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UNHCR: Update on the situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptian, Bosniak and Gorani in Kosovo

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UNHCR Kosovo, January 2003
TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
PART 1: TRENDS IN SECURITY AND FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

  • 1.A Situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptian, Bosniak and Gorani since the UNHCR/OSCE 9th Minorities Assessment (April 2002)
  • 1.B Comparative situation of ethnic Serbs during the same period
PART 2: SITUATION OF MINORITY GROUPS BY REGION, WITH SPECIAL FOCUS ON CONDUCIVENESS TO RETURN
  • 2.A Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian
    - Pristina Region
    - Gjilan/Gnjilane Region
    - Prizren Region
    - Peje/Pec Region
    - Mitrovica Region
  • 2.B Bosniaks
    - General situation
    - Pristina Region
    - Prizren Region
    - Peje/Pec Region
    - Mitrovica Region
  • 2.C Gorani
  • - Prizren Region (Dragash)
  • - Gjilan/Gnjilane Region
Introduction

During November 2002, UNHCR Kosovo undertook an intensive review of the situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptian, Bosniak and Gorani communities with the aim to update the UNHCR's Position Paper on the Continued International Protection Needs of Individuals from Kosovo issued in April 2002, ensuring that its position reflects the most current condition in the post-municipal election period. The review was prompted by indications from the main asylum countries that they perceived the security situation in Kosovo to be stabilised to such an extent that it would be possible to begin large-scale returns of ethnic minorities to Kosovo in spring 2003.

The paper is composed of an analytical review of the security situation of Roma, Egyptian, Ashkaelia, Bosniak, and Gorani communities covering the period of April - October 2002, i.e. after the UNHCR/OSCE joint 9th Minorities Assessment, and the findings of a returnee monitoring exercise undertaken by UNHCR regional/field offices targeting returnees who returned to Kosovo between October 2001 and October 2002. The second part of the report paper looks into the likely impact on existing minority communities per region of a large and unplanned number of returns. It makes a particular emphasis on absorption capacity; possible impact on the current relations with the majority population; and areas where minorities would face serious security problems or restrictions on freedom of movement and access to services if they were to return suddenly.

Recognising that some improvements have taken place in the general situation in Kosovo, including relaxation in security measures in some regions, during the period in review, UNHCR's position, based on the assessment at hand, is that the situation of minority groups remains a major concern. Members of non-ethnic Albanian minorities originating from Kosovo continue to face security threats, which place their lives and fundamental freedoms at risk, and continue to compel some to leave Kosovo. The gravity of such threats depends on the minority concerned as well as location. Significantly, security threats can be severe (grenade attacks, arson attacks, physical assault) among the Roma, the Egyptians and, in many cases, the Ashkaelia throughout Kosovo. On the other hand, with the exception of Bosniaks in Mitrovica/e, the general security situation of both Bosniak and Gorani communities has stabilised.

The paper also identifies various areas and villages, which are no longer inhabited by Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians, or which have very few minority families left due to security reasons. At this stage, return has not been possible to these areas mainly due to prevailing security concerns. Hence unplanned, even small-scale returns to these areas would automatically result in secondary displacement to areas where large numbers of IDPs reside in overcrowded and overstretched communities.

Part 1: Trends in security and freedom of movement

A. Situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians, Bosniaks and Gorani since the UNHCR/ OSCE joint 9th Minorities Assessment (April 2002)

A.1. Introduction

The period between April and October 2002 saw a continued improvement in the security situation of minorities, particularly the Kosovo Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptian, Bosniak and Gorani communities, evidenced by a decline in serious security incidents. It permitted a gradual improvement in freedom of movement compared to the previous six-month period. The Bosniaks and the Gorani enjoyed a period of relative stability, with no reported serious security incidents. Improved freedom of movement allowed increased access to services ranging from schools, health services and municipal administrations. In Mitrovica/e municipality, a substantial improvement in freedom of movement was reported amongst the Ashkaelia, who were still facing serious limitations in 2001. Some Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians reportedly travel to Prishtine/ Pristina town to access services.

