Homeless people in Serbia waiting for rights

04/07/2012

A new law on residence -- which enables homeless people to use social centres as their official address -- is slow to come into force.

By Katica Djurovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 04/07/12

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There are 30,000 people on the streets in Serbia, according to an NGO study. [Katica Djurovic/SETimes]

Milan K, 56, has lived on the streets of Belgrade for the last 13 years, one of thousands of Serbian citizens who do not have personal documents, and are deprived of many rights, including job assistance, medical treatment and the right to vote.

A new law on residence which enables citizens without a permanent address to be given ID cards and other documents was passed in November 2011, at the initiative of Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic.

However, since then, little has been done to implement the legislation -- leaving many homeless people on the streets, not knowing that the state can help them.

Milan is one of about 3,000 homeless people who live in Belgrade, spending days and night in the parks and under bridges.

"In the winter I sleep in the train wagons, buses and trams. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I spend a day or two in the shelter for elderly and adults," he said.

That shelter is the only institution in Serbia that accepts people without documents. In others, it is necessary to have at least an ID card.

The new legislation was meant to improve the position of not only homeless people, but all those who have no valid documents, including Roma people, refugees and asylum seekers. It provides the opportunity for people without a home to report their residence as the social centres, allowing them to apply for an ID card, health insurance or assistance from the National Employment Service.

Milan shakes his head when asked if heard of the opportunity.

"I don't know about that, but what is the use of it? I don't have money to pay for ID. I know I won't get a job or place to live with new documents. It is a good idea only if I can get some real help like free food, accommodation," Milan told SETimes.

According to Jankovic, Serbian politicians have ignored this problem for years.

"Responsible state authorities and public services haven't done anything, including the first and most basic thing: prepare necessary forms and procedures and inform the public, especially homeless people about the law. The main reason why so small a number of people registered in six months is that many still do not know about the law, their rights and how to achieve those rights," Jankovic told SETimes.

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According to the ministry of labour and social policy, only 26 people have registered. An NGO Housing Centre study published in March 2012 showed there are 30,000 people in Serbia without IDs.

"The reason for the weak response … is that the legal procedures take time to enforce the law. We still haven't passed the by-laws and regulation. We are waiting for consent from the ministry of interior," Dragan Vulevic, head of administrative and supervisory tasks at the ministry of work and social policy, told SETimes.

The Centre for Social Work in Belgrade said they are also waiting for legal by-laws which will determine obligations and procedures.

The situation is similar in other countries throughout the region. Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are still planning to pass laws on residence, which will provide new addresses and documents for homeless people.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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