Friday, June 19, 2009

KONIK: Montenegro's Roma Camp Shame

Konik is the largest refugee camp in the Balkans but outside of Montenegro few people know of its existence

Montenegro's solution for its minorities? "Go back to where you came from!"

Elvis has never been to school and he doesn't think he would like to.
He will be seven in August and has lived his entire life in the Konik camp for Roma refugees, a sprawl of tents and makeshift wooden huts on the outskirts of Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, next to the country's largest rubbish dump.

His family has lived here since they fled the fighting in Kosovo ten years ago, leaving their homes and all their belongings behind as they ran for their lives.

Three weeks ago the wooden hut they had lived in for the past ten years burnt to the ground along with 18 others - leaving 124 people homeless. Fires are frequent in camp because of bad wiring and the use of open stoves and candles.

The family of 13 now lives in a tent provided by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

The Red Cross has given them some flour and oil, but they don't have enough food or water. Survival, rather than Elvis's education, is their current priority.
Food scraps

Elvis doesn't mind his new home as long as he and his best friend, also called Elvis, get to play with their little toy cars. His family, who have now lost everything they own for a second time, are frustrated and scared.

His 59-year-old grandmother asked not to be named, afraid the local Montenegrin community would target her family if she spoke out about their conditions.
So anonymously, she explains: "The conditions we are living in are inhuman.

"We could almost accept this life when it was wartime.

"It's been ten years [now] and we still live like this, now the government needs to help us."

Elvis's uncle, 31, adds: "My mother and wife beg in town. My brother and father pick food from garbage cans.

"I have no idea how long we will be living in this tent for. Why is no one helping us?"

Konik is the largest refugee camp in the Balkans. It is home to more than 2,000 Roma refugees, most of who fled the conflict in Kosovo over a decade ago.

Of the 1,300 students at the local primary school, 270 are Roma.

Save the Children has been working in this school since 2002, hoping to integrate students from the camps into the community through inclusive education projects. It is an uphill struggle.

The mayor of Podgorica recently called for Roma refugees to return to where they came from.

The primary school principal complains that Roma children have poor attendance and a high drop out rate.

Several parents from the local community have withdrawn their children from classes with high numbers of Roma kids and enrolled them in other schools.

Putrid smell

After ten years, the wider community does not acknowledge the refugee Roma's right to remain.

Refugees are unable to work in Montenegro because they don't have the correct documentation and many of the children don't go to school because of poverty and fear of bullying.

Few feel comfortable leaving the confines of the over-crowded camps so days are spent inside the wire-fenced parameter searching for shade and listening to the Kosovan folk songs booming from stereos.

In summer, temperatures regularly top 40 degrees celsius and the stench from the piles of rubbish the children play in is putrid.

The camp has a supply of electricity and water but not enough to go round. For Takovi Aziz, 24, life in Konik is unbearable.

"We are young, we are strong but we can't work. I have no right to work here because I am Roma and because I am from Kosovo.

"The conditions are getting worse and worse. I can't stand it anymore," he says.
"We can't go outside of the camp because the locals here pick fights with us, so we're trapped.

"The whole of Montenegro must despise us, why else would they let us live like this?"

Health risks

Most people in Konik make whatever money they can from collecting scrap metal from the nearby rubbish dump and selling it on for money.

Skender, 30, earns $280 a month doing this, but it's not enough. "My children are hungry and I can't give them any food," he says.

Skender explains that when it rains, the wood and tin hut where he and his family live floods.

The damp means his five children are often sick with colds and have problems with their lungs.

He thinks it is getting even harder for the refugee community here to survive.
For seven years, he explains, a local cleaning company employed around 70 people from the camp.

They were all recently fired for not having the correct paperwork and promptly replaced by Montenegrins.

Skender asks: "We want to live better lives but how can we? We have no support from the government, we have no support from the USA or the United Nations so we just sit here without a purpose in this camp."

Watching his children play in the ashes of the burned out buildings, he adds: "Our children have nothing and we don't have a choice."

Phoebe Greenwood works for Save the Children charity, a UK-based charity.
For more information on Konik camp please visit


Anonymous said...

It is a shame, and the sad thing for us is that this camp is in Malesia.

Anonymous said...

If you asked Mugosha, he would round up all Albanians in MZ and dump them in Konik.

This place is a disgrace to teh entire country. I drove by there several times and you would think you are driving through the slums of India.

