Protecting the rights of the Roma population is one of the key factors for Albana's EU accession.
By Ben Andoni for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 23/08/13
There are an estimated 15,000 Roma in Albania, most living in poverty, UNICEF said. [Ben Andoni/SETimes]
An international organisation and Albania's ombudsman are protesting the fate of 37 Roma households forced to leave their makeshift homes in a Tirana suburb this month in order to make room for a housing project.
After asking for support from government officials for several days, about 130 people were forced to leave their homes on August 10th.
"Certain segments, people with certain interests whether owners or not, have been able to drive them [Roma] out with the greatest of ease. Then, institutional and public silence completed the circuit; they were alone again without any remedy, without a path for their future," Albanian ombudsman Igli Totozani told SETimes.
The company Park Construction Albania said the Roma were not evicted by force, but they reached an agreement and left voluntarily. The company claims to have receipts signed by the families for compensation the company paid them.
In a statement, the company also accused Totozani of misstatements.
"The ombudsman has been aware of and informed about these events the entire time, but he has intentionally manipulated public opinion through his statements,” it said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International and foreign diplomats in Albania spoke out against the evictions. On August 12th, Minister Kleves Bitro of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities said that his office made available funds and housing for displaced families and expressed regret that this community was misused for political purposes.
Totozani said the Ministry of Labor should take urgent steps to provide accommodations to Roma families.
"Unfortunately, government institutions have almost never demonstrated any care for the Roma people. The Roma are not taken into account or considered to have any influence as a social group. Although there are efforts to approve laws, or draft strategies and action plans, it only exists on paper. These important documents would have shown a certain will of the government and public administration regarding the Roma's problems. The Roma's real lives and circumstances must speak now in the absence of this political will," Totozani told SETimes.
There are several levels of government designed to work with the Roma: a technical secretariat for Roma in the labor ministry; an inter-ministerial group for Roma affairs at the vice-ministerial level, led by the vice minister of labor; technical groups for Roma affairs in 12 of Albania's counties; a minority affairs office in the Ministry of Culture; and a State Committee of Minorities.
"There are many organisations but they do very little for us. Eventually, we take to the streets again in protest. We are always getting trampled on. It will happen again and again. Many times we have raised our voices and nothing ever gets done. The only thing you hear at conferences is that all the groups are working on it," Skënder Veliu, a member of the Roma community and the leader of one of their oldest associations, told SETimes.
Foreign ambassadors to Albania, who recently met with the ombudsman in Tirana, said the displacement of the Roma will be reflected in the country's EU progress report, as guarantees for the rights of Roma are one of the 12 conditions for EU accession.
"The European Community appropriated 3 million euros for measures to protect Roma rights in Albania. This community should have equal opportunities with all others. The authorities should ensure legal solutions," said EU Ambassador to Albania Etore Sekui.
"I think that there is a great deal of abuse, because the EU and other donors always declare that they provide large amounts of funds for improving the situation of the Roma community, but the Albanian government misuses the funds. Also, some non-Roma NGOs declare that they work for the Roma but the reality is something else entirely," Xheladin Taço, the head of Roma Federation, told SETimes.
A UNICEF census indicates there are about 15,000 Roma in Albania, many of them living in gravely poor conditions.
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