By Edona Velikaj and Kristina Fidhi –
August is the most suffocating month of the year for the bared tree neighbourhood of Roma people. Their entire living environment is covered from the gravel coming from the springs and the urban waste. Walking along the suburban road of Zinxhira neighbourhood in Gjirokastra, which is officially and ironically named “Roma road”, you come across to a landscape which is as sad as the fate of these people. The poverty has sat cross legged in the half shelters where are living more than 1500 Roma people, permanent inhabitants or the ones recently turned back from emigration. The environment is dominated from a heavy smell of pollution, whereas the water is missing.
A group of women is digging a hole to uncover the only pipe of potable water in this neighbourhood. Waiting for the water to come out they argue noisily on whose turn is it to pour water. Further down, a young man is fixing better with the sticks the border with the newly-arrived neighbours, a mother is suckling her child at the doorway and an elderly woman is bending to pick the metals from a pile of garbage, Stefan 7 years old is pulling a phantasm-toy linked with a rope, whereas a big dog is lazily crawling his legs after the child. Tens of other dogs and cats are ruling the territory around the huts. It seems like time has ceased in this place. Several relics of different times have been piled near to the Roma huts. Tools, broken home appliances, dirty dishes, benches, chairs, carpets, clothes lied over the fences, abandoned shoes and family waste in lays, being created over the years.
Outside of the hut set up with tin, wood and plastic, Jemin Jemini, that likes to call himself the chief of this community, some abandoned wooden wattles to be interwoven into baskets, clearly show that he has worked during socialism in the artistic enterprise, whereas nowadays he is a pensioner without pension. “The documents were lost, explains Jemini, they were burned. I asked for them in the Committee and in the Professional Unit’s offices, but they do not know anything. I worked for 30 years together with my wife. My life has gone, but what are our children going to do? The orphan children of my son, four children, what will happen with them? He left them to me, I wanted to bring them at school to become humans, but they did not accept them. They do not have the name in the municipality, in the list, they told me”, tries to explain Jemini.
The yard of Nexhmija’s hut is very visible in the Roma neighbourhood because of the flowers, a passion of the youth. Nexhmije Ajnazi, a woman decorated with typical Roma ornaments, earrings and rings, a mother of five children and grandmother of 14 grandsons and granddaughters is revolted. “There is no state for us” – she says. “The children are suffering from the kidneys from the dirty water they drink, two of our sons were sent to the hospital, but everyone is sick here in the middle of the filth. What school are you asking me about? I am telling you that they are sick, some with the kidney and others with the hepatitis”, continues Nexhmija. Only this girl will attend school, now in September, continues the elderly woman by pointing out a slimy child about 10 years old. She is her granddaughter from her son. We feel discriminated, they call us Roma people and they tell us that we do not have any state. What to say, some 10 children from the neighbourhood go to school dirty, we do not have where to wash them, the others were not accepted due to lack of documents. But they do not want even the ones that go. Would you accept your child to stay together with a Roma kid in his class?- Nexhmija is directed to me by looking me straight in my eyes, but not waiting any answer for the question already done. Ana, 10 years old, says that she likes the school but only few of her friends want her.
More than 300 children at school age in this neighbourhood do not attend school. The majority of them returning from
Nexhmija, a Roma mother
Greece, where their families had emigrated for many years, are not registered in the civil status office and as a result no chain of the system does function for them. Many families are almost totally inexistent in the state registers. The chief of Civil Status office in Gjirokastra municipality, Arminda Mevlani, informs that the registration of the children or other people still unregistered among this community is not on the responsibility of this office.”They have the personal, moral and legal obligation to do the registration and to pay the fine in cases they do not respect the deadlines. Due to that, they cannot be beneficiaries of any service, neither education, nor health, employment nor social aid. We cannot do it by force and we cannot go there to remind this obligation either.” – says the chief of this sector.
Saveta Lamaj, is director of “Together” school, the only school attended by all the communities in Gjirokastra, including Roma children. She says that the education institutions are confronted with a difficult process of integration of Roma children at the school. “Roma people are not very education-loving, says Mrs. Lamaj. “Save the Children” has supported on making an intensive and differentiated work from the side of teachers, but their attendance is not regular. The Roma children are taken away from the school, even in the cases that we have managed to integrate them, and they are exploited in the black labour market or there are cases when they emigrate or return back spontaneously to school. Up to the primary school the attendance is satisfactory, but the number is reduced after that” – says Lamaj. According to her, the policy of the school is such as not to feel any discrimination (in the first grade there are 10 Roma children and the same number is for the non –Roma children). Being asked if the massive return from emigration will increase the number of pupils she answers that the problem of the documents always remains a chain that need to be overcome. The majority of them, admits Mrs. Saveta Lamaj will not be able even this September to be registered at school.
Arjana Haxhiu. researcher of social issues
Arjana Haxhiu, a well known trainer for the human rights’ issues and researcher of the social issues in Albania explains that the current status of this community not only in Gjirokastra but in whole Albania is connected on one side with the non-accepting mentality of the society for this social group and non proper functioning of the stimulating mechanisms and strategies of the state to ensure their inclusion in the society, and on the other side the fact that the Roma population is less active rather than the other social groups. “The social isolation and cultural fragmentation among the Roma community and the seasonal movement of some of the clans, influence in the reduction of their ability to cooperate in diminishing discrimination. Lack of the identity documents, the low level of education, lack of information related to their civic rights, low awareness raising activities on asking and protecting these rights, the early marriages etc makes them more vulnerable than the other social groups and ranks them in unequal conditions on asking for their rights not only to the society but also to the state”, says Mrs. Arjana Haxhiu,a well known trainer and researcher of the social issues and human rights.
