not know any of the languages spoken in Kosovo.”

Neue UNICEF-Studie dokumentiert die verzweifelte Lage abgeschobener Roma-Kinder im Kosovo

26.08.2011

Roma-Kindern, die aus Deutschland und anderen europäischen Ländern in den Kosovo abgeschoben wurden, bleiben dort weiterhin elementare Rechte vorenthalten. Dies ist Ergebnis einer neuen UNICEF-Studie, bei der Forscher rund 200 im vergangenen Jahr zurückgeführte Familien der Roma, Ashkali und Kosovo-Ägypter sowie Mitarbeiter kosovarischer Behörden ausführlich befragt haben. Danach gehen drei von vier der betroffenen schulpflichtigen Kinder nicht zur Schule. Die meisten von ihnen sind in Deutschland geboren und aufgewachsen. Sie leben jetzt mit ihren Familien in extremer Armut am Rande der Gesellschaft.

Bereits im vergangenen Jahr hatte UNICEF detailliert belegt, dass bei Rückführungen von Roma-Kindern in den Kosovo das Kindeswohl kaum beachtet wurde. Nordrhein-Westfalen, Sachsen-Anhalt und Bremen haben inzwischen veranlasst, dass vor Rückführungen in jedem Einzelfall die Folgen für das Kindeswohl geprüft werden müssen. Insgesamt stehen in Deutschland schätzungsweise 5.000 bis 6.000 Kinder aus Roma-Ashkali- und Ägypter-Familien vor der Abschiebung in den Kosovo.
 
Trotz verstärkter Bemühungen der kosovarischen Regierung, die abgeschobenen Familien zu unterstützen, ergab die Überprüfung der aktuellen Situation nur geringe Verbesserungen gegenüber 2010. So sind inzwischen die meisten Kinder endlich registriert und haben offizielle Papiere. Vor einem Jahr war noch fast die Hälfte der in den Kosovo rückgeführten Kinder nicht gemeldet. Sie hatten damit keinen Anspruch auf Einschulung, medizinische Versorgung und Sozialleistungen. Insgesamt haben sich die Lebensumstände nach Einschätzung von UNICEF jedoch nicht verbessert, für viele Familien sogar weiter verschlechtert.

„Die Untersuchung dokumentiert, dass die Rückführung in den Kosovo für die meisten Kinder immer noch einer Abschiebung ins Elend gleichkommt“, sagte Tom Koenigs, Vorstandsmitglied von UNICEF Deutschland. „Regierungen und Behörden in Deutschland wie im Kosovo müssen endlich konsequent das Wohl der betroffenen Kinder in den Mittelpunkt stellen.“

„Die Regierung des Kosovo hat deutliche Anstrengungen unternommen, um die Rahmenbedingungen für rückgeführte Kinder zu verbessern“, sagte der Leiter von UNICEF Kosovo, Johannes Wedenig. „Jetzt kommt es darauf an, dass die versprochenen Maßnahmen auch tatsächlich ankommen. Bei jedem einzelnen Kind, dessen Rechte und Zukunft durch die Abschiebung in Frage gestellt sind.“ Nach wie vor leben die meisten aus Deutschland in den Kosovo rückgeführten Kinder am Rande der Gesellschaft:

  • Bildung: Drei Viertel aller in den Kosovo zurückgeführten Roma-, Ashkali- und Ägypter-Kinder im schulpflichtigen Alter besuchen keine Schule. Keine der vorgesehenen Maßnahmen wie Sprachkurse oder Förderklassen wurden umgesetzt. Immer wieder ignorieren Schuldirektoren offizielle Regelungen, die das Recht auf Bildung für diese Kinder sicherstellen sollen und weigern sich, die Kinder aufzunehmen.
  • Armut: Viele rückgeführte Familien leben weiter in heruntergekommenen Wohnungen mit Plastikfolien in den Fensterrahmen und ohne Heizungs- oder Wasseranschluss. Sie haben meist keine geregelte Arbeit und im Laufe des Jahres auch den Anspruch auf Sozialhilfe verloren. Vielen ist es nicht möglich, lebensnotwendige Medizin oder ausreichend Brot zu kaufen.
  • Mangelnde Unterstützung: Zwar hat die kosovarische Regierung erstmals einen Reintegrationsfond aufgelegt und mit 3,4 Millionen Euro ausgestattet. Die Bürgermeister und Schuldirektoren wurden angewiesen, Rückkehrerfamilien zu unterstützen. Doch tatsächlich fehlt es an politischem Willen und die Umsetzung der vorgesehenen Reintegrationsmaßnahmen auf der Ebene der Gemeinden ist weiterhin völlig unzureichend. Das System und die bestehenden Verfahren, um Hilfe zu erhalten, sind sehr langsam und umständlich. Nur ein kleiner Teil der vorgesehenen Mittel erreicht bislang einige wenige Familien.

