And this isn’t even about that:

Roma former security guard returns to Kosovo to rebuild a life and a future (Nov. 16)

© UNHCR/C.Pineda


Ukshin with his family at their home. His new vehicle is in the background.

PRISTINA, Kosovo, November 16 (UNHCR) – Ukshin Toplica only felt he was really back home once he had completed renovating the house he had been forced to flee a decade ago in the Kosovo capital of Pristina.

“Now my house is finished, I have never felt better,” 49-year-old Ukshin proudly told visitors to his home. “There is no place quite like my own home.” He’s also in good spirits because he has successfully set up a small business, with seed funding from UNHCR, that provides for his family of 11 in hard economic times.

But for many years Ukshin thought he might never return to Kosovo from exile in the neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. “I always wanted to bring my family back. But we were told that Albanians had occupied all the houses in our old neighbourhood, so we felt we could not safely return.”

It wasn’t always like that. For years, Ukshin and his family of Albanian-speaking Roma, also known as Ashkalia, lived happily alongside ethnic Albanians in the Vranjevc district of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.

Ukshin worked as a security guard. “The salary was enough to provide for my family, and before the conflict we lived comfortably,” he recalled.

But the life of the Toplica family was thrown into turmoil when NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) intervened militarily in late March 1999 after demanding the withdrawal of Serbian security forces from Kosovo and an end to discrimination against Kosovo’s Albanians.

“Everyone left their homes once the bombing started in Kosovo,” Ukshin recalled, adding that his family followed their Albanian neighbours and fled to Macedonia. “We had no option,” he stressed. In contrast, most of Kosovo’s non-Albanian speaking Roma fled overseas when the conflict was over.

Around 1 million people sought shelter in Macedonia and other countries during the conflict, which ended in June 1999 when Serbian forces pulled back and NATO troops were sent into the territory. The return of the Albanians triggered an exodus of some 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Ashkalia, Egyptians and other minorities.

“We were all very scared,” Ukshin said of his family’s flight to Macedonia. In the rush, they were separated and arrived in different areas of northern Macedonia. “After three days, I was reunited with my family in Skopje. It was very frightening and depressing because we never knew what was going to happen next.”

Over the years, some 16,000 Serbs and Roma returned to Kosovo, but the Toplicas were worried about the situation and waited until November last year before returning. “I went to UNHCR in Skopje and registered my family for return and UNHCR brought us here. The day we returned to Kosovo was really emotional, my wife and children could not believe that we had made it back home,” Ukshin said.

The family moved back into their renovated home in their old neighbourhood. UNHCR staff in Pristina visit the family on a regular basis to monitor their reintegration. It has been a challenging year. Amid the global recession, they faced economic difficulties in an area where almost half the adult population is unemployed.

But they benefitted from an aid package provided by UNHCR and its partners, including food for up to six months and non-food assistance.

Ukshin also joined a UNHCR-backed income-generation project to help returnees learn new skills and become self-reliant. He bought a mini tractor and trailer to collect plastic and scrap which he sells to a recycling company. He also uses the vehicle to provide a transport service in his neighbourhood. “I have my own business,” Ukshin says, adding: “We can live from our own money and effort.”

The Toplica family members feel fully integrated in their community. As for other returnees to Kosovo, the main challenge is to improve their living conditions and ensure their economic livelihood. UNHCR continues to offer help and advice.

Good thing for this Roma/Ashkali family that it wasn’t Gnjilane they were returning to:

Kosovo: Investigate Attacks on Roma (Sep 7) Source: Human Rights Watch

(Brussels) - Kosovo and international authorities should act in concert to halt the recent wave of attacks and harassment targeting Roma communities, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The action should include both speedy investigations leading to identification and prosecution of the perpetrators and measures to prevent any future attacks.

The attacks were initially reported in the Kosovo Roma media in mid-August, 2009. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in cooperation with Roma nongovernmental organizations, have worked since then to document the incidents and the responses made by the authorities.

“These incidents underscore how vulnerable the Roma in Kosovo remain,” said Wanda Troszczynska-van Genderen, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The only way to stop these attacks is for both Kosovo and international police and prosecutors to make it clear that they will bring the perpetrators to justice.”

A Roma language television program (Yekhipe) on Radio Television Kosovo, the state broadcaster, reported on August 13 that a flurry of attacks against Roma by ethnic Albanians took place in Gnjilane (Gjilan) in the last week of July. At least four Roma, including a community leader, were physically assaulted and injured in separate incidents, the program reported. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo said that the victims had reported the assaults to the police and that investigations have been opened.

The Yekhipe program reported that additional attacks had taken place at that time but that they were not reported to the police because the victims feared retaliation. Sources at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo also confirmed a burglary of a Roma house in Gnjilane the same week.

Another series of episodes was reported on August 25, when 20 Roma families from the Halit Ibishi neighborhood in the town of Urosevac (Ferizaj) submitted a petition to the Urosevac Municipal Community Office saying that the families had been verbally and physically harassed on a number of occasions between August 17 and 22 by “unknown perpetrators.” They sought protection from the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) and the municipal authorities. The police are investigating the allegations.

International organizations mandated to monitor security and conditions for minorities in Kosovo - including the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), OSCE and the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) - initially did not respond to the reports. The organizations have since been looking into the incidents, and they currently lack sufficient information to determine whether they were ethnically motivated.

Kosovo and local police in Gnjilane and Urosevac have reportedly increased patrols in tense areas in response to the incidents. But no arrests have been made and neither the Kosovo government nor international authorities in Kosovo have issued any official statements condemning the attacks.

“It is not enough to react when an incident occurs,” said Sian Jones, Balkans Researcher at Amnesty International. “A proactive response is needed, including expanded police patrols, to protect the rights of the Roma community, as well as outreach to these communities to encourage people to report incidents to the police, who should promptly and impartially investigate all such allegations.”

Over the last decade, the Kosovo and international authorities have routinely failed to protect minority communities from violence and intimidation. This has left the Roma vulnerable to repeated attacks, including a series of ethnically motivated attacks in March 2004.

Human Rights Watch has documented these shortcomings in its reports, including “Not on the Agenda: The Continuing Failure to Address Accountability in Kosovo Post-March 2004″ http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2006/05/29/not-agenda-0 and “Kosovo Criminal Justice Scorecard” http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/03/27/kosovo-criminal-justice-scorecard-0.

See also Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2009: Serbia, including Kosovo, http://report2009.amnesty.org/en/regions/europe-central-asia/serbia