Serbia and Roma: Why we need to keep asking questions

By Amnesty International’s Andrea Huber and Sian Jones in Belgrade

We went to observe the consultation of the Belvil Roma community today, which took place in an empty former petrol station in the vicinity of the settlement, by a representative of the City of Belgrade and of the City Secretariat of Social Welfare.

Three slots of consultations are offered, all of which are set up for two hours. People have to stand though, no chairs are provided.

Only those who live on the path of the road to be constructed were invited to this consultation; just 96 families will be part of the resettlement plan. Those who live in the appallingly shabby sheds just next to the route of the road will not benefit from any resettlement plans.

The people were told that the city will take care of their registration, that their children will be enrolled in school, that they will get employment offers and that they will be moved to pre-fabricated houses of three different sizes, depending on the number of family members. Photographs of the locations identified by the city identified for resettlement, each of them for 20 families, had been pinned to the walls.

It is not quite clear from these meetings what will happen next. On the one hand, people are told that there will be further consultations, on the other hand they are told they can contact the Secretariat – which handed out its address and phone number.  We are unclear of whether there will be individual consultations, as the city representatives demanded that each group choose “representatives” – who will be taken to visit the sites.

They say that Roma in Belvil will be able to choose to decide amongst themselves who will go where. We asked the representative of the city what will happen if they cannot agree, in particular since some sites seems to be in far better locations than others, as far as the Roma were concerned. Then the city will decide, we are told.

Yet, it has to be acknowledged that this meeting was set up in a different way and had a different tone than the previous “consultation” in October 2010 – which did not at all deserve that title. This time, seven locations were offered, with three different housing options reflecting family size. Most importantly, people will not be moved into containers, But, although people had a chance to ask questions at this meeting, they were not asked or given the opportunity – as set out in international standards – to make their own proposals.

The European Investment Bank representative, after the meeting, repeatedly stresses to us “NGO representatives”, who observed the consultation, that we have to “give credit to the city” for the enhancement of the process.

We’re happy that the questions we’ve been asking have helped to ensure that the city authorities have begun to comply with their international obligations under international law. But we will keep asking questions about those still living in containers after the forced evictions at Gazela, and about what happens to the people from Belvil who live outside of the area where the road will be built.