Schlussfolgerungen und Empfehlungen von UNICEF

Die wichtigsten Empfehlungen der neuen UNICEF-Studie zur Verbesserung der Situation der betroffenen Kinder lauten:

  • Rückführungen von Kindern aus Roma-, Ashkali- und Ägypter-Familien aus Deutschland in den Kosovo sollten nur erfolgen, wenn die Auswirkung auf das Wohl des Kindes im Einzelfall überprüft wurde. Zwangsweise Rückführungen sollten unterbleiben.
  • Bundesregierung und Bundesländer sollten kosovarischen Kindern, die in Deutschland geboren und integriert sind, ein dauerhaftes Bleiberecht geben.
  • Kosovarische Behörden müssen leicht zugängliche Sprachkurse, Förder- und Übergangsklassen einrichten. Die Kinder müssen ihre Schullaufbahn ohne Verzögerungen fortsetzen können.
  • Im Kosovo müssen Unterstützungsprogramme für bereits Zurückgekehrte verstärkt auf die Bedürfnisse von Kindern ausgerichtet werden, damit zurückgeführte Kinder nicht auf Dauer in Armut und am Rande der Gesellschaft bleiben. 

Zur UNICEF-Studie

Im Auftrag von UNICEF haben die Sozialwissenschaftler Hil Nrecaj und Verena Knaus von Oktober 2010 bis Juli 2011 insgesamt 200 in das Kosovo abgeschobene Familien aufgesucht. Ziel war es, die konkrete Umsetzung der Reintegration der Kinder und ihre aktuelle Lebenssituation zu überprüfen und zu dokumentieren. Die vollständige Studie finden Sie hier zum Download: UNICEF-Studie: Abgeschoben und vergessen (PDF) (Eng)

Source: UNICEF

Pristina, 28 October 2010 – Roma and related minority groups deported from Western Europe to Kosovo face discrimination and severe deprivation amounting to human rights abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 77-page report, “Rights Displaced: Forced Returns of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians from Western Europe to Kosovo,” 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.

“Europe is sending Kosovo’s most vulnerable people back to discrimination, exclusion, poverty, and displacement,” said Wanda Troszczynska-van Genderen, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If Europe’s leaders are serious about improving the plight of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, they should suspend the deportations to Kosovo and ensure adequate support to those who have already been sent back.”

About 50,000 Roma, most of them Serbian-speaking, and two Albanian-speaking minorities –  Ashkali and Egyptians, who claim origins in ancient Egypt – have been deported to Kosovo since 1999. The numbers look set to rise, with as many as 12,000 people facing deportation from Germany alone. Lack of assistance from international donors and the Kosovo government to those who are deported means that the burden of helping them once they arrive in Kosovo falls on the Kosovo communities of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, the majority of whom live in acute poverty.

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. While living in Western Europe, Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians experience living conditions that are incomparably better than those in Kosovo. Their children, often born abroad, learn the language and adopt the culture and lifestyle of the host Western European countries. They often grow up not speaking their parents’ mother tongues.

Nevertheless, some who go to other countries fail to obtain asylum or their temporary protection expires, exposing them to deportation. Some of the forced returnees are unable to obtain Kosovo identity documents and have no Yugoslav or Serbian identity documents establishing prior residence in Kosovo, which makes them de facto stateless, often for prolonged periods.

In April, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the deportations, saying they destabilize Kosovo’s security situation and exacerbate the problems faced by these minority groups in Kosovo. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg and the European Parliament also have called this year for suspending the returns until conditions improve.