Despite these local and regional improvements, the overall security situation of minorities in Kosovo remains fragile. The level of stability/instability does not indicate a fundamental change in their situation. The following chronology illustrates the point:

An Ashkaelia family in Vushtrri/Vucitrn, where a group of Ashkaelia IDPs returned from Serbia on 16 April 2002, was targeted in a grenade attack, and reported persistent stone throwing against their children by Kosovo Albanian children. On 8 June, a Roma house in Opterushe/Opterusa (Rahovec/Orahovac) was set ablaze after the head of the family shot in self-defence a Kosovo Albanian, who under influence of alcohol threatened and wounded with a bayonet the eldest son of this Roma family. For fear of retribution, the family fled and their house was burned immediately after.1 In August in Ferizaj/Urosevac, a group of Kacanik youths harassed Ashkaelia youths in the city market. The same month, a Roma house was set on fire following the departure of the Kosovo Albanian illegal occupant. On 1 September, an explosive device was thrown into a Roma house causing minor damage, but no one was hurt.2 Ten days later, a grenade attack in Abdullah Presheva Street in Gjilan/Gnjilane caused minor damage to a house of a Roma returnee family, injuring one person. Another grenade was thrown into the house of a Roma resident, on 27 September. The same month, an Ashkaelia from Ferizaj/Urosevac was assaulted and seriously injured by a group of Albanian youths when travelling through Obiliq/c; allegedly in revenge for war actions. Also in Obiliq/c in September, one Kosovo Serb and three Ashkaelia from Plementina Temporary Community Shelter were beaten up near the KEK power plant by security guards for no apparent reasons. On 15 October, six Kosovo Serb men armed with a rifle assaulted two Roma and a juvenile in the Zitkovac camp, causing minor injuries to one of them. On 24 October, a masked man attacked a relative of an Egyptian returnee, sustaining serious injuries.

Some minority communities are reluctant to report incidents for fear of undermining the delicate balance they have struck with the majority community. Therefore, conclusions cannot be drawn solely from the rate of reported security incidents.

A.2. Kosovo Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians

As noted, Roma, Ashkaelia, and Egyptian communities experienced a gradual improvement in their security and freedom of movement throughout Kosovo. These improvements depend on the language, the locality, and the prevailing perceptions of the majority population. Against the backdrop of small-scale but persistent harassment, such as verbal abuse, endemic discrimination and marginalisation faced by these three communities, general statements remain difficult to make as the conditions are subject to so many factors. The sense of fear prevails. These communities continue to seek safety in larger groups.

In addition to the general discrimination against the Roma and Ashkaelia, former or current links to Kosovo Serbs or Kosovo Albanians and their language orientation continue to influence their security and freedom of movement, particularly in Prishtine/Pristina and Gjilan/Gnjilane regions.

In Prishtinë/Pristina region, the Roma continue to live in traditional close association with Kosovo Serbs, while the Ashkaelia tend to align themselves with Kosovo Albanians. Those links and knowledge of Serb or Albanian prevail over ethnicity in determining the security circumstances of these communities. There has been a decline in violent incidents against the Ashkaelia communities in Prishtine/Pristina, and an overall improvement in their situation. However, a sense of fear prevails despite the effort to integrate into the majority community. Most of the Ashkaelia are reluctant to go out to Prishtine/Pristina town. Many fear using public transportation and prefer to travel through private means.

The situation of Kosovo Roma in Gjilan/Gnjilane region in general corresponds to that of local Kosovo Serb communities. In areas where Kosovo Serbs enjoy relative security and improved freedom of movement, Roma enjoy it as well. In municipalities such as Ferizaj/Urosevac or Kacanik where Kosovo Serbs continue to face threats, the situation of the Roma remains precarious, and their freedom of movement and access to services are limited. In Strpce, negative perceptions held by both Kosovo Serbs and Albanians towards the Roma persist. Roma IDPs from Albanian majority villages complain about verbal harassment from Kosovo Serbs. In Kamenica/e, there were no significant security incidents affecting Roma communities during the reporting period. The community started to enjoy improved freedom of movement albeit limited to the region - except for in Urosevac/Ferizaj. The security situation of Roma in Gjilan/Gnjilane town remains fragile, evidenced by the above-mentioned two grenade attacks in Abdullah Presheva Street.

Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian communities in Pejë/Pec and Prizren regions experienced a steady improvement in overall security and freedom of movement. With the exception of Suva Reka/Suhareke, the Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians in Prizren and Rahovac/Orahovac municipalities saw a steady improvement in security and the freedom of movement within the region; some starting to move beyond the region. Contrary to Prishtine/Pristina and Gjilan/Gnjilane regions, ethnic alliance is less distinct in Peje/Pec and Prizren regions.

The overall situation of Ashkaelia, including returnees, remains fragile in Mitrovica region despite improvements made in Vushtrri/Vucitrn, a municipality to which four organised returns of Ashkaelia IDPs took place. In Vushtrri/Vucitrn, on 20 and 21 May, following the return of the second group of Ashkaelia IDPs, a group of Kosovo Albanians came to one of the houses trying to enter forcibly. A Kosovo Albanian, the former illegal occupant, threatened a returnee female head of household, trying to extort money for an addition he built on the property. Another Ashkaelia family returning immediately after an eviction ordered by the Housing Property Directorate (HPD) was interrogated by two members of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), who requested money for protecting their property during their absence. Incidents of harassment and attack equally affect Ashkaelia residents. Towards the end of the reporting period, there were continuous small-scale incidents targeting Ashkaelia communities in Vushtrri/Vucitrn. While these incidents highlight the vulnerability of Ashkaelia communities, it must be recognised that they have gained a relative freedom of movement within the municipality, allowing access to services; Ashkaelia children attend school together with Albanian children. The Kosovo Police Service (KPS) patrols in Ashkaelia neighbourhoods contribute to the improvement in freedom of movement.

Confidence towards law enforcement and the judiciary system has remained low, particularly among minority communities. Many Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian families refrain from reporting small-scale incidents to law enforcement authorities for fear of tensions with the majority community and reprisals. They report - but not necessarily to the police - persistent verbal harassment, particularly when moving beyond their usual environs. In Zitkovac and Chesmin Lug camps in North Mitrovica/e, where approximately 400 Roma, Ashkaelia, and Egyptian members are displaced, there are frequent unreported incidents ranging from beatings to thefts. In one case, a camp resident reported the theft of his vehicle to the police, but was afraid to identify the suspect even though he recognised him. In another instance, a deportee from Western Europe initially intending to return to his place of origin in the Roma Mahala, was beaten up by Kosovo Albanians in the South, therefore moved to the North to secondary displacement in Chesmin Lug camp, where he was beaten by Kosovo Serbs. The camp residents do not move around the camp because of insecurity.

Non-reporting occurs even in regions such as Peje/Pec, where the overall situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, and Egyptian communities has improved. Kosovo Albanian IDPs in Budisalc/ Budisavce threatened an IDP visiting from Serbia; due to his displacement to Belgrade, he was accused of being a Serb collaborator. A family in Kline/a municipality, for fear, did not report the known kidnappers of two family members missing since the conflict; the family is under pressure from the same group of Kosovo Albanians due to their property. A family in Kline/a remained silent when known perpetrators looted their house in September. Recently, a male member of the same family was severely beaten by the same persons.

Even when the minorities report security incidents to law enforcement authorities, the non response from the latter, failing to follow up, to identify and prosecute perpetrators or enforce appropriate legal measures perpetuates the sense of insecurity and helplessness. An illustrative case is the one mentioned above, where several residents of Plemetina TCS were assaulted by KEK workers. The incident was reported to the police, but inappropriately filed, ending up without proper investigation. The female returnee in Istog/k reported the incident to the police: received a note demanding she left the house. These incidents underscore the fundamental protection problems faced by minorities; lack of a credible function of the law enforcement authorities.

There is a growing complexity in motives for violence and intimidation against Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian communities; the incidents may be ethnically motivated, personal, opportunistic, or a mixture of all. Given their vulnerability, these communities are easily subjected to threats and intimidation, especially when competing for already limited resources in the larger community, or being involved in property disputes. Several incidents are reported in Peje/Pec; former Kosovo Albanian neighbours warned two IDP Roma/Ashkaelia/Egyptian families originally from Kristali not to return. In Kralan/Kraljane, a family is being pressured to leave because of their property. In Peje/Pec town and Lutogllav/Ljutoglava village, three families were robbed during October and November; possibly because they are old and isolated, in addition to their ethnicity. In Kline/a municipality, a known group of Kosovo Albanians targets Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians, stealing their cattle. Kosovo Albanians working for a construction company threatened a village leader because of a tender for reconstruction of houses for Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians in Kline/a municipality. No one reported these incidents to the police for fear of reprisal and tension.

