Serbia: Forcibly evicted Roma still awaiting resettlement despite EU millions
Posted at 0001hrs BST 8 April 2015
Three years after the forced eviction of more than one hundred Roma families from the Belvil settlement in Belgrade, a toxic combination of bureaucratic incompetence, inertia and discrimination has resulted in the failure of a multi-million euro European Commission (EC) funded project to resettle them. The majority of these families are still living in squalid racially segregated metal containers and around 50 may never be resettled, a new briefing from Amnesty International has found.
Launched on International Roma Day, the briefing, Roma still waiting for adequate housing, finds that, despite commitments from the City of Belgrade and €3.6 million funding from the EC, not one of the planned new housing blocks has been finished. Meanwhile evicted Roma have spent years living in container settlements far from schools, social services and access to employment.
“A flagship EC funded project intended to demonstrate how resettlements could be carried out in accordance with international human rights standards has been sunk by a catalogue of failures by the City of Belgrade,” said Garui van Gulik, Deputy Director of Europe and Central Asia for Amnesty International.
“Millions of euros were allocated for settlements and yet, three years on, the vast majority of Roma families thrown out of their houses, are still awaiting a place to call home.”
In April 2012, the EC allocated €3.6 million to rehouse Roma families forcibly evicted from the informal settlement of Belvil in Belgrade. Under the program intended as a remedy for their unlawful eviction, the City of Belgrade was required to identify suitable sites and engage in genuine consultation with the affected families in order to complete their resettlement by February 2015. But the city abjectly failed to meet these requirements.
Meaningful consultation did not take place and none of the relocation sites initially identified by the city adequately reflected the needs of the families or met international standards on adequate housing.
By November 2013, most of the proposed sites had been rejected by the EC’s Working Group on Belvil. Of the alternative sites proposed by the city, only two were deemed suitable, despite the fact that one was located in Jabuèki Rit, a village over 20km from the city centre. This site is not only far removed from services and work opportunities, but also will create a racially segregated settlement in breach of international law.
One apartment block built in Orlovsko Naselje to house 12 Roma families is expected to be completed by late July 2015. But as of April 2015, of the 167 families eligible for resettlement (including dozens from previous evictions), only 10 families have been provided with assistance to rebuild their own previously inadequate housing. A further 39 families have been rehoused under a village housing project, itself a flawed resettlement program.
The rest of the families continue to live in segregated metal containers at four sites around Belgrade. Even as a temporary measure, these containers do not meet criteria for adequate housing. The fact that two of the container sites are more than 20 km from the centre of Belgrade has meant that many Roma, most of whom had made their living in the city, have been forced to depend on state soup kitchens and welfare benefits.
Under EC rules the €3.6 million was due to be spent by February 2015. The City of Belgrade failed to meet this deadline which has now been extended by a year. But despite this extension, the city authorities told the Roma that there was no money left to rehouse 50 families. Unless the EC secures additional funding to follow through on the commitments made to the families, they will be forced to remain in the containers and join the waiting list for the city’s inadequate stock of social housing.
“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 livelihood's of an already persecuted minority,” said Gauri van Gulik.
“What should have been a shining example of how resettlement can be conducted has become a tragic failure which the City of Belgrade and the European Commission can and should swiftly remedy.”
Amnesty International has been documenting forced evictions of Roma settlements in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, since 2009. Between April 2009 and April 2012, more than 2,000 Roma were evicted from informal settlements.
Most of them were made homeless, or forced to return to inadequate housing outside Belgrade. However, under two separate programs, one supported by the EC, and the other by the European Investment Bank, measures were taken to ensure that the City of Belgrade provided the affected Roma with alternative adequate housing, in accordance with its international human rights obligations under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which it has ratified.
Amnesty International requested information on how much of the EC’s money had been spent at a meeting with the EU Delegation in Serbia in early February 2015; the organization wrote to the EU Delegation in Serbia on 5 March 2015 to request the same information, but has not yet received a reply.
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Briefing Roma still waiting for adequate housing