UN refugee agency guidelines call on countries not to deport Roma and say that Ashkali and Egyptians should only be returned after an individual risk assessment and in a phased manner, taking into account Kosovo’s limited capacity to absorb them.

“There is a growing consensus that these deportations are putting Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians at risk and making life worse for those already in Kosovo,” Troszczynska-van Genderen said. “EU governments’ responsibilities don’t end at their own borders. They and other donors need to focus on improving conditions on the ground rather than sending people back to face despair.”

Since 2009, the Kosovo government has signed readmission agreements with Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Norway, with further agreements being negotiated. Kosovo is keen to strengthen its ties with EU and other European countries. These agreements, and the absence of screening by Kosovo prior to the forced returns, open the door to ever greater numbers of deportations, create a real risk of human rights abuse, and escalate crisis conditions for deportees, their families, and the broader Kosovo community.

The report finds that the Kosovo government contributes to the problems for the returned Roma and others by failing to insist that the deporting governments help create adequate conditions in Kosovo for those forced to return. Kosovo also has not taken adequate steps to regulate the returns and to assist those who return to reintegrate into society.

A strategy created in 2007 for reintegrating forced and other returnees has not been carried out, and the Kosovo government has made little progress on its wider strategy, also designed in 2007, to improve the rights of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities as a whole.

The report recommends:

  • An immediate moratorium on forced returns until conditions improve;
  • Urgent steps to provide assistance to those who have been returned;
  • Full implementation of the Kosovo government’s strategies for integrating forced returnees and the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities as a whole.

Deportations from Germany have proved particularly controversial, with a recent hearing in the German Bundestag leading to condemnation of the policy by opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations.

A recent policy shift on deportations to Kosovo by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where almost 40 percent of Kosovo Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians in Germany are living, suggests that reform is possible. In September, the state’s Interior Ministry issued a decree, which, while stopping short of suspending deportations entirely, recognizes the need for special protection of the Kosovo groups, requires individual screenings prior to return, and recommends not deporting school-age children.

Source: Human Rights Watch

This report focuses on the Kosovo and Serbian curriculum primary and secondary education systems available in Kosovo and deals with three key issues: the protection of the identity and rights of non-majority communities in education; the way in which the separate Kosovo and Serbian curriculum schools fail to promote inter-ethnic dialogue, respect and understanding of others and tolerance; and the integration opportunities afforded to non-majority students through the additional learning of official languages. This report is based on extensive field research and interviews with respondents from all communities conducted by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo (hereinafter: the OSCE) in January and February 2009. The report finds that curricula for community-specific “national” subjects for the most vulnerable Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Gorani, Kosovo Croat and Kosovo Montenegrin communities have not been developed yet. Insufficient availability of primary and lack of secondary education textbooks in the Turkish and Bosnian languages negatively affects the quality of education and prevents adequate learning of national subjects. Conflict over authority, the physical separation of the educational systems, the fact that within both systems learning of the other official language is not provided, no sustained efforts to promote interchanges between Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb teachers and students, and the content of history and other textbooks, all contribute to further separation and make the operation of multi-ethnic schools integrating children of all systems and communities a challenge. Insufficient and inadequate Albanian language education for non-Albanian communities results in poor learning of the language, lower opportunities for educational and employment integration, and puts non-Albanian students at a competitive disadvantage. Socialization opportunities with Kosovo Albanian peers contribute at times to successful learning of this language.

Source: OSCE

April 2009

The report is available for download on the OSCE website (Eng/Serb/Rom).

Pristina, 29 April 2009 – Kosovo’s schools need to do more to promote intercultural education and provide students from non-majority communities with opportunities to learn about their culture, according to a report from the OSCE Mission presented today.

The report, Kosovo non-majority communities within the primary and secondary educational systems, found that neither the Kosovo nor Serbian educational systems offer specific or adequately tailored textbooks on the language, history, art and music of the Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Gorani, Croat and Montenegrin communities in Kosovo.

The Kosovo educational system provides curricula for primary and secondary mother-tongue education in Albanian, Turkish and Bosnian languages. However, a curriculum in Serbian language, based on participation and acceptance of the recipient communities, has yet to be developed. The report also highlighted the lack of curriculum-based textbooks in Turkish and Bosnian languages for secondary education.

