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Three Years On, Evicted Roma in Belgrade are Still Homeless and Living in 'Squalid' Conditions

A new report by Amnesty International alleges that over 1,000 Roma are living in squalid conditions in and around Belgrade, as local authorities hold onto millions of Euros earmarked for their resettlement.

by Melodie Bouchaud
Apr 8 2015, 9:45pm

Image via Amnesty International

The city of Belgrade has reportedly failed to find adequate housing for almost 100 forcibly evicted Roma families, despite a multi-million Euro resettlement fund from the European Commission (EC), according to an Amnesty International report released on Tuesday to coincide with International Roma Day.

In April 2012, authorities in the Serbian capital evicted close to 1,000 people from an informal settlement in Belvil, a residential complex in the western part of Belgrade. Following the eviction, the families awaiting resettlement were temporarily rehoused in metal containers at four sites in the captial.

Three years on, despite a 3.6 million Euro ($3.87 million) fund from the EC to pay for the construction of housing blocks, Amnesty's report points out that most of the families are still living in "squalid racially segregated metal containers."

And despite guarantees that EC-funded resettlements would be completed by February 2015, "not one new housing block has been finished," said the NGO, who blames Serbian bureaucracy and discrimination for the failure of the project.

Related: Forced evictions of Paris slum leave 200 Roma residents homeless.

Amnesty also highlights the lack of consultation with the evicted families, and says that the housing provided by the city to some of the familes does not meet with international standards for adequate housing, as established by the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

The report singles out two sites, which are located 13 miles from the city center, without "adequate access to social services, health centres, hospitals and schools."

In September 2014, 39 households — 190 people — were given alternative housing in rural communities 80 miles north of the capital. With poor transport links and few employment opportunities locally, many of the Roma rehoused in the village now find themselves dependent on welfare.

One man, who was provided with agricultural equipment but no land to cultivate, told the NGO, "I used to be able to get a bit of work in Belvil, but here there is nothing. There are not enough people here to work for."

The remaining families are still occupying insalubrious metal containers on the outskirts of Belgrade, which Amnesty said do not meet adequate housing criteria and prevent integration into the community.

"To be forced from your home is a traumatic experience in itself, but to be placed in inadequate segregated containers and other inadequate houses for years on end has had a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of an already persecuted minority," said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.

Related: French mayor accused of refusing to allow Roma family to bury dead infant in public cemetery.

The Roma community — Europe's largest minority — faces many challenges in Europe, including rampant discrimination, social exclusion, poor access to healthcare and education, and the threat of forced evictions of informal settlements.

In countries like France, the Roma population has long been marginalized, and has been a victim of successive governments' woefully inadequate response to their needs as a community.

In February, the Human Rights League (Ligue des Droits de l'Homme — LDH) and the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) published a joint report highlighting the French government's failure to properly rehouse 43 percent of the 260 Roma who France evicts each week. Such a failure, said the report, constitutes an infringement on the European law regulating evictions.

In a report published in April 2014, Amnesty International highlighted the recent rise in anti-Roma violence across Europe, and accused the European Union of not challenging member states "on the systemic discrimination of Roma that is all too evident," despite EU guidelines to protect the Roma community.

Europe's handling of its growing Roma hostility problem was again highlighted in a February report by Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks on the rising tide of intolerance in France. In the report, Muiznieks said more should be done to protect the human rights of migrants, Travelers and Roma, as authorities escalate their harsh policy of systematic evacuation of camps.

In 2006, the Council of Europe launched an awareness campaign called "Dosta!" — a Romani word meaning "Enough!" — aimed at fighting anti-Roma prejudice and breaking down the cultural barriers between the Roma community and non-Roma Europeans.

Speaking to VICE News on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Amnesty International explained that the NGO would be hosting its own awareness-raising campaign in Paris, on April 11. The public event, which will take place on the Place de la Bastille square in the French capital, will feature live music and speakers, including former parliamentary attaché Jacques Debot, author of the blog Romstorie.

Debot told VICE News that, aside from a few grassroots initiatives, "there is no universal integration policy for the [Roma] minority in France." Recently-arrived Roma migrants from the Balkans, said Debot, were particularly at risk from isolation.

Despite inadequate policies to protect the Roma community from prejudice and social exclusion, Debot thinks that, on the whole, the public is more aware of the plight of the Roma than it may have been in the past. "Successive governments were so harsh towards this community that in the end, they raised the level of awareness," said Debot.

In March, Roma activist and Swedish European deputy Soraya Post has called for Europe to recognize August 2 as the official remembrance day for the Roma genocide in WWII. The date was chosen in honor of the 2,897 Roma people who were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on August 2, 1944.

Members of the European parliament will vote on a resolution to recognize the date during an April plenary session in Strasbourg.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud onTwitter @meloboucho