Roma Returnees’ perspective on the EU agenda
Before the start of the EU Roma Platform 2018, ERGO Network and Roma Active Albania, together with the European Commission DG for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, organised the event “Reintegration” into the Western Balkans: Returnees’ perspective with special attention to Roma community, as part of the ‘Joint Initiative to Empower Roma Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey’. The event was hosted by the MEPs Cornelia Ernst (European United Left–Nordic Green Left), Soraya Post (Socialists & Democrats) and Eduard Kukan (European People’s Party).
Together the partners managed to move ‘the Roma in the Western Balkans’ perspective from the margins to the center of the EU Roma Platform’s narrative. The event strengthened stakeholders’ understanding of the situation, created a space for dialogue between Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, international organisations, national authorities, Roma Contact Points and Roma organisations from both the Western Balkans region and EU Member States. Participants of the conference discussed their view of the problems and possible measures to be taken to address them.
More specifically, there is a need for data collection, coordination, monitoring and evaluation, financing, policy frameworks and capacity-building. The event also raised awareness of the need for a stronger support for grassroots organizations to support returnees and to advocate for better policies and reflected the close cooperation between the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers (DG JUST) and Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).
By presenting preliminarily results of a study commissioned by DG NEAR and conducted by the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme, UNDP showed that the ongoing uncoordinated approach towards returnees has not been able to address the problems that Roma people experience in this context.
ERGO members and partners from OTAHARIN (Bosnia), RROMA (Macedonia) and Central Council of German Sinti and Roma presented the situation of returnees’ in their countries. Dragan Jokovic, Director of OTAHARIN argued that “Roma do not see the future in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia because they want the best for their children” and that “there are no conditions created for reintegration”. He added that Roma are the most discriminated in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that even the Constitution is discriminatory. “Roma returnees only can turn to NGOs for support”, Mr Jokovic stated.
While closing the event, MEP Soraya Post sent an important message to the participants: “The EU has defined the Western Balkan countries as safe countries of origin. This does not mean that these countries are free from antigypsyism. We hope that step by step we can make positive and sustainable changes, but we have to be more responsible.”
Adriatik Hasantari, Director of Roma Active Albania and Vice Chair of the ERGO Network board, highlighted the importance of joint efforts and coordination: “I can confirm that civil society is ready to make the reintegration of returnees a reality for the Western Balkans, but the most important is what we all take home from this successful event in terms of responsibilities that we need to fulfil”.
We are yet to see if the major actors will take more responsibility and increase their contribution to making sustainable change for the Roma in the Western Balkans.