Global perspective Human stories

UN refugee agency offers legal help to Roma

UN refugee agency offers legal help to Roma

Roma musicians performing outside the national gallery, Cifte Amam, in Skopje
The United Nations refugee agency is launching a programme in Belgrade today aimed at helping Roma in the Western Balkans to obtain the identity papers and personal documents which are vital to access social, health, education and employment services.

“Lack of identity papers is a serious problem in the Western Balkans, creating a world of ‘invisible’ people outside state systems,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a press release, adding that the authorities often lacked either initiative or resources to address the problem.


The project will offer free legal aid for the first time to Roma communities in the region, to enable them to gain registration in birth records. It covers Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia, including Kosovo, and will be implemented over the next 18 months by UNHCR, other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and government counterparts.

The Roma communities involved include people displaced from Kosovo, Roma who have returned from Western Europe on the basis of readmission agreements, and the local Roma population.

According to UNHCR, Roma from Kosovo often lack papers because birth registers were damaged, destroyed or went missing during the 1999 crisis there, while other Roma have suffered the effects of frequent movement, poverty, discrimination and marginalization. It’s estimated that around 23,000 of the 100,000 to 500,000 Roma in Serbia are displaced persons from Kosovo and lack papers.

The legal aid project forms part of a European Union-funded programme “Social Inclusion and Access to Human Rights of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in the Western Balkans.”