Continued physical separation of students and the lack of sustained efforts to promote interchanges between Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb teachers and students contribute to further divisions, according to the report. In addition, historical events are described differently in the Kosovo and the Serbian curricula.

“A reconciled view of Kosovo’s recent past – a view that embraces rather than divides communities – depends on a mainstreamed curriculum and an accompanying process of transitional justice and inter-ethnic dialogue. Learning to understand each others’ languages is a first step towards tolerance and integration,” said Ambassador Werner Almhofer, the Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.

The report also found that the representation of non-majority communities in school management positions is insufficient in both Kosovo and Serbian curriculum schools. Moreover, neither Kosovo nor Serbian curriculum schools offer the possibility of learning the other official language.

The report is based on extensive field research and 738 interviews with respondents from all communities conducted during January and February 2009. The report also includes recommendations to the responsible authorities on how to address identified shortcomings.

The report is available here (in English/in Serbian/in Romani/in Albanian/in Turkish).

Source: OSCE

Strasbourg, 11 March 2009 – The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, published a report on his visit to Serbia.

Extracts on Roma, refugees and IDPs

Serbia does not yet have a general anti-discrimination law covering all forms of discrimination, jeopardizing the effective protection of minorities and vulnerable groups. The situation of the Roma population in Serbia is precarious. They constitute the most discriminated and marginalised minority in the country suffering from social exclusion and often enduring inhumane living conditions. Many Roma, especially refugees and displaced persons, lack personal identity documents which hinders their access to basic human rights, and increases their susceptibility to statelessness.

145. Roma children in Serbia suffer from a combination of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion. Many Roma children are living in difficult or very difficult living conditions without appropriate access to adequate health, safety and security conditions. The rate of infant mortality is also higher among Roma. Many Roma children do not attend school, are placed in special schools or drop out early. An increased focus should be placed on mainstreaming early education for Roma children in order to begin to normalise a routine of regular school attendance.

150. Social, material or administrative obstacles to education exist for many children, especially children suffering from poverty and social exclusion, such as Roma, refugee children and children with disabilities (particularly mental and intellectual disabilities).

151. Only 3.9% of Roma children and 1% of children with disabilities have access to pre-schooling. 84% of IDP children and 98% of Roma IDP children are not included in any form of pre-school education. According to UNICEF, the majority of children with disabilities do not have access to education, with only 1% integrated into mainstream schooling and approximately 15% attending special schools. Very few disabled children have the opportunity to receive a full cycle of primary and secondary education.

152. Segregation of Roma students from others is still practised and must be actively avoided. According to UNICEF, over half of the pupils in special schools are from the Roma population. Attendance and full integration of all Roma students into mainstream schooling should be the goal, and the Commissioner would urge the authorities to take all feasible measures to realise this goal.

153. During the delegation’s visit to the Salvatore Roma Refugee camp in South Serbia, it was noted that the authorities make limited efforts to ensure that Roma are aware of enrolment requirements for school. Furthermore, there was a feeling that at the local level, schools did not actively seek to inform socially excluded Roma.

156. The human rights situation of national minorities is largely dependent on the economic context, and the region, in which the minorities live. Minority rights in the province of Vojvodina, for example, are comparatively better protected than in other parts of the country. The Roma community remain the most disadvantaged minority group in Serbia, and their position is precarious vis-à-vis the rest of the Serbian population in terms of all social indicators – education, health, housing and employment.

165. The South Serbia municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medvedja are inhabited by 90% of the ethnic Albanians in Serbia. The regions are comprised of largely Albanian, Serbian and Roma ethnic groups. Relations between the ethnic groups are largely stable and improving throughout the three municipalities, with the exception of the Roma who continue to be marginalised.

167. The situation of the Roma population in Serbia is very precarious. They are subjected to prejudice, systematic discrimination, marginalization and exclusion. Negative stereotyping by the majority of the population, often due to insufficient knowledge about their history, culture and tradition and a lack of personal contact with Roma, perpetuates a cycle of discrimination.

168. According to the 2002 census, 108 193 persons identify themselves as Roma, or approximately 1.44% of the total population, although the actual number is deemed to be much higher. According to some studies there are 247 591 Roma in Serbia, while Roma leaders claim that there are between 400 000 to 800 000 Roma, or up to 10% of Serbian population. The reason for the lack of clarity may be that in many cases the Roma identify themselves as Serbs rather than Roma.

169. In 2008, Serbia took over the Presidency of the Roma Decade until 30 June 2009. There had been rather limited investment in the Roma cause nationally until then. In discussions with the executive, the Commissioner was encouraged by their openness to accept that the problems facing Roma remain one of the great challenges in Serbian society. The Commissioner was encouraged by the notification from the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Božidar Đelić, in November 2008 that over 1 billion dinars would be allocated for the improvement of the position of Roma in Serbia in 2009. The Commissioner hopes that these funds will be managed and utilised in a targeted manner based on the most pressing concerns.

170. There are approximately 600 Roma settlements in Serbia, with the largest concentration of Roma in southern and central Serbia. Large numbers live in informal or unofficial settlements with intolerable living conditions, which lack basic utilities and services. Access to education and healthcare are severely restricted for most. As a result, women and children are the most vulnerable and at-risk minority sub-group. According to information provided by the Ministry of Health, funds have been made available to the Institutes of Public Health to carry out projects aimed to assess the hygienic and epidemiological status of Roma settlements in eight cities in Serbia. As a result, a set of measures have been proposed to the Ministry of Health and local self-governments for improving the living conditions of Roma settlements. In 2009, the same analysis will be conducted in three new cities and will be continued in two.

171. The Commissioner visited one Roma settlement just minutes away from Belgrade’s newest shopping mall. Apparently, there are 150 such settlements in Belgrade alone. The settlement was located on a plot of land adjacent to a large office-building site. Approximately 200 families lived in makeshift shelters with cardboard roofs. These Roma were internally displaced persons from Kosovo. They had left everything behind and the majority have lost relatives. There was neither electricity nor running water. In the summer, the living conditions are truly appalling, because of the lack of water and terrible heat. In the winter, the inhabitants suffer from the cold and rain, lacking even blankets. The Commissioner was told that the settlement was a breeding ground for infectious diseases. None of the children who live in the settlement went to school and this had been the case for the 8 years during which they had lived there. For the most part, they were all unemployed, except for a few who earned a small amount by collecting cardboard or scraping.

172. The representatives in the settlement told the Commissioner that they could not meet with any local or municipal representative to discuss their living conditions, as no door was open for them. They would like the local authorities at least to supply them with water once a week. Apparently, the Commissioner was the first official person to visit their settlement.

173. Some of the Roma on the settlement had identification papers. Others were without a single document. The majority of the children were unregistered and had not received any vaccinations or immunizations. The conditions in the settlement were truly appalling and were some of the worst that the Commissioner has seen during his various visits to Council of Europe member states.

174. In response to the problem of identification papers, the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights has launched an initiative for a new law on Legal Subjectivity. The aim of the law is to resolve the problem of those persons who have not been registered at birth and as a result are not legally recognised. A draft law has been prepared and a number of round tables have been organised to discuss the text, in co-operation with international partners, one NGO, and in the presence of all relevant government representatives. In 2009, the National Council of the Roma Ethnic Minority will conduct a project “Become a citizen” to support the issuance of personal documents, such as health cards.

175. There is strong public opinion against relocating Roma. One specific problem is that when the Serbian authorities propose that the Roma will be re-located to appropriate housing, local populations protest and refuse to agree to a Roma population moving in as their neighbours. The government cite this as a reason for their inactivity. The Commissioner recommends that the Serbian authorities make concerted efforts to sensitive local populations to the needs and rights of the Roma population who live side by side them.

176. Discrimination has become so common for most Roma that they themselves have a lower threshold of defining discrimination, and put up with more intolerant attitudes than other groups in Serbian society. It appears that very few cases of discrimination or intolerance towards Roma are brought to the notice of the authorities. Indeed, at times, high-ranking public officials, including Mayors, have spoken about Roma in a discriminatory way. The authorities must be vigilant towards such unacceptable intolerance, and political leaders must assume responsibility to promote tolerance, inclusion and cultural diversity within the communities they serve.

177. 62% of Roma children have either dropped out or not attended school at all. Many have not enrolled owing to financial limitations and a lack of the necessary documents such as birth certificates and proof of residence. Only 9.6% of Roma have completed post-primary education. Roma children without any learning disabilities are also overrepresented in schools for children with special needs and mental health problems, often because of their insufficient knowledge of the Serbian language. The Commissioner has been made aware that on occasion there have been financial incentives encouraging Roma parents to enrol their children in such schools.

178. Roma education is a priority in the Strategy for Education (2005-2010) and while the Ministry of Education have pushed forward a number of positive projects within the confines of extremely limited funding, much remains to be done. An expansion of pre-school education and active encouragement of Roma to remain in primary and secondary schooling should be enhanced by the authorities. In addition, further training is needed for all teaching and other staff who engages with Roma.

179. Although the National Strategy for Employment (2005-2010) and the National Action Plan for Employment (2006-2008) have programmes specifically for Roma, the unemployment rate in the community is very high and few have full-time jobs. When they do, these jobs are frequently in low-skilled sectors. Roma who live in unregistered settlements find it difficult to register with the National Employment Service in their local area. Societal discrimination further compromises employment perspectives while a lack of formal education is also a predominant barrier to gaining full employment. The Commissioner stresses the need to ensure positive measures are taken to increase the employment of Roma.

180. The Serbian Government has made efforts to address the economic and social situation of Roma in recent years, particularly in terms of access to healthcare. According to the Law on Health Insurance, the right to health care is provided for persons from vulnerable population groups, which include the Roma. Thus, for these persons the State budget covers the contributions for the compulsory health insurance scheme. In 2009, the Ministry of Health will educate health professionals in order to increase their understanding of the needs of the Roma population and to improve communication with vulnerable groups.

181. In January 2005, an action plan for Roma Health was adopted within the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015 and given a budget line for its implementation. Aiming to improve the health and health care of the Roma, the Ministry of Health encouraged project proposals from health institutions in co-operation with Roma NGOs. As a result in 2007 and 2008 113 projects were implemented covering 17 345 Roma. In addition, 31 projects will be conducted in 2009. Furthermore, in 2009, the Ministry of Health will finance four projects with the aim of educating and providing health care for Roma working with waste materials.

182. The Ministry of Health also informed the Commissioner of 15 Roma mediators who have been appointed as the interface between Roma and the Ministry – engaging directly with the Roma community on a local level. These mediators were appointed in line with the Roma Decade and the National Action Plan on healthcare protection, within the Ministry of Health’s Programme for the Health Advancement of Special Population Groups. This initiative is something, which the Ministry has found to be successful and intend to develop further. The Commissioner would recommend that local authorities become more actively involved in this process.

183. On a regional level, some positive developments must be noted. A Roma Inclusion Office with a dedicated budget was set up in Vojvodina in 2005. It carried out three studies on the situation of the Roma in the province, in the areas of housing and the position of teachers from the Roma community. Although understaffed, the office represents a strong commitment to inclusion of Roma in that region. The office was also involved in the framing of the Strategy for improving the situation of Roma and works closely with the regional ombudsman. Also on a local level, international organisations such as the ICRC, the OSCE and the United Nations teams are implementing numerous awareness-raising projects throughout the country. The Commissioner encourages the government and local actors to work together with international and non-governmental organisations in the delivery of these projects.

Rights of Roma (Recommendations)

24. Adopt proactive measures to provide opportunities for Roma, Refugees and disabled children to access mainstream education.

25. Take immediate action to resolve the precarious living conditions of the Roma, particularly displaced Roma, and those living in informal settlements.

26. Implement and expand programmes to ensure that Roma have access to education, healthcare and employment. Capitalise on Serbia’s presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion. Actively cooperate with Roma civil society organisations.

27. Support and facilitate birth and citizenship registration of both domicile and displaced Roma from Kosovo, in order to minimise the risk of statelessness.

