Education is seen as key to reintegration of repatriated Roma, but is complicated by extreme poverty and language barriers.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 20/11/12
Many repatriated Roma children in Kosovo were born abroad, do not know Albanian or Serbian and do not know Kosovo as their homeland. [AFP]
Nearly 3,000 Roma have been repatriated from Western European countries and deported to Kosovo this year, but the children are particularly affected and are in need of immediate attention, according to experts.
"The ongoing readmission of children to Kosovo has caused particular concern regarding their best interests in the repatriation process," Beate Dastel, head of monitoring and evaluation at the UNICEF Kosovo Office, told SETimes.
Dastel said that many of the repatriated Roma, but also Ashkali and Egyptian children -- known as the RAE community -- have been born abroad and do not speak Albanian or Serbian, or know Kosovo as their homeland.
These minority communities in Kosovo, which are estimated to number around 30,000 to 40,000, are considered one of the country's most vulnerable groups; 60 percent live in absolute poverty and over 30 percent in extreme poverty.
Dastel pointed out that poverty aside, inadequate access to health care and a high school drop-out rate are key concerns.
"Many of the children are repatriated without proper school documentation.. This puts a real challenge on the local school authorities in the process of assessing the children's educational status and leads to the children's limited education progress and high drop-out rate," Dastel said.
About a quarter of the children from the three vulnerable communities do not attend primary school, and secondary school attendance is lower.
The recently established Ministry of Internal Affairs Reintegration Office has been working on training local authorities to address the needs of children.
"Citizens at the Social Care Centre in Pristina require social assistance and other services," Sevdije Ibrahimi, head of social services at the centre, told SETimes. "The children are faced with numerous difficulties, starting with the most elementary things for life."
"For minority children, the language challenge is often the biggest," Dastel said.
UNICEF has joined with Kosovo's reintegration ministry in a year-long co-operation project.
The project helps RAE children reintegrate in Kosovo by helping them find housing, obtain education and get social assistance and personal documents. Each municipality in Kosovo has a branch office to offer services.
"The key UNICEF recommendation regarding a sustainable support of repatriated families and their children in Kosovo is to include reintegration supporting mechanisms in the existing social welfare schemes and to consider the challenges of returnees in the long term," Dastel said.
Kosovo's education ministry officials said they have taken steps to raise awareness, help provide school items and organise courses for better school integration. But they acknowledge the problems are amplified given that Kosovo is experiencing high-levels of poverty, poor economic prospects and EU-integration shortcomings.
"Our office engages children to identify initial concerns they may have concerning language or, if they are adults, professional training," Lulzim Vrapca, co-ordinator at the Municipal Office of Communities, Returns and Integration in Pristina.
"However, from the field experience it is evident ... the problem concerns awareness raising for education of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities," Vrapca said.