Roma and Ashkali driven out of Kosovo en masse

By Brigitte Fehlau
23 September 1999

Since the end of the war in Kosovo and the deployment of the KFOR troops, murder and terror against minority populations has not stopped. Serbs were driven out of their houses, threatened with death and often killed. In addition, all other non-Albanian sections of the population, such as the Roma and Ashkali (a minority of Indian descent), have suffered substantial terror.

These two minorities have lived for centuries in Kosovo. Before the NATO bombardment there were about 35,000 Roma and Ashkali residents in the province. In the few months since the KFOR troops entered, however, at least three-quarters have been driven out and now live in refugee camps and slum areas in the neighbouring countries; those who have remained live in constant fear.

Those responsible are extremely nationalistic sections of the Albanian population and the KLA, who have been able to create this terrible state of affairs unhindered by the KFOR troops.

"Anyone with a dark skin who today dares to move around openly in Kosovo is jostled, insulted, reviled, and abused," writes Tilman Zülch, president of the International Society for Endangered Peoples. He visited Kosovo in August and spoke with Roma and Ashkali refugees. His report uncovers a shocking situation.

"Extremist sections of the Albanian population have carried out a policy of ‘ethnically cleansing' the two long-established Roma and Ashkali minorities. This has obviously been done with the support or tolerance of a wide section of the KLA,” he said.

Regarding the behaviour of the KFOR troops, he writes: "In many cases KFOR has insufficiently protected members of ethnic minorities. They have not shown any continuous military presence in their settlements; only infrequently have they intervened to stop the persecution of Roma and Ashkali, or have done so only to stop 'arguments', but without upholding the rights to housing and health of those being threatened. Often they have escorted them into neighbouring countries, and so encouraged such expulsions."

Zülch said further: “After the NATO intervention, Albanian extremists, returning Albanian refugees, and uniformed and armed KLA members have acted against the Roma and Ashkali minorities throughout Kosovo. They have threatened children, women and men, often with death, intimidated them and demanded—not infrequently with weapons—that they leave their homes. Often they set a period of just a few minutes or hours. Many only escaped with the clothes they were wearing at the time.

“Usually, the houses were plundered and many items stolen including furnishings, televisions and video recorders, cars and, in some cases, tractors. Ironically, Ashkali families who were the only ones still remaining in some quarters said the Albanian type of plundering was more thorough than the Serbian, because they even took away house bricks and roofing tiles.

“In the majority of cases the houses were then set on fire or destroyed by other means. In not a few cases, the houses were occupied by neighbours or by returning Albanian refugees, whose own houses had been destroyed by Serbian troops. According to our rough estimates, two thirds of the houses belonging to Roma and Ashkali minorities could have been destroyed."

Abuse, abductions, torture, rapes and murder accompanied the expulsions. Right up to the present there are still innumerable missing persons. The exact numbers of the dead and missing cannot be determined, since the majority of the Roma and the Ashkali are no longer in the country, and testimony from the Albanian population can only be obtained with difficulty.

In a number of places the Albanian population stood on the side of the Roma and Ashkali and together were able to prevent them being driven out. Zülch writes the following about their living conditions: "Of those Roma or Ashkali communities still remaining, they must nevertheless count on suffering discrimination and violations of their human rights if they leave their settlements or the city. In Podujeva/Podujevo members of the Ashkali minority complain that they cannot go outside the city to their work and encounter massive threats. A 16-strong Ashkali family, which saved the life of an Albanian family during the war, cannot leave their tiny yard any longer. Any attempt to go shopping means they are intimidated and even attacked.”