Belgrade authorities urged to halt forced eviction of 300 Roma families

Amnesty International has urged authorities in the Serbian capital Belgrade not to carry out the planned forced eviction of a Romani settlement. At least 300 households in an informal settlement known as Belvil are set to be demolished within days to make way for a new road, despite the Roma community living there not being offered any alternative adequate housing. Instead, Belgrade’s Deputy Mayor has said the families will be housed in metal “containers”.”This eviction is being conducted with no regard for the hundreds of families living in Belvil, who have not been consulted or even properly informed about the eviction. They are being treated like second-class citizens,” said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s Serbia researcher. “We do not consider the metal containers to be adequate alternative housing,. Other Roma families in Belgrade are currently living in similar containers after being evicted last year, and these homes are poorly ventilated, damp and overcrowded.”On 30 March, Belgrade’s Deputy Mayor publicly announced that evictions would begin at the end of April to make way for an access road for a planned new bridge over the River Sava. Over the past week, Amnesty International has been informed that Belgrade city employees visiting Belvil have threatened the Roma residents with imminent evictions. Four families have reportedly received an eviction notice. However, the majority have not received any information about the forthcoming eviction.If evicted, many families will lose their only access to income. The most common occupation of Belvil residents is collecting and reselling scrap or recyclable materials, which they store under a nearby bridge.Under international law, evictions may be carried out only as a last resort, once other alternatives have been explored in genuine consultation with the affected communities. However, the Roma in Belvil have not been consulted or given any information about post-eviction plans.Amnesty International visited the Belvil community in February and March 2010. The Roma living there were already anxious about possible evictions but had not been provided with any information. The city authorities denied that there were any plans to evict those living in Belvil when asked by Amnesty International in February. However, the Deputy Mayor then announced the eviction plans in March. This announcement followed reports that the European Investment Bank had released funds for access roads to be built as part of the new Sava Bridge project. Amnesty International is concerned that Belgrade city authorities will evict people from Belvil in a similar way to that used in another forced eviction carried out in August 2009 in a settlement known as Gazela. In that eviction, 114 Roma families were relocated to various locations at the outskirts of the city. They now live in metal containers at the outskirts of the city, far from local public services. Amnesty International does not believe these metal containers satisfy human rights criteria for adequate housing.Last week, 35 families were evicted from another Roma settlement in the city, known as Vidikovac; they were not provided with any alterative accommodation. According to NGOs, there will be more forced evictions in this community in the next week.Amnesty International has called on the Serbian government to ensure that safeguards are put in place to ensure all evictions are carried out lawfully and with respect for the rights of the Roma community.”The authorities must ensure that no families are made homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights as a consequence of eviction,” said Sian Jones. “This includes providing them with legal remedies, including provision of compensation for the destruction of their homes and possessions. “The Serbian government has a duty to ensure that the authorities in Belgrade abide by international human rights law.”