HUNDREDS OF ROMA AND EGYPTIANS HAVE NOT RESOLVED THE LEGAL STATUS EVEN AFTER 20 YEARS: NO HELP FOR STATELESS PEOPLE 

According to official UNHCR data, 360 former and internally displaced persons still have not resolved their legal status, and this problem is most widespread among the Roma and Egyptian (RE) populations. For the regular social assistance system, but also for the emergency system during the Covid-19 epidemic, they are – invisible

 

“God forbid that they close the market again. That would mean that we can’t to go out and work. In that case I would not be able to survive since nobody helps me” Gazmend Krueziu (53) prays while the number of people infected with Covid-19 is growing again.

But he is not the only one trying to feed a family of twelve. In Montenegro, according to official United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) data, 360 persons registered as former and internally displaced have no resolved legal status, and most are members of the Roma and Egyptian populations. Based on the results of the “field verification” conducted at the end of 2017 together with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, UNHCR estimates that about 140 persons in Montenegro are at risk of statelessness. It means a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.

Even though a large number of Roma families live in substandard conditions, many are not even formally registered as socially disadvantaged. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM), only 28.6 percent of these households are beneficiaries of family material support (FMS/MOP). Families like Gazmend`s are doubly endangered: not only they do not get the support from funds due to unresolved legal status, but they don’t get the emergency assistance as well.

“This team helped me to get Kosovo citizenship, but I failed to resolve my residence in Montenegro. I contacted the Legal Center several times, but they couldn’t help either. Everyone else got the apartments except me because I don’t have a resolved legal status. I don’t work anywhere, and neither do my children. The eldest son is 23 years old.  A proof of residence is required for every single job. I registered the children in the birth certificates with two witnesses by mother’s surname because she also has Kosovo citizenship. We live in a rented apartment. I need at least 100 EUR a month for a rent and bills, otherwise I will end up on the street”, Krueziu says. 

The previous period, as he says, was very difficult for him and his family. The police returned him home twice when he tried to collect and sell secondary raw materials from a landfill near the informal settlement where he lives.

“Everyone was given food and hygiene packages, except me. I have never received one. When they handed out packages from the Roma Council, they said it was only for domicile Roma. The Government helped those who receive social benefits and who are registered at the Employment Agency of Montenegro (EAM). I couldn’t get any of that either. I hope that someone will help me and my family, as well as others who are in the same situation to get the documents so that we can live a better life”, Krueziu says. 

Half-younger Emra Morinaj (27) from Kosovo, a father of four, says they have survived the previous months thanks to neighbors.

“If it weren’t for them, we would be starving. We weren’t allowed go out and work. I don’t know who to ask for help. Once they gave me potatoes and macaroni from the Red Cross, and I am thankful for that,” Morinaj says.

His children were born in Podgorica, but he is still waiting for a permanent residence permit.

“I have also addressed the Ministry of the Interior several times. They asked me for some documents from the border and from Kosovo. I obtained all those documents, but I still cannot resolve the status in Montenegro. My son is enrolled in the first grade this year, and the twins are attending kindergarten. I’m just asking that my family and I get the status. When I resolve that, I will have everything “, Morinaj says for CIN-CG.

He points out that he is aware that within the RE populations there are those who are in even worse position. 

“I’m young so I can go out and do whatever I can, but there are people who are old and sick. I am sure that the previous period was tougher for them. Assistance from social and employment agency in the amount of 50 EUR would be important for us as well, because we were prevented from working “, Morinaj explains.

According to the officially published data, the Government of Montenegro paid a one-off assistance of EUR 50 within the measures for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 for 17,078 persons registered at the Employment Agency of Montenegro on March 31, 2020. On average, there are about thousand people of the RE population registered at the EAM. 8,583 FMS beneficiaries, including Roma and Egyptians, also received 50 EUR each.

Addressing the issue of displaced persons from the former Yugoslav states and internally displaced persons from Kosovo residing in Montenegro is part of the negotiations with the European Union, within Chapter 23 – “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights”. Back in July 2011, the government adopted a strategy according to which this was supposed to have been done in 2015. Then they estimated that the work was not finished, so they set the end of 2019 as a new deadline but this one wasn’t met either. 

“In the period from November 7, 2009, when the Law on Amending the Law on Foreigners entered into force, up until and including December 31, 2019, displaced and internally displaced persons submitted 15,237 applications for approval of permanent residence and temporary residence for up to three years. Out of this number, 15,050 requests have been resolved, while 187 requests are in progress. Of the 15,050 resolved cases, for 12,366 persons the application was approved and they were granted a permanent residence, or temporary for up to three years; 286 requests were denied, while 2,398 cases were rejected, i.e. the procedure was suspended (double or incomplete requests) “, Dina Knežević, the Advisor at Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms, explains for CIN-CG.

According to her, persons who have not exercised the right to submit a request for regulation of permanent residence and temporary residence have been staying illegally in Montenegro since January 1, 2015.

Elvis Berisha, the executive director of the youth organization Walk with us – Phiren amenca, says that several families have asked them for help. 

“In a short period of time, in the territory of Podgorica alone, more than 38 persons who have not resolved their legal status have been identified. As a result, they were unable to use the assistance provided by the Government. With the support of the UNDP, in the coming period, our organization will provide assistance to these families in food, but also when enrolling children in educational institutions”, Berisha says.

The Roma Council does not remember him, but…

Although the Roma Council does not remember “Mr. Gazmend Krueziu”, they claim that statement is incorrect or is a “product of ignorance”.

“Honestly, I can’t remember the person. I can claim, as a member of the Roma Council, that in cooperation with Red Cross assistants, with the support of the Podgorica Capital City and NGO Help, we distributed a total of 1,300 packages for all Roma and Egyptians, both domicile and those without resolved legal status at the territory of Podgorica”, Mensur Salja, a member of the Roma Council, told CIN-CG, listing all the settlements where they distributed help, including the informal settlement of Vrela BB and Šatorsko naselje. According to Salja, “families of Djukatani, Berisha and others in informal settlements inhabited by not domicile persons who have received help from donors can confirm this…”

Adnan Djukatani confirmed to CIN-CG that the Roma Council distributed packages to him and his brothers.

“During the Covid-19, when we were prevented from working, we were given two food and hygiene packages from the Roma Council. Also, they distributed flour to us and I am thankful to them”, Djukatani, who lives in the same settlement as Krueziu, said.

He and his brothers, however, have the status of foreigner nationals with permanent residence, which is not the same.

In another conversation with a CIN-CG journalist, Gazmen Kruzeiu was categorical that he did not receive any help that others did. His neighbor Besim Hajrizi, who also has no resolved legal status, confirmed that he did not receive help either.

“When the Roma Council handed out packages, I wasn’t given any. They shared it with all my neighbors who have citizenship. They told me I would be given in the second round. But they did not come again”, Besim Hajrizi told CIN-CG.

 

243 apartments have been built, additional 96 to be built

According to the 2011 Census of population, households and dwellings in Montenegro, 6,251 persons stated to have Roma nationality (1.01 percent of the total population), while the Egyptian population numbers 2,054 persons (0.33 percent). Most Roma lived in the territory of Podgorica (3988), followed by Berane (531), Nikšić (483), Bijelo Polje (334), Herceg Novi (258). The largest number of Egyptians is in Podgorica (685), Niksic (446), Tivat (335) and Berane (170). The settlements inhabited by Roma and Egyptians are located on the outskirts of cities.

Through the regional housing program, 243 apartments were built in the capital’s suburb Konik for people from Kosovo who came to Montenegro in 1999.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare promised that in the next two years, 96 more apartments for displaced persons will be built in Podgorica’s settlement of Konik, stating that the money for construction, worth 3.5 million EUR, was provided through the Regional Housing Program.

Serđan BAFTIJARI

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