The latest eviction of Romani people which has forced many of them to spend a fifth night sleeping in the open shows that the Serbian authorities are failing to comply with their international obligations, Amnesty International said on International Roma Day. Around 250 Romani people, including small children and the elderly and infirm, were evicted from a temporary settlement in New Belgrade on 3 April 2009. Two women were reportedly taken to hospital suffering from stress.
Bulldozers accompanied by police officers arrived to clear the site early in the morning before the formal eviction notice was presented to the community. At least 50 of the makeshift dwellings were torn apart while their former occupants could do little more than watch.
The site is being cleared to make way for an access road for the 2009 Student Games, to be held in Belgrade later this year. Temporary alternative accommodation, in the form of containers, was provided in another neighbourhood of Belgrade but local residents attempted to set them on fire in order to prevent the Roma from moving in.
“Forced evictions – carried out without assurances of alternative accommodation – are a grave violation of human rights,” said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s researcher on Serbia.
“Eviction under these circumstances violates the right to an adequate standard of living, including rights to adequate housing, food and water as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Serbia is a party.”
Serbia, which currently holds the Presidency of the Decade of Roma inclusion, an international initiative aimed to improve the welfare of Roma, has pledged to make housing one of the government’s four top priorities during the year of their presidency.
The eviction has been criticised by the Citizen’s Ombudsperson, Saša Janković, who stated “Bulldozers and police will not solve the problems of Roma settlements.”
The Mayor of Belgrade, Dragan Đilas, responsible for the eviction, told local media that he would try to provide the Roma with alternative accommodation, but reportedly stated that this would apply only to those who were legally resident in Belgrade.
Amnesty International is concerned that many of those who were evicted from the settlement are among the 22,000 Roma from Kosovo registered in Serbia as internally displaced people. Few Roma displaced people possess the necessary documentation to allow them to access basic rights, including the right to residency or the right to adequate housing.