„Howdy, neighbor“ series – The life in the Roma Settlement in Mitrovica

For years, in the lives of the Roma people in Kosovo, according to what can be seen in the Roma settlements, but also as they themselves testify, there have been few changes for the better. In South Mitrovica as well, the Roma people are barely getting by. Approximately 3,000 people, including around 1,000 children, live in the so-called Roma settlement. As a result of the lack of jobs, a rising number of them are moving to EU states or Serbia proper.

This is the fourth episode in the “Howdy, neighbor” series.

The first episode in the series centered on the lives of Serbs in Cernica, a multiethnic village near Gnjilane. Currently, about 3,000 Albanians and 120 Serbs live there. Read more.

The second episode dealt with the lives of Serbs in the villages of Suvo Grlo, Banje, and Crkolez in the Metohija foothills. Read more.

The third episode examined the lives of Serbs in Babin Most, a multiethnic village in the Obilic municipality. Read more.

Halit Vehapi says that the residents of the Roma settlement have a hard time finding jobs – and even when they do, their earnings are usually not enough to cover all expenses.

“It’s hard. Honest to God, I have a 100 euro pension, it’s hard to get by on 100 euros… I work with iron, with waste, but there is no work, no profit. But you have to work to provide for your family… It’s tough. We live off social security. For example, we work for two or three days, a week, you rest for ten days,” Vehapi says.

His neighbor, Halid Gushani, claims that certain residents of the settlement have Serbian documents, and others Kosovan, based on which they get social benefits. Gushani, however, underscored that this money is not enough, which is why they are often forced to choose where they’ll spend it.

“We pay electricity bills, water bills. If we don’t pay one electricity bill, they immediately come and cut our power. How can we afford it? We receive 100 euros, we can either use it for food, or clothes… or to pay electricity and stay hungry… The Roma people here… there aren’t many of us here. Nobody asks us anything, nor shows interest in anything,” Gushani stressed.

He adds that the representatives of international organizations have also stopped visiting and helping them.

“They appreciate us Roma only on Roma Day or when there is an election – for two or three days. After these two or three days, we don’t matter anymore.”

When it comes to education, some Roma children from Mitrovica receive education within the school system of the Republic of Serbia, while others within the Kosovan system. When it comes to medical treatment, some go to North and others to South Mitrovica.

Halit Vehapi receives treatment in a clinic in South Mitrovica, Gushani – in North.

“My children go to school on the Serbian side because, to be honest, of the social security and child benefits and everything. We also get medical treatment in the northern part. We are welcomed there, I cannot lie, as I live off benefits from Serbia,” Gushani says.

While admitting that the benefits they receive do come in handy, Gushani adds: “If you work – you will get by, if you don’t work, you won’t.”

As a result of the lack of work, but also the lack of interest, as they say, of both domestic and international institutions, a rising number of young people are moving to EU states.

Some former residents of the Roma settlement, who now live in the west or Serbia proper, built houses in their old neighborhood, different from the ones they had, and as they say, although they miss their homeland, they do not regret leaving.

“I left to put my life together because life in Kosovska Mitrovica is not good. You have work for two or three days, and then you don’t for two or three months. I want to find a job I can do every day, so that I work every month, every year, and live a better life,” said Reshat Beluli, who moved to Belgrade.

If life were good here, everyone would still be here, he says. While underscoring the problems faced by the locals, Beluli alleged that the situation would improve if they had a representative who would fight for the rights of the occupants of the Roma Mahala.

Due to everyday problems, Roma people are slowly giving up their centuries-old customs. In previous years, St. George’s Day was widely celebrated here. However, only a few people celebrate this holiday today.

Halit Vehapi says that younger generations don’t respect customs, noting that people “are not afraid” to celebrate St. George’s Day.

Remembering the good old days of festivities and celebrations, Halid Gushani says that he still celebrates the holiday, although many have stopped doing so.

“It used to be great. Now, since we are Muslim, most do not celebrate it. I celebrate for myself. I bought a lamb in the northern part, and I slaughtered it today, I played some music and so on. What can we do? It’s St. George’s Day. We have to celebrate, it’s our tradition. They say – it’s forbidden. Well, overindulging is also forbidden, breathing a lot of air is also forbidden because you will suffocate. And so… the majority does not celebrate. Thirty, forty years ago, there would be a huge celebration, three or four days of eating and drinking, rejoicing.”

He says that everything is different now due to the bad financial situation.

Nevertheless, the Roma community is happy that the attitude of their neighbors towards them has changed and that stereotypes are slowly being overcome.

Reshat Beluli claims that both Serbs and Albanians alike used to mistreat the Roma.

“Now, if you don’t mess with anyone, no one will mess with you. Respect them and they will respect you,” he states.

The Roma themselves are most responsible for overcoming prejudices. More and more of them are receiving their education, while the number of child marriages is on a decline.

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