Vicious cycle of forced evictions in Serbia

Roma families have been being forcibly evicted from their homes in Belgrade on an ad hoc basis since 2000. Recently, however, Serbia has embarked on more and more large infrastructure projects, in advance of which, authorities are systematically evicting Romani settlements in the city. 

On 31 August 2009, residents of a Romani settlement under Gazela Bridge were forcibly evicted by Belgrade city authorities. The eviction came in advance of repair works on the dilapidated Gazela Bridge, partly paid for with a €77 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the European Investment Bank.

Few of the 178 Romani families had enough time to rescue their belongings before the bulldozers moved in and destroyed their homes. Most took with them only what they could carry. Around 114 families were bussed to six sites on the outskirts of Belgrade and given accommodation in metal containers; often overcrowded, cold and damp. Another 64 families were transported further away to southern Serbia. 

The Belgrade authorities have to date refused to provide the evicted families with adequate alternative housing.

There is no doubt that the authorities need to develop Belgrade’s infrastructure but they must put in place sufficient safeguards to ensure that this process does not result in human rights violations such as forced evictions. Such safeguards include genuine consultation with communities on the plans to identify alternatives to evictions. If evictions must be carried out, the authorities must provide adequate alternative housing, compensation, legal remedies and comply with due process requirements. 

The eviction of the Gazela settlement was carried out without safeguards required under international law. Evictions without such safeguards result in Roma communities being marginalised further, as they are forced further away from the city, their livelihoods and access to schools and health services disrupted.

The Belvil community in another area of Belgrade has been living under constant threat of forced evictions since March this year, when the city authorities announced that at least 300 households will be demolished to make way for an access road for a planned new bridge over the River Sava. The construction project is financed by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

However, the City of Belgrade authorities have temporarily suspended the plans for the eviction, which was due to take place in May. According to information received by Amnesty International in June, the City of Belgrade authorities are now drawing up a Resettlement Action Plan.

However, the inhabitants of Belvil are extremely worried about their future, as they have not been informed by city officials about why the eviction has been postponed, and when such an eviction will take place. The residents have not been consulted about the Resettlement Action Plan, or officially informed of any alternative accommodation options, although they assume that they will be moved into the ‘container-settlements’ which have been seen at various locations around Belgrade.

Houses in Belvil are built from recycled materials, including wood and cardboard, bricks and other salvaged products. Most families build their own houses. The most common occupation of the Belvil inhabitants is collecting and reselling scrap or recyclable materials, readily available in the centre of the city. They store the waste material in the settlement. If evicted, they will lose their only access to income.  

Twenty-five years after the UN established World Habitat Day, hundreds of millions of people across all continents have no alternative but to live in slums and this number is growing – 1.4 billion by 2020. 

At the world anti-poverty conference in September 2010, when governments reviewed progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals they had agreed at the turn of the century, governments were not called to set relevant national targets on slums despite the enormous growth of informal settlements and slums. World leaders did not identify many of the crucial steps that should be taken to address the situation of people living in slums, such as providing people with a minimum degree of security of tenure and protection from forced evictions.

The theme of this year’s World Habitat Day is ‘Better Cities, Better Life’. Take action to make it more than a slogan.