A.3. Kosovo Bosniaks and Gorani

The general security situation of Kosovo Bosniaks remained stable with no incidents of serious violence. However, Bosniaks have been taken to the police station for questioning after speaking their language in public. Bosniaks in Mitrovica/e, especially in the south, still risk harassment or assault when using their language. Their situation in Peje/Pec and Prizren region, where the vast majority of Bosniaks reside, remained calm. In contrast to Mitrovica/e, Bosniaks in urban areas in Prizren region increasingly speak their language and access public services. Their confidence in rule of law tends to be much higher than among other minority communities, notably due to the significant recruitment of Bosniaks into the Kosovo Police Service (KPS). The small remaining Bosniak community in Prishtine/Pristina region remains isolated, with slow improvements in freedom of movement and use of their language in Albanian shops. Children attend Bosniak schools and speak their language without being harassed.

The overall security situation of Kosovo Gorani has remained stable with no direct attacks during the reviewing period. Freedom of movement remained largely limited within Prizren region due to their inability to speak Albanian. The Gorani continue to depart Kosovo in large numbers, mainly due to the dire economic situation in Dragash, an isolated area where they live.

B. Comparative situation of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo during the same period

The overall security situation of Kosovo Serbs remains precarious and fragile. The Kosovo Serbs have remained the primary target of ethnically based violence, and continue to have greater difficulties with freedom of movement and access to services compared to other minority groups. However, Kosovo Serbs have benefited from a relative improvement in the security situation and the easing of security measures, i.e. 'unfixing' of KFOR checkpoints. Some Kosovo Serbs, encouraged by the decreasing incidents, have exercised a limited but improved freedom of movement. Some of them have encountered stoning or shooting targeting their vehicles.

Several serious incidents took place during the reporting period. A series of explosions shook the village of Klokot, Viti/na municipality, destroying four Kosovo Serb houses on 31 July. Two KFOR soldiers were injured from the explosions. Only one house was inhabited and the occupant, an elderly IDP from neighbouring Zitinje, escaped unharmed, but two KFOR soldiers were injured. Earlier, a Serb owned house exploded on 23 April, and three Kosovo Serb owned houses were marked as Albanian property on 8 June. On 29 August, a group of six Kosovo Serbs from Gorazdevac, Peje/Pec, came under fire from unknown gunmen while cutting trees in the village of Dobredo despite the presence of UNMIK police. The Police had to call KFOR for reinforcement. The exchange of fire between KFOR and assailants lasted up to three hours. On 10 October in Peje/Pec, UNMIK Police and KFOR fired tear gas at a crowd of some 600 Albanians attacking a group of elderly Serb returnees from Osojane, who travelled in an escorted bus to register for pensions at the municipality. The violent clash involving Molotov cocktails demanded reinforcements of the Spanish special police. None of the Serbs were injured, unlike some of the UNMIK Police, KFOR and KPS officers. On 15 October, a Kosovo Serb woman was killed by an anti-tank mine in a field in Klokot. In Obiliq/c, a hand grenade was thrown into the house of a Kosovo Serb and the following week a car tried to run him over. The incidents clearly aimed at forcing the family to sell their house. Many violent attacks against Kosovo Serbs now include attacks against the international community, against the law enforcement and security agencies.

In addition to violent incidents, Kosovo Serbs continue to be subjected to harassment, intimidation and humiliation ranging from stone throwing targeting individuals, property or vehicles, unwillingness of officials and general public to understand their language, to provide services, and vandalism of religious sites. The KPS may come to the scene of stone throwing, but do often not take any effective measures to catch the perpetrators. Even when KFOR detains a perpetrator, and he/she is handed over to the police, the case will not be filed or followed up. The Serbs are frustrated with inadequate and ineffective measures by the law enforcement authorities in the investigation of crimes, regardless of their gravity.

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Footnote:

1 Subsequently, the incident was determined not to be ethnically motivated, but rather a blood feud. Despite the effort by the municipal authorities to calm the situation, several Roma families from the area faced problems after the incident.

2 Following an investigation on site, where one piece of the explosive device was found, police suspected that the incident was 'self-staged' to boost the family's refugee claim.