Education & Training

Friday, 10 July 2015

A Municipal Meeting Held in Leskovac with Representatives of Local Institutions, Service Providers and Civil Society

Example of good practice: The awareness about human rights and the role of institutions and civil society in improving the situation of the Roma community is on a higher level in Leskovac than in the majority of other local self-governments in Serbia.

On 8 July 2015, at the premises of the Social Welfare Centre in Leskovac, the seventh meeting was held with the representatives of municipal authorities, local institutions and civil society, within the framework of the project Legal Aid and Advocacy - Access to Rights and Combating Discrimination against the Roma implemented by Praxis with the support of Civil Rights Defenders. The meeting was marked by an unexpectedly high attendance of representatives of institutions and Roma NGOs, and their active participation in the discussion due to which it lasted unusually long. The following topics were discussed: education, employment, social protection, housing, health and discrimination.

As in the previously held municipal meetings, Praxis presented the activities implemented under the project. The necessity of cooperation between relevant institutions and cooperation between these institutions and CSOs in order to improve access to socio-economic rights of Roma was stressed. Leskovac is characteristic for a strong awareness of local actors about human rights, their observance and protection, the role of institutions and civil society in improving the situation of the Roma community. At the beginning, the Praxis representative pointed out that in recent years much had been done in terms of improving the situation of Roma, which was still difficult since the violation of their rights continued. The causes for this lie in the lack of legal and institutional framework, improper and unlawful conduct of authorities and insufficient sensitisation of service providers.

The representative of the National Employment Service (NES) said that the public call for self-employment subsidies ended on 30 June 2015 and that three applications had been received from the Roma community members, while in 2014 one application was received. The participants were unanimous on the issue of inefficiency in the implementation and the results of implemented national programmes and considered that it was necessary to urgently divert the funds, allocated for years for this purpose, to education and/or to introduce the obligation for the business sector to employ one Roma person per certain number of employees, the failure of which would lead to paying a fine, as is the case with people with disabilities. The representative of NES also noted that the role of the Service was to mediate between employers and the unemployed, but that the reasons for failure should be sought in the prejudices of the majority community, but also in the lack of awareness among Roma about the importance of education, and that an effort must be made to raise awareness about both of these problems.

The problem faced by the Roma families in Leskovac is poverty. There are no employment opportunities and there are increasingly fewer offers for informal work arrangements. Most Roma are compelled to seek financial assistance from the social protection institution and many of them leave for Western Europe. This mainly affects Roma in the field of education because of discontinuity in attendance and dropout of Roma pupils. The Roma Community Coordinator suggested greater efforts to be invested in ensuring better financial situation of pupils and better living conditions in Roma settlements.

Speaking of social protection, the Praxis representative stressed the need for the abolition of Article 84 of the Law on Social Protection, the simplification of procedures for collecting documentation when submitting a request, precise regulation of missed earnings concept, suspension of financial benefits for restricted number of beneficiaries), and so on. The Head of Legal Aid Service in Leskovac pointed that it was most important to regulate more precisely the determination of assumed earnings and thus reduce the possibilities of abuse, which are prevailing in this matter. As regards the implementation of the RS Government’s Decree on the measures of social inclusion of financial assistance beneficiaries, the Director of Social Welfare Centre (SWC) stated that the SWC had signed more than 20 protocols with educational institutions, public and private companies, but the jobs offered to the beneficiaries were ad hoc and limited to the duration ranging from a few hours to 2 working days. There is no interest among the beneficiaries and dissatisfaction is pronounced in the periods of seasonal jobs. He further pointed out that many legal provisions were paradoxical and untenable, including the missed earnings, and that the SWC would perform its job more easily and efficiently if there had been precise provisions and criteria. The SWC Director twice a week has meetings with the Roma community representatives and points out that this kind of cooperation has yielded significant results in solving problems in individual cases. It was announced that, due to a significant number of proposals for amendments to the existing Law on Social Protection, a new law would probably enter a parliamentary procedure instead of introducing amendments.

Only rare individual cases of the violation of the right to health care were mentioned. The RFHI representative said that the last ten years he had performed the tasks of Patient Ombudsman and that during that period he had no complaints at all regarding the violation of the right to health care and insurance by Roma people. He stressed that more should be done to raise awareness among Roma about their rights and about protection mechanisms.

According to the Roma Coordinator, Leskovac has 14 Roma settlements inhabited by 7,700 Roma residents. The Local Action Plan was adopted in 2014, but most often sufficient funds are not secured for the performance of activities. However, development of street Slavko Zlatanović will begin this year, while the construction of asphalt road in the rural settlement Medja, where a large number of Roma live, is also planned. According to the representative of NGO Rosa, the informal Roma settlements will be legalised in the next two years. In any case, living conditions in all Roma settlements in Leskovac are far better than in many Roma settlements throughout the country.

The Praxis representative pointed out that the number of complaints submitted to the Commissioner for Protection of Equality was very small compared to how much discrimination was present and recalled the case of segregation of Roma pupils in the Primary School "Petar Tasić" in Leskovac for which the Commissioner had found that there was no discrimination, but there was segregation. The participants agreed that all social actors must be actively involved in the process of raising awareness about non-discrimination against Roma and pointed out that the local community had taken all measures at its disposal to prevent segregation in the Primary School "Petar Tasić" but without achieving satisfactory results. However, it seemed that the meeting participants, who were also relevant local actors, had a high level of awareness of the responsibility of individuals and society in the protection of equality, but they lacked the capacity to deal with the existing problem.

This meeting is encouragement for all those who deal with the rights of Roma and human rights in general, as well as an example that can be followed by other municipalities in terms of interest and active involvement of all relevant actors and their cooperation in addressing the existing problems.

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Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action
Praxis means action