Gypsies: The pariahs of Kosovo

From Kosovo, the BBC's Nick Wood examines allegations that the Roma have been harassed by their Albanian neighbours who believe they helped Serbs commit war crimes

Wednesday, 26 July, 2000

The Roma are undoubtedly Kosovo's worst-off community.
Even the United Nations and the Nato-led protection force, K-For, who are responsible for running Kosovo, have shown more interest in protecting the Serbs, than devoting extra resources to this smaller and less vocal group.
While precise figures are hard to come by on the exact size of the Roma, the UNHCR estimates that there are around 40,000 living in the province, out of a pre-war population of 70,000.

Appalling living conditions
Of those still living in Kosovo, many are in refugee camps or in small communities constantly harassed and attacked by their Albanian neighbours.
In the city of Gjilan, the Roma live in a ramshackle warren of houses in the two areas of the town.
Many of their homes have been looted or simply burned.
Last April, a 70-year-old Roma woman was killed when a grenade was thrown into her backyard.
Similar attacks have seen numbers dwindle from several thousand post war, to just under 350.
The local Roma leader has complained that K-For troops and police are unable to provide the security they need, an accusation the Regional Police Commander, Gary Carrel admits to.
"What we would like to do is allocate people to that particular area, so they can get to know the people and the area," he said.
"But at the moment, I just don't have the people to do that. In a few weeks or months I may have more international police, and Kosovo police officers and that will help a lot."

Cash for Serbs
In comparison, K-For has devoted extra resources to defending networks of villages where Serbs live.
Extra money has been spent on large scale infrastructure projects such as road building schemes, and hospitals designed to stabilise their community.
The main tenet of UN policy concerning the Roma has been an agreement signed by the three major Albanian parties last April.
In it, they recognised the right of the Roma to return to their homes, and said they should not be held collectively responsible for crimes committed during the war.
At the same time, the Roma are now part of the UN power-sharing administration.
However, the accords have had limited practical effect.
A series of tours of the Roma communities by Albanian leaders throughout Kosovo has been abandoned.
It was hoped the visits would pave the way for the families to return to their homes.
However, after one visit, the politicians have been unable to agree to a date for any further tours.

Some Kosovan towns praised
According to Paula Ghedini, spokeswoman for the UNHCR, progress in helping the Roma depends on the attitude of local administrators.
"It is only at a local level that you can push things forward."
She praised the towns of Pec and Prizren where she said local Albanian leaders have talked about better access to education, school and employment.
In stark contrast in the town of Leposavic, the local UN administrator has been accused of wanting to move the Roma out of his community.
At the moment, 150 of them are living in two warehouses built for housing lorries.
Mark Andre Peltzer is an aid worker with the charity, Caritas.
"The UN administrator does not want to take them in the Leposavic area.
"When he asked other local administrators if they could take them, they said no."
"They are playing ping-pong with them."

The UNHCR has been encouraging groups of refugees in Montenegro and Macedonia to visit their homes with a view to moving back.
There have been five officials visits so far, but according to Paula Ghedini the number of people willing to return permanently is small.
She says the recent spate of violence between different Albanian factions has also had a knock-on effect.
"We have seen more terror directed towards them," he says.
"There does seem to be a direct correlation between the recent increase in violence among ethnic Albanian factions, and general security levels, as well as perceived security problems among the Roma."

Attacks continue
Over one year on from the end of war in Kosovo, few resources are being spent on the Roma in comparison to Kosovo's other minorities.
The UN's attempts to reconcile them with Albanian political leaders have had limited success and efforts to integrate them with local communities have depended on the will of local administrators.
At the same attacks on them continue, and their protection by the police and K-For is haphazard and poor in comparison to the Serb community.
The prospects of Kosovo's Roma community do not look like they are going to improve very soon.

Original article