Romani (Gypsy) culture and social issues.
The Roma Refugees of Kosovo

Text by Owen Durkin
Photographs by Asmet Elezovski
A flood of refugees has been entering Macedonia since late March 1999; many are ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, but some are Roma from Kosovo, yet other Roma are from Serbia. Kumanovo, Macedonia is near the Serbian border and has received many people from Serbia who have fled the NATO bombing, or the conflict on the ground. There are also Roma fleeing ethnic hostility directed at them in Albania. Those identified as coming from Kosovo are accepted as "refugees" by the Macedonian government and the UNHCR; the others are "guests" or "tourists". The distinction is critical: a refugee has the right to remain in the country, receive medical treatment and humanitarian aid, and also the right to emigrate to another country. Shabani is a Rom from Kosovo who has been registered in Kumanovo as a refugee, but he was told by Stenkovec authorities that one has to be Albanian or very rich to emigrate to another country; appeals to the UNHCR have been fruitless. Some Roma refugees head into the refugee camps; others seek billet accommodation with Roma families living in the area.

The members of the Roma Community Centre "DROM" Kumanovo have been labouring to assist Roma refugees in the camps and in private homes, providing food, medical assistance, accommodation and other aid. The Macedonian Roma families who are hosting Roma refugees are not wealthy; they need assistance to provide food, medicine, clothing and bedding. In some cases Roma have experienced discrimination or rejection by aid organisation staff workers perceiving Roma as allied with the Serbians. DROM has drawn heavily on its own funds to assist Roma and has worked with other local Roma organisations to distribute aid consignments from the Soros Roma Participation Project and Karitas Essen. This work has necessitated paying transport costs for the consignments, hiring a truck to distribute the aid, and having volunteers work from early morning to midnight. The stress on volunteers includes risk of ethnic disputes, particularly when objections have been raised by Albanian refugees to Roma receiving aid. Some volunteers resigned following such an incident. There are large crowds of Roma outside the DROM centre every day.

While this is going on, DROM volunteer workers have to cope with visits from representatives of non-government organisations and enquiries from foreign media. Situation reports are translated into four languages, and daily news releases are provided to RomNews <>. There are also conferences and meetings with other organisations for planning and coordination. Submissions have to be prepared for improved social welfare from the government.

DROM has invested particular energy in fostering and preserving good ethnic relations. Normal tensions are inflamed by the stress of war, and small incidents can easily trigger nasty mob reactions. For this reason Roma seek help from Roma families and from DROM and other Romani organisations.

DROM has received several donations from individuals in England and the USA, and help from a Romani organization in Australia. These funds are greatly appreciated but will soon be exhausted helping needy families. The annual budget DROM receives from the Soros Roma Participation Project is almost depleted. They may soon run out of the resources needed to continue helping Roma refugees if more donations are not received soon. Donations can be sent to the DROM bank account:

Stopanska Banka a.d.-Skopje
Bank account: 40100-623-79
ZPP-Kumanovo- 40900-678-6121

Mailing Address:
Roma Community Centre "DROM" Kumanovo
Lokalitet serava prizemje 7a, 91300 Kumanovo

Tel/Fax: +(389) 90127558
Asmet Elezovski, e-mail:

Photographs by Asmet Elezovski
    1. Roma refugees queue up to receive flour at the DROM Kumanovo community centre.
    2. Flour from USA for distribution at the DROM community centre.
    3. DROM Kumanovo volunteer members loading flour for refugees.
    4. Kosovar Roma refugees in Kumanovo.
    5. Refugee children mind their parents' bags.
    6. Child refugee in the town of Kumanovo.
    7. Refugees in DROM community centre.
    8. Nicolae Gheorghe, Adviser on Roma and Sinti Issues at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, confers with a local Rom.
    9. Refugees in community centre.
    10. Refugees in community centre.
    11. Family life in camp.
    12. Children in camp.
    13. Young man and child.
    14. Nicolae Gheorghe hears family story in camp.
    15. DROM volunteer workers interviewing refugees.
    16. Children and young families in camp.
    17. A simple meal for a refugee.
    18. Nicolae Gheorghe accompanies DROM volunteer workers.

Copyright © 1999 by the Patrin Web Journal.
Posted 11 June 1999.

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