Roma families: Building a Better Future after Readmission

07 Dec 2016

 An employee of Mahala 1, construction cooperative that employs Roma population

Dalibor is a Roma man who was forced to return to Vranje after he was denied asylum in Germany. Unemployed, married with two children of elementary school age, he is struggling to make ends meet.

This destiny of Dalibor is shared by many more Roma people in Serbia, who are going back and forth to and from the European Union countries, especially after the onset of the refugee and migration crisis last year. Some of them have been deported and some have decided to return on a so-called “voluntary” basis. Most of them from Germany. Some spent 5-6 months there, some several years.

Making ends meet was easier there. They say how nice it is when your children go to a nice school, when you can buy them sweets every day because this makes them happy, they explain what sort of community work they had to do in “return” for social welfare payments. But. There is always a “but”. They felt lonely, they didn’t speak the language. When they went to see a doctor, they could not explain what was wrong with them. Roma were missing their community … and, they really, truly want to live in Serbia, with their families, with their friends, in their houses and speak their language among friends….and, yes, they want to work. They don’t have special “wish lists” although one of them, for example, told me that he finished the textile school…so he could be easily working in a textile factory….

How many families are we talking about? At the moment, there are 67 families that returned from the European Union member-countries to the city of Niš. Some 270 women, men and children in all.

Unemployment is only one of the problems they face. Others include lack of housing, water supply, electricity… Many of them do not have personal documents, not even birth certificates, which leads to new problems in accessing crucial services. Many children are out of school.

How can we help these Roma families? And not only for the time being, but help them lay the grounds for a future where their basic needs will be met, help them plug into an inclusive society in which they will be able to build better lives?

In July UNDP has started a small project which tackles key problems: provision of personal documents in northern city of Subotica – so that Roma children could attend school and get health coverage; renovation of homes in Niš, with workforce composed of Roma people, at the same time ensuring for some Roma families the roof over their heads and livelihoods for others. The workforce came from the social cooperative engaged in construction works called “Mahala 1”. Roma have established it by themselves and some 80 Roma construction workers are being employed by the cooperative. We spoke to one of the workers who said that he understood well the importance of having work but also the importance of helping others.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, there is no quick fix that would ensure a better future for the Roma returnees. But the key element that will get us there is partnership between the Government, Roma community, international organizations. Our hope is that this small project will draw more attention to this issue and help build such partnerships so that no Roma returnee is left behind.  


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