Invisible Roma in Kosovo?

by Sani Rifati
edited with permission by Kajira D.
copyright 1999, all rights reserved


No portion of this article may be reprinted without permission. Contact Kajira for inquiries. This article is awaiting publication in Zaghareet! Magazine.

Roma in Kosovo are having extremely hard times. In Prishtina (capital of Kosovo-Serbia), 95% of the Romani population are without jobs. Constantly we are hearing the news reports that in Kosovo, 90% of the population consists of Ethnic Albanians and 10% are Ethnic Serbs. That literally means Roma do not exist! Only in Prishtina are 35-40,000 of Romany population, that is almost 15% of population in Prishtina. Kosovo has population of 2,000,000 people. Of that total 200-250,000 - and maybe even more, are Roma. I do not have an accurate statistic because many Roma escaped from Kosovo into western European countries to seek exile. Almost all of Roma that have sought political asylum present themselves as Albanian because if they say that they are Roma, nobody would accept them in exile. In the meantime, all Roma that are in Europe have to pay 3-4% fees for Albanians each month to support (Kosovo Liberation Army - KLA).

Albanians are coming every month with their guns into Romani houses to collect the money. In spite of the fact that European authorities know about it - does anybody takes any measures? Hell no. So the KLA is supported from that and many other sources via the Albanian Mafia (back in the '80s they were one of the most organized Mafia groups in Europe). Every Albanian shop owner also has to pay monthly fees to support the Albanian Revolution.

Of course, our government is also supporting Albanian terrorists by selling them weapons. Now, of all the organizations giving humanitarian aid in Kosovo, all of the help is going to Albanians and Serbs, even though Roma and other minorities are often the poorest and most desperate for aid. Among the Albanians who are getting help are ones that have three story houses, cars like BMWs or Mercedes, and of course a nice suit and - most importantly - have learned English over night. It did not take them too long to learn how to get money and from whom. At this time in Prishtina are more than 20 Non Governmental Organizations - (NGO). Does anybody know how many Roma are getting help???? Less than zero, even though Roma make up more than 10% of the population in Kosovo. In the meantime, all the money that Albanians save by not having to buy food is ending up being used to buy arms from western European countries and particularly from a world police: U.S. Excellent job.

Since last year in early spring when severe fights started in between Ethnic Albanians and Serbs, 25 Roma have been killed. I can't provide all of their names but I did manage to get the names of those who are missing or have been kidnapped by the KLA. Here's the list of missing Roma:

1. Gurim Bejta-born in v. Dolac -disappeared on 05/20/98 in v. Grabanica(Klina-Kosovo).
2. Agron Berisha-born in v. Dolac disappeared on 05/20/98 in v.Grabanica (Klina-Kosovo).
3. and 4. Hadja Neshat born in 1955 in Kosovska, Mitrovica and his son, Hadja Suad, born in K. Mitrovica, disappeared on 07/21/98 in Kosovska, Mitrovica. These two disappeared while they were selling in the market in Kosovska, Mitrovica. An Albanian who was buying at the same market didn't have money for the things he bought and he told them to come with him to his house to get the money. They got into the Hadja's van and have not been seen since then.
5. Vesar Isaku- born in Orahovac , disappeared in Orahovac, Kosovo.
6. Azem Isaku- born in Orahovac , disappeared in Orahovac, Kosovo.
7. Agron Hamza- born in Orahovac , disappeared in Orahovac, Kosovo.
8. Muharem Damijani - born in Gjakovica, disappeared on the road Gjakovica-Krajljan. He was a taxi driver.
9. Tahir Krajljan - born in the v. Krajljan , disappeared in the same village during his travel by taxi. We must say that Tahir was released from custody because, as he said, ""I am very old."
10. Halil Krasnini - born in the v.Bajgora, disappeared on 09/05/98 in Glogovac. Glogovac is the coal mine and there was heavy fighting last spring and summer. He managed to escape.

All these people that are listed were kidnapped by UK-KLA. UK are now going around towns and villages openly threatening Roma and harassing them wherever they may be, whether at the schools (Roma are now going to Serbian Education, but in the past Albanian, because Albanians ruled from 1969 'til 1987 in Kosovo region), or in the streets, markets, etc. The reason is that Roma have to come and fight with their Muslim brothers against the Serbian regime.

The Serbians are the ruling minority in Kosovo. They are also committing some terrible atrocities against the Romani people. Being Rom in Kosovo is like nowhere, as my mother says: "Amen o Roma sijam ni andi havaja ni andi phuv" ("We, the Roma, are neither in the sky, nor on the earth.")

So we wanted to do something about this. This winter of 1998, my wife Carol, son Benjamin and I were there three weeks. We had two years in a row benefit events, some workshops in coffee shops and bookstores. We converted $ 8,500 into German marks, as that's the currency that goes the best in Kosovo. We smuggled them in to help my neighbourhood where I grew up. We had also 7 big suitcases of warm winter clothes, mostly for children. We managed to help 200 families with 50 kg. of flour, and from those families 50 of the neediest got one sq. meter of firewood; some people we helped with medicine. While we were delivering the flour and the firewood quite often we were asked, "when are you going to run for election, we'll vote for you immediately!" After that, we found out that Arkan and Slobodan Miloshevir (people who ran for office) brought 25 kg. of flour as bribes to each Romani family. Of course Roma are in such a desperate situation they circled in number 2 or 3 on the ballot, or however they dictated, in order to get the flour. One of the biggest absurdities was that Helsinki Watch monitored this and declared it a fair election! Oops - I almost forgot to write: Democratic Elections - according to them.

In my old neighbourhood are living some Serbs, Albanians and Turks, we also helped them. Many Romani kids we saw in the big garbage containers, a big number of them are sorting cardboard, plastic and aluminium cans in order to buy a piece of bread. Every 4-5 minutes we saw 4WD cars UNHCR, UNPROFOR, RED CROSS Geneva, Caritas-Zurich, World Vision GB, Doctors Without Borders and you just name it - and does anybody help Roma? Hell no!!! We got to help them and a lot of beggars on the streets. It was a very successful mission.

We had somewhere around $1,000 and some winter clothes for children left after distributing everything in my neighbourhood, so Carol and I went to UNHCR and told them that we were interested to go with their vehicles into towns where actual fighting had happened and help people there directly. The guy who worked in reception was Albanian and said it wouldn't be a problem. Then we asked him do they keep track of Romani people that they are helping? We told him that we would help also other people that are in need but, our main focus is on the Roma. He seemed surprised. He indicated that the UNHCR didn't keep any separate records of Roma in Kosovo, either as victims or as folks receiving aid. It seemed like he couldn't simply believe why someone from the U.S. should come and help Roma. We also wanted to speak with some international officials working there. He said that nobody was there and our conversation ended without much hope of getting this stuff to Roma in other towns.

This experience, and more throughout my life, have led me to ask:
Are Roma Really INVISIBLE ??????????????

Sani and his wife Carol continue to fight for the rights of Roma and oppressed people throughout the world. Together they have founded the Kosovo Romani Project in order to continue this goal. Sani has recently appeared on the History Channel's documentary, "The Curse on the Gypsies", and is an active spokesperson for his people at lectures and events across this nation. He believes education is the best tool to combat ignorance, and strives to get the word out on what is happening to his people worldwide, and especially in Kosovo, so that others may be alerted to the situation. Together we can make a difference.