VOICE OF ROMA'S SUMMER FALL 2000 REPORT
"Before the war I thought there was nothing worse than hunger. After the NATO bombing and the return of the ethnic Albanians, I found out that the cold and the darkness are even worse than hunger. The only light we saw sometimes were the bombs, and then... our homes in flames." -Sixteen-year-old Romani refugee girl
It had been over one year since most of the Roma we visited and assisted in Europe had fled from Kosovo. Many told us their stories of gun-point departures and burnt homes, of horrifying nights on fishing boats and hiding in the backs of trucks, crossing borders, arriving in prison-like camps where they were at the mercy of Albanian guards and translators. Most wanted to tell what they had lost: family members dead, disappeared, or out of contact parents separated from children, old aunts and uncles still in Kosovo; homes that had been renovated after a lifetime saving, this photograph, that rug, some special coat, scarf, ring, the "mahala" (neighborhood/community). We listened. This was probably our most important work with the refugees we listened to the litany of all they had lost. It was heart wrenching. And for VOR president, Sani Rifati, in Macedonia, just one hours drive from the place he had called home for 30 years, unable to go because of the life-threatening reality for Roma in Kosovo, it was a nightmare....
June: Three members of VOR's Board of Directors, