Kosovo Roma today

Published on February 26, 2008, Voice of Roma

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places

On June 12th 1999, the 78 days of US/NATO bombing of Kosovo ended. Today, Kosovo is governed by the United Nations Interim Administration (UNMIK) . Hundreds of International Non Governmental Organizations (NGO), thousands of peace-keepers (40,000-45,000 NATO/US soldiers), more than 5,000 UN police, looked on while a massive ethnic cleansing was committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and extremist Albanians. According to UN figures, 230,000 ethnic minorities were driven out of the Kosovo region, and these numbers are low according to the Serbian figures which are 250, 000 or more.

The ethnic minorities living in Kosovo prior to 1999 were: Serbs, Roma, Turks, Gorani (Muslim Slavs), Bosnian Croats, Jews, and others. This was the second biggest ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. The first one took place in Krajina, Croatia, where Croatian forces ethnically cleansed the region of up to 350,000 minorities, predominantly Serbs. These ethnic cleansings were barely reported in the world news.

Today, almost five years since the "humanitarian bombing" and the establishment of a UN protectorate, Kosovo is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Roma. Very few Roma have remained; estimates range from 22,000-25,000. Before the US/NATO intervention in Kosovo there were more than 150,000 Roma in the region.

Freedom of movement is still one of the biggest concerns for Roma; most are unable to move about freely, go to work, shop for their families, or attend schools. No international NGO wants to hire Roma as translators, because they are either already run by Albanians uninterested in integrating Roma into the society, or because of fears that they might be targeted by extremist Albanians. Many Roma are unable to travel to the hospital for routine or emergency treatment. The hospital in Mitrovica is more than an hour's drive from the Serbian enclaves near Pristina where many displaced Roma are living. Most of the Roma that are left in Kosovo today live either in Serbian enclaves where they are protected by numbers of minorities, or in Internally Displaced Person's (IDP) camps.

Roma today, in free and liberated Kosovo, cannot even obtain a birth certificate in the place where they were born. Roma have lived in Kosovo for 700 years, but since international institutions arrived in Kosovo, bringing "democracy, free society, civil society, ethnic harmony, peace and tolerance" Roma are more abused, persecuted, and ignored than ever. In Western Europe, thousands of Roma are facing forced repatriation, by the very same countries that spent billions of dollars bombing Kosovo.

Is this what democracy is all about? Is this what the US is bragging about as a "success story"? Is another Diaspora, with no right to settle and no hope if they return, what the Roma of Kosovo have to look forward to in the 21st Century?

Voice of Roma is working tirelessly to bring hope to the Roma of Kosovo by promoting human rights/advocacy programs to increase safety, stability, and economic opportunities for Roma living in Kosovo or as refugees elsewhere in Europe.

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