Some of Kosovo's displaced minorities finally get a place to call home

News Stories, 31 May 2006

© UNHCR/S.Halili
UNHCR staff distribute food and other items to the new residents of the social housing project in Magura.

PLEMETINA, Kosovo, May 31 (UNHCR) After nearly seven years in the misery of the run-down Plemetina camp for displaced people, 58 Roma families moved earlier this month into new apartments after the completion of two social housing projects in central Kosovo.

A first group of 18 Roma families were handed the keys to their new apartments by local authorities on 8 May in the village of Magura, in central Kosovo. A second group of 40 moved into theirs in Plemetina village two weeks later.

Kosovo's Deputy Prime Minister Lutfi Haziri and the Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Ardian Gjini attended the 8 May ceremony and met the families as they arrived.

"Today, the Kosovo government is meeting its commitment to find solutions for homeless communities," Haziri told the families.

The group was also welcomed by the head of Lipjan municipality, Xhevat Olluri, who told them: "Your life will change completely and all the neighbours will have good relations with each other, fostering the spirit of this new neighbourhood of mixed ethnicities."

The 1.2 million euro housing projects, which were funded from the Kosovo Consolidated Budget, are particularly aimed at helping communities facing discrimination and marginalization. This is especially so for the Roma, an ethnic group of particular concern to UNHCR because of their prolonged displacement.

Each family receives from UNHCR some food and other items, including stoves, mattresses and blankets. They also get furniture kits from the European Agency for Reconstruction.

Unemployment is a serious concern for all the new residents, none of whom has a job. Until now, most of them have been dependent on social assistance of about 40-70 euros a month. To address this, workshops on income generation are being held for some residents, who must undergo a selection process.

The new surroundings are a far cry from the years the families spent in the dust-ridden Plemetina camp, established by UNHCR in 1999. At the height of the displacement, the camp was home to some 1,300 Kosovo Serbs and Roma.

Having continually worked to find solutions for these people, UNHCR is planning to finally shut down Plemetina by the end of the year. It has been both a complex and lengthy process.

"Closing the camp has been a very difficult task," said Anne-Marie Messiaen, the head of UNHCR's field office in Pristina. The closure would not have been possible without the support of UNHCR's partners and the Kosovo authorities with whom the agency has worked closely. "Solutions for these IDPs are now a reality, bringing a positive end to the sad story of Plemetina Camp," Messiaen said.

There are still some 40 families left in Plemetina camp, including five Croatian Serb refugee families displaced since the mid-1990s. This final group will move into a third social housing apartment building scheduled to start construction in June.

There are still more than 20,000 internally displaced people in Kosovo, mostly Serbs and Roma. In addition, more than 220,000 internally displaced remain in Serbia and Montenegro.

Moving into their new homes was an emotional day for the families. The Sharku family, one of the first recipients of a flat in the Magura project, gathered their meagre belongings on the morning of the move and climbed into a UNHCR van which took them to their new home.

"We are going home," exclaimed Muhamet Sharku as he stood with his family of four in front of the new apartment block. "We have a kitchen, a bathroom and everything we need!"

By Shpend Halili
UNHCR Kosovo