XIII. Concerns of Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Asylum Seekers

184. During the periods of conflict in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), Serbia faced a serious refugee crisis, and responded by receiving huge numbers of refugees and displaced persons. The financial cost of responding to these refugees has been huge for the government. During the 1996 Census of Refugees and War Affected Persons, 538 000 refugees and 72 000 war affected persons were registered. The number of refugees decreased to 346 000 in 2001 and 104 246 in 2004/5. In 2008, approximately 210 000 IDPs were registered in Serbia.

185. The UNHCR has identified three major groups of persons who remain vulnerable in Serbia: refugees who came because of the disintegration of the former SFRY, asylum-seekers and mandate refugees from outside of the former SFRY and IDPs from Kosovo.

13.1. Legislative framework

186. Article 57 of the Constitution establishes the right of asylum for anyone outside the country of their nationality with a reasonable fear of persecution based on race, religion, and nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. While a Law on Refugees was adopted by Serbia in 1992, the Parliament adopted an Asylum Law44 in November 2007, which marked a turning point in the fulfilment of international obligations in the area of refugee protection. The adoption of national legislation consistent with international norms and standards represents one of the accession commitments the country made to the Council of Europe and the process of association with the EU.

187. The Commissariat for Refugees is the main governmental institution concerned with refugee and IDP issues and there are two national strategies, the National Strategy for resolving issues of Refugees and IDPs of 2002 and the Poverty Reduction Strategy of 2003. In principle, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is in charge of ensuring the integration of IDPs, refugees and others into Serbian society in appropriate cases.

13.2. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

 188. A large number of persons were displaced from Kosovo during and after the conflict in the late 1990s. More than 75% of the IDPs in Serbia are of Serbian ethnicity, followed by Roma and more than 10 other ethnicities. 55% of the registered IDPs from Kosovo have settled in the southern part of Serbia and have not returned.

189. IDPs have three possible durable solutions to their situation and status in Serbia, namely to return to their homes in their place of origin, to return elsewhere in Kosovo, or to integrate into their place of displacement. There is a need for a renewed effort by all stakeholders to enable those who wish to return to do so as soon as possible, recognising repatriation as the most satisfactory solution, and to facilitate integration for those unable or unwilling to return. According to the Commissariat for Refugees, the most vulnerable IDPs are provided with temporary accommodation in collective centres. They can also access special employment programs of the National Employment Service but the reintegration into the job market is very difficult with a general unemployment rate of some 30%.

190. The most vulnerable of the displaced population are the Roma IDPs, who are in a more precarious position than domestic Roma. Large numbers of Roma IDPs are living in terrible conditions, often in unregistered settlements without appropriate access to the most basic services, and suffering from intolerance and discrimination by the local community. The Commissioner’s delegation visited one such camp – Salvatore – in South Serbia. At the time of visit, the camp – originally designed to host 250 persons – housed more than 700 persons with no more than 222 persons holding identification and civil registration documents.

191. The IDP Living Standard Measurement Study (LSMS) conducted in 2007 has established that almost 30% of Roma IDPs lack identification documents, hindering their access to rights. This has the effect of creating situations of de facto statelessness. According to the authorities, IDPs are able to exercise their right to register because of Article 1 of the Law amending the Law on Registers. A procedure of re-registration of births, marriages or deaths was introduced in 1999 and is still on going. Accordingly, all those who had not been entered in the birth register were entitled to subsequent registration (although the deadline provided by the law has already expired). A draft law on Registers, which provides for the recording of the fact of birth in the birth register, is currently in the parliamentary process.

192. The Commissioner urges the Serbian authorities to simplify administrative procedures to obtain civil registration documents, as well as to adopt measures to provide free legal assistance to IDPs.

193. Although almost a decade has passed since the end of the Kosovo conflict, the situation of IDPs in Serbia continues to deteriorate, as they remain stuck between an uncertain future in Kosovo and considerable obstacles to integrate into Serbian society. Kosovo’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence also appears to have stalled progress on this issue. The Commissioner calls upon the authorities to identify an inter-ministerial coordination body, which will assume responsibility to address IDP issues in a coordinated and effective fashion. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights would appear to be the most suitable candidate

212. Romani children and children from poor rural communities are most vulnerable for the purpose of coercion into street begging, labour exploitation or to be lured into theft rings.

The full report is available here.

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