Dear Sirs,
Having in mind a series of domestic and International recommendations, the National Roma Strategy and the Action Plan based on the it, we are in the position to express our concern about the fact that the Draft Legalization Law, the public disussion for which has not been held, does not contain a single provision dealing with „illegal Roma settlements".

The public discussion, as the only way for the citizens to express their attitudes, was supposed to start on 18 July 2013, however, due to the lack of interest of the very Ministry of Building and Urbansim, the Serbian Government Office for Human and Minoriy Rights of the newly formed Council of Roma and even the Roma National Council, did not take place. Such procedure of laws enactment is unconstitutional and irresponsible.

Roma represent one of the biggest ethnic community in the Republic of Serbia, which exists on the margin of the society for centuries. According to the official census, as of 2011, the Roma population in Serbia had 147.604 inhabitants and made 2.05 % of the total number of inhabitants. On the other hand, according to the estimations of the Council of Europe, the number of Roma in Serbia is around 450.000.

During the time of socialism, only a small segment of employed Roma population in Serbia was included in official apartments providing (socially orned apartments), while most of Roma were forced to make the „outlet" strategies, that is, they were founding the way beyond the apartment provision system mentioned. So they were building their own apartments, both in already existing Roma settlements and the newly formed ones. It resulted in a big number of Roma settlements which are characterized by poor housing, low infrastructural facilities, and often, illegal building.

According to survey results, as of 2002, there were registered 593 Roma settlements in Serbia, (more than 100 households) of which 34.6% was partly and 35.5% completely illegal, while 43% were slams (without electricity around 10%, water supply in the apartment, 47.1%, and sewerage system only 24.2%) (Jakšić and Bašić 2005). It is estimated that around 70% of Roma population in Serbia live in Roma settlements, and only around 5% of Roma live in public social apartments (in the majority population that percentage is lower, it is 3% but they make much higher figure in the absolute amount). Having in mind the dimensions of poverty and social exclusion of Roma, that percentage is extremely low. Namely, while 14.7% of the entire population is faced with problems of poor housing, it is the case with 64.1% of Roma population. The Roma Position Improvement Strategy indicates that 39% of Roma households lack the corresponding water supply, and 5% has no sanitary devices at all. (in slams 25%).

The problem of Roma settlements is the consequence of historical and socioeconomic conditions in ex - Yugoslavia but also, of the last twenty years in Serbia.
This problem is not only the matter of law, planning or administration. It is the problem, i.e., the consequence of the urban and developmental discrimination. In Serbia, there are around hundred of Roma settlements (mahalas), more than 50 years old. In order to prevent further destruction of these settlements, provide for development of these settlements inhabitants, and have space to offer accommodation for people who are still to be displaced, the best thing will be to foresee the solution for Roma settlements legalization in this very Draft Law.

Main characteristics of these settlements, which may be immediately legalized, are as follows:

  1. They comprise mainly modest individual housing structures in the outskirts of cities, built by poor families from their own assets,
  2. Generally, living conditions are descent, and families living in them have solved in this way their housing needs without being granted housing credits or apartments from enterprises, because, they were not employed;
  3. Communal services are, more or less, always present, which indicates that the state, supporting the informal urbanization, was, to the certain extent, the co-participant in the offence, and by that very act it practically legalized Roma settlements (mahalas).

Problems of informal settlements and their inhabitants are multidimensional and they are characterized by:

  1. Their functional and legal integration, ignored deliberately;
  2. Lack of administrative and financial instruments so that the inhabitants of these settements could find the way with the legalization problem;
  3. More difficult social integration of Roma citizens,
  4. Limited access to public services;
  5. Less responsibility of the legal system and political elites towards minorities;
  6. Not decided status of using illegally constructed land area, usually occupied in different ways, each case of which it is difficult to solve;
  7. Low safety standards of the structure, big energy consumption, and negative impact on the environment;
  8. Inadeqate housing surroundings, such as lack of open spaces and recreative contents and weak connection to planned uban zones.

Consequences of Roma settlements legalization postponement are as follows:

  1. Ignoring legalization and urban development plans for Roma settlements and, generally, development of Roma community in Serbia, may lead to conflicts in land use and ethnic tensions.
  2. Environmental problems of not legalized settlements are obvious (out of 100 Roma, one lives to be sixty, and the lethality of children is 3.5 times higher than in the majority community): lack of sewerage system, solid waste disposal, air pollution, lack of open space /ventilation of the settlement space, etc.
  3. Postponement and inefficient policy in regard to Roma settlements would represent a political attitude which may result in a serious reactions of the Roma and the International communities and delay the European integration processes;

Dear Sirs,
We do not ask for anything new. We remind you about the already considered solutions for existing Roma settlements legalization. Withing the framework of housing topic, as a part of the Decade of Roma, the Minister Velimir Ilic signed the GUIDELINES - recommendations, you may find attached. Since then and up to now, the problem of Roma settlements has become the first-class political problem. It was confirmed on the occasion of the last visit of Pierre Mirelle, the Director for EU accession of the West Balkans countries, on 18.6.2013.

We would kindly appreciate your consideration of this letter and its forwarding to the Assembly boards in charge.
In the Legalization Law there must be foreseen solutions for Roma settlements according to attitudes of experts, conclusions and recommendations of many debates held during the last eight years. In case it is not possible to make serious interventions in the actual Draft Legalization Law, which will be placed before the deputies of Serbian Assembly in a couple of days, it is necessary to foresee, at least, „ Lex-Specialis on Roma Settlements legalization with the term of its enactment".

YUROM centar
Osman Balić 16.7.2013