To be born and to live like a Roma
Liri Ajnazi, is not more than 40 years old, but she could not remember the time when she got married, she simply says that it has happened long time ago; so long seems to be the time she had lived so far. “I was born a little further down from this hut. I was 14 years old when I got married, my father wanted to marry me, he found the husband for me, the same as I did for my children. To us, the parents choose for their children. They know what is good and bad”, explains Liria. With her hair covered with the shawl, blue eyes, visible wrinkles, and the bronze colour in her face, Liria is putting in order a pile of second hand clothes that she has just brought from the town market. “I have gained only five thousand leke today (500 leke), she says. What are we going to do with this?. We left to Greece in ’97 to work, but Greece came to an end. We came back in May, my husband, my son and my daughter, but the white people have usurped our place, don’t you see that? Where are our daughters going to live? We do not know where to go to complain, even the hut of our son will be destroyed, they told us, as they will build the road. We are waiting to go back to Ioannina to pick the grapes”, says Liria.
In fact, to live like a Roma seems to be difficult. The population cannot find a permanent shelter anywhere. The territory,
which during the communism belonged only to them, to date it is usurped without any criteria from the population coming from the rural areas, and there is no possibility to further develop this territory. The situation of the static Roma population, Their heterogeneity and sustainability are not registered anywhere, creating this way another chain where the system does not function for the Roma people. The representative of INSTAT in Gjirokastra, Dajti Pollo said that: “INSTAT does not possess the needed personnel and logistics to register the number, well being and other necessary statistics of this population which is always on move. These restrictions and the continuous move of Roma, lack of registration of their children and other aspects make difficult the statistical profile for them” concludes the chief of Gjirokastra INSTAT office, Mr. Dajti Pollo. On the other hand this ethnic and linguistic minority is the most deprived from the right of social services of all categories.
According to the Social Aid Office in Gjirokastra municipality, only 40 Roma families were treated with the economic aid during July, even though the situation of around 1500 inhabitants of this neighbourhood is almost the same. “The information of the potential beneficiaries is done by the administrators of this office, after the request is done by everyone in person”, says Mrs. Shajko, administrator. “All of them deserve to be treated with the economic aid as it is an unemployed community that do not possess any vehicle, or property and do not have any source to generate incomes. Some ten families come with the fulfilled application every month to be treated with the economic aid says the administrator of the aid “cashbox”. Arta Shajko administrator of the Social Aid office informs that during the years ’97-’98, there were treated 98 families with the social aid, the number was reduced to 7 families in 2010, whereas the number kept increasing in the last two years where some 14 people from this community are getting the payment as being disabled”.
Dhimiter Mjedi, chief of Social Service
The chief of the Gjirokastra State Social Service, Dhimitër Mejdi, thinks that the chains of the system do not function properly for the Roma. “There are deficiencies in including them in school, vocational training and vaccination”, – explains Mr. Mejdi. According to the statistics of the Social Service some 467 Roma people live in Gjirokastra region, but Mejdi clarifies that this figure corresponds to an early inspection in spring 2013, time when the Roma population has been considerably increased from the return of emigrants. Nevertheless, the specialists of the SHSSH accept that there are difficulties related with the procedures on the treatment with the economic aid. “The treatment with the economic aid is realized if the person goes in person to this institution every month with the family certification, but the difficulties are related with their continuous emigration i.e. we have to do with a non stable population but another negative aspect is the unregistered members of the family. If a family pretends that it consists of more than seven members and if three of them figure out to be unregistered , then these three members are left out of the beneficiary scheme of the economic aid”, – explains Mejdi. Nevertheless, SHSSH notices in a series of inspection acts directed to the bigger local governance units of Gjiroakstra region that the administrators of these units are the people responsible for lack of information or not complete information given to this community. Very often we have cases of fictive payment for families that do not live in Albania for the moment and non-inclusion in the lists of the Roma beneficiaries that fulfil the criteria. It has to be accepted that their move has brought confusion to the lists of the economic aid.
In the 2013 report of “Freedom House” related to corruption, Albania is ranked in the 113 position among 176 countries. In the paragraph where the report refers to the human rights, the Freedom House underlines especially the discrimination of Roma and women. “The Roma people, cites the report, are confronted with discrimination on education, health care, employment and sheltering.” The ambassador Sequi also highlighted that the situation of the Roma population will be reflected in the progress report of October this year for Albania, a report that is being compiled.
“The challenges remain to be big”, emphasises Mrs. Arjana Haxhiu, trainer and researcher of social affairs and human rights, but some of them depend on the Roma community such as the identity to be given to the children born, education, information, engagement in the organizations or partnerships, firstly with the organizations within their community and later with other social organizations or other state organizations to advocate together for their issues.
“A romalen katar tumen aven,
E tsarensa bahtale dromensa
cahkrensa bokhale chavensa?’’…
‘’O Roma from where you are coming,
With huts in the happy road
With all those huts and hungry children?”..
A beautiful and sad song, the hymn of free people, for whom time has ceased somewhere in the Middle Ages. They are simply asking to be citizens of this country.
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