UNHCR launches free legal aid project for Roma in Serbia

Briefing Notes, 6 May 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 May 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Belgrade today, we are launching the first comprehensive free legal aid project for the Roma communities in Serbia and the region as part of an EU-funded regional programme "Social Inclusion and Access to Human Rights of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in the Western Balkans". The project covers Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia including Kosovo.

The main aim is helping Roma communities gain free registration in birth registers leading to issuance of personal documents and resulting in better access to social, health, education and employment. The programme will be implemented over the next 18 months by our mobile teams and our partners, including other UN agencies, NGOs and government counterparts.

In Serbia, 20 municipalities will be covered by the project. In these areas, UNHCR, through its regular field work over years with refugees and internally displaced persons, has found the largest number of Roma without identity papers. These communities include those displaced from Kosovo, Roma returned from the Western Europe on the basis of readmission agreements, and the local Roma population.

The issue in Serbia was particularly aggravated by Kosovo crisis in 1999, with the arrival of displaced persons from Kosovo. Many registry books in Kosovo had been damaged, destroyed or went missing. Roma populations are additionally threatened due to their frequent movements, abject poverty, discrimination and marginalization.

Lack of identity papers is a serious problem in the Western Balkans, creating a world of "invisible" people outside state systems. In many situations authorities lacked either initiative or resources to address these issues.

According to the estimates, between 100,000 to 500,000 Roma live in Serbia. Out of this figure, 23,000 are officially registered internally displaced persons from Kosovo. Most of these people are unable to exercise their basic rights due to the lack of personal documents.

Serbia has made commitments within the framework of Roma Decade and is to take over the chairmanship of this forum in June.




UNHCR country pages

Civil Registration and the Prevention of Statelessness: A Survey of Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians (RAE) in Montenegro

Results of a study carried out in 2008 by UNHCR, with support from the European Commission and UNICEF, May 2009.

Serbia: Europe's forgotten refugees

A study of the lives of three Europeans who have been living as refugees in Serbia for more than 15 years.

Serbia is the only European country with a protracted refugee population. More than 90,000 refugees from Croatia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina remain there, victims of wars that erupted after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

These long-term refugees live under appalling conditions in dingy apartments and overcrowded collective centres – the nearest thing to refugee camps in modern Europe.

This set of pictures tells the story of three displaced people, the problems they face and their hopes for the future.

Serbia: Europe's forgotten refugees

Refugee Women

Women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world's refugee population, and they are clearly the most vulnerable. At the same time, it is the women who carry out the crucial tasks in refugee camps – caring for their children, participating in self-development projects, and keeping their uprooted families together.

To honour them and to draw attention to their plight, the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to dedicate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2002, to women refugees.

The photographs in this gallery show some of the many roles uprooted women play around the world. They vividly portray a wide range of emotions, from the determination of Macedonian mothers taking their children home from Kosovo and the hope of Sierra Leonean girls in a Guinean camp, to the tears of joy from two reunited sisters. Most importantly, they bring to life the tremendous human dignity and courage of women refugees even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Refugee Women

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Serbia: Dreams Of A Better LifePlay video

Serbia: Dreams Of A Better Life

The story of Miljo Miljic, a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Miljo Miljic wants to go home, but he can't. He lives a day to day existence, hoping the future will be better for his children.
Serbia: Far From HopePlay video

Serbia: Far From Hope

Thousands of refugee families uprooted by war are living a day-to-day existence in Serbia. They cannot return home, and they have few means of support in Serbia.