Statement concerning adoption and entering into the force of the Decree on the Measures of Social Inclusion of the Beneficiaries of Financial Social Support
Press release on the occasion of the International Day of Roma
Belgrade, April 8, 2014 - By celebrating the International Roma Day we are obliged, in the first place, to critically assess the situation of Roma in Serbia which is still marked by discrimination, violation of fundamental rights and extreme poverty.
While a modest progress has been noted in certain areas, especially in regard to the advancement of legislative framework and the adoption of strategic documents, continuous violations of rights as well as an unprecedented prevalence of hate speech in media and increasing number of physical attacks on Roma, demands undivided attention and engagement of all stakeholders, especially the state institutions.
Advancement of the legislative framework and the adoption of strategic documents surely is an important step towards the improvement of the general situation of Roma. However, the severe discrepancy between progress made in that regard including a declarative support by authorities on the one hand, and their implementation and tangible changes in lives of Roma, is rather disturbing. We are afraid that lack of funds, is not and can not be an excuse for the existence of this problem. Namely, instead of spending the earmarked funds on administering projects, astronomic experts’ fees and rewarding political support, more efficient and transparent spending which assesses and acknowledges needs of the most vulnerable ones without indefinite involvement of numerous intermediaries is necessary. Strategic documents and corresponding action plans should not only aim to conform to formal requirements of the European Union, but to express a government’s firm commitment and provide with a concrete and responsible plan to display this commitment. Unfortunately, the very European Union tolerates this practice, since it too suffers from the discrepancy between the proclaimed equality policies and their efficient implementation and concrete advancement of situation of minority groups’ members.
In the same time, further erosion of economic and social rights is being continued, especially affecting Roma as Serbia’s most poor. Among these rights, right to housing remains the burning issue for Roma. Significant number of Roma still lives in informal settlements in conditions far beyond any decent living standard and ability to live a dignified life. Though the previous action plan for housing included advancement not only of a legal framework but specifically living conditions in Roma settlements, it remained almost solely unimplemented. Besides, Law on legalization which had recently been adopted failed to recognize the specific situation of Roma living in informal settlements, therefore resulting in lack of their response to legalization calls. This makes their housing situation ever more uncertain bearing in mind that Serbia postpones to legally regulate forced evictions. Considering that 19 forced evictions have been identified in last several years, out of which some affected tens and even hundreds of people, it is clear why many Roma living in informal settlements fears new evictions. There is, of course, no doubt that housing requires significant financial resources. But, we are seizing this opportunity to stress that even when financial resources are secured, an inertia and inefficiency of state’s institutions threatens to halt the assistance and result in the return of already transferred funds. In addition, the existing system of social housing, who’s among many beneficiaries are Roma, is unsustainable and mocks the very concept of social housing. Namely, tenants of social apartments have acquired the right to use these apartments exactly based on their social status, are now losing this right as they are unable to pay the rent and other bills that greatly exceed the social support they are obtaining.
When it comes to other rights, situation is slightly better. While there is a certain progress being noted in education and health, there are still many difficulties in these areas as well. Especially worrisome is an enduring segregation in education and indecisiveness of authorities to terminate it. An access to health and social support is often blurred with discrimination and more frequent are complaints of Roma relating to these matters. In the same time, unemployment unreciprocally affects Roma both due to their lack of education but also due to prejudices of the employers. We would like also to stress that employment opportunities should not result in further homogenization of Roma in one place as it is the case with recycling centres being opened near to Roma settlements and which ends with triple segregation – in employment, housing and education.
However, of the gravest concern is the increase of hate crimes towards Roma recorded in the last year. Unfortunately, state did not collect data about the exact number of victims, and human rights organizations based on the cases they recorded can only analyse trends and alarm the public. A significant number of Roma is still afraid to report their cases to the institutions having doubts due to impunity of these crimes but also the possibility of secondary victimization many have experienced with the police. Even, when alleged perpetuators are identified, hateful bias is rarely taken into consideration when bringing an indictment and sentences around or under legal minimum are not preventing, but actually encouraging the perpetuators.
This does not come as a surprise having in mind more worrisome increase in prejudice towards Roma among majority population which is clearly evident in growing ethnic distance towards them. Tired from prejudice against neighbouring nations, xenophobic and nationalistic part of majority population has put Roma at the top of the hate list. Commentaries at the media and social networking sites, which are the genuine vox populi of today’s Serbia, are filled with calls for lynches, physical attacks, limitation of rights and discrimination of Roma. Media also have an important role in blooming of anti-Roma attitudes. They continue to take a sensationalist and tendentious approach in reporting about Roma which often results in increasing, not decreasing of prejudices.
Therefore, due to the severity of the situation, we believe that is not a time for self-praises and celebrations, but that on this day, day which marks an expression of political emancipation of Roma and their struggle for equality, we have to demand from state but also from all the citizens to fiercly oppose to discrimination and racism.