I took an American who works with an NGO in Podgorica by there once, she was disgusted by the filth, disease, and carnage in the area.

Garbage everywhere, shacks and cardboard boxes are their homes, horses and cattle rummage through the garbage besides children. Kids run and play in the dirt naked, skip over animal manuer, and sit atop of garbage piles.

THe smell is intolerable and teh Roma look as if they are the living dead. No one wants them there, they beg in the streets and are the most harrased people on the planet. Anti-semitism has nothing on these people.

If you ever go to Montenegro, just drive through Konik, its only a five-minute drive north of Tuz, the road between Dinosha and Podgorica.

YOu will be compelled to take pictures because you won't believe what you will see there. THe world should see this!

Anonymous said...

Mugosha is a corrupt villian, just like the rest of the dogs he surrounds himself with.

Tom said...

Dear God!

You mean to tell me that a rich and prosperous nation actually has a SLUM?!

Seriously - now we should get the international community's attention because of a slum? Ugh. You guys are really scrapping the bottom of the barrel here.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Tomislav ...

We truly missed your wisdom and insight.

I'm not sure how you come across with some of the baseless comments you make but let me remind you (as others will too I am sure) that the "rich and prosperous nation" you are referring to cannot possible be Montenegro.

How do you measure prosperity?

By the number of criminals that are elected to office? By the severity of corruption found in a nation's judicial, parliamentary, and police force? By the sale figures realized after illegally selling land belonging to your national minorities? By giving tax incentives to foreign criminals to invest and build resorts along your coastline?

If this is your definition of wealth and prosperity, then I stand corrected. But I believe this would only be your definition.

Second, the "slum" you refer to is not the same kind of "slum" you watched in Slumdog Millionaire.

This is a refugee camp propped up for external populations. The Roma in these camps are war refugees, not Montenegrins. The government will not allow them to be integrated into sociiety, just read the tricks they use in teh article for yourself (again).

There are European laws protecting these people. If this was a slum, it would be consistent with the ghettos of the West and those of teh far East, but this is purposely designated to "cage" those displaced so they are forced to submission by the absence of resources, employment, education, i.e., opportunity.

And when your Mayor preaches that they should all go back to where they came from, well, what can you expect. If we all followed those rules, then Slavs would need to go back to Russia.

Perhaps you could get a free trip if that were to ever happen.


Tom said...

You really need to check your sarcasm detector, as I think it may be on the fritz.

Anonymous said...

The only thing on the "fritz" is your naive-ness, as it clouds your Albanianization, and thus makes you sound stupid as you are caught in the middle of an identity crisis.

~ Detector

Anonymous said...

Well said, but wrong thinking i believe. First of all, what’s wrong with slums, especially refugee ones? I suppose you would like the government to provide a complex which can satisfy all standards? Well, guess what, not going to happen. Several reasons are involved here and cannot be forgotten.
First of all, someone said the mayor said refuges can go back from where ever they came. Hmmm, what he was trying to say and was interpreted wrong by these so called refuge defenders, who cannot do anything except talking without relevant background, is the simple fact that this country already showed a good will by accepting refuges to enter the state, as the country of 600.000 citizens approving the entrance of over 100.000 refugees from all around not just Kosovo, is clearly degrading the nationality picture. That’s why, for example, in order to go to Bronx dear fellow citizens you have to wait, because Americans are saving the nationality pureness and they are doing it very well.
Second, when you are involving politics to the issue, let me tell you something. You want a better life and opportunity for refugees, and it is the fact that even citizens of Montenegro are lacking these opportunities. People with high education and perfect background are back at their homes, whilst family members are receiving wages so low that don’t even cover the food supply for a month. Now, you are telling me that state citizens have to take from their mouths and give to refuges? Asking too much, and again not going to happen.
Finally, you are not mentioning the politics of the refugees. You are looking from your side, not theirs. For these refugees, in this case Roma people, their way of life is living in slums, and you cannot do anything about it. It’s not the standard for European Union, but hey, now we have to correct that in order to get a candidate status. Fair enough. A lot of efforts are put to get Roma people in Podgorica in the way as common citizens, education, and lifestyle. You have mentioned they are begging on streets, well it’s a well established business and we all know that so don’t mention it at all.
The feeling here is that other people, minorities as they are, are trying to gain some prosperity using the Roma refuges to pursuit their own goals. Must say that Roma people have their representatives, so leave them something to do and mind your own business. By the way, the world has seen more miserable pictures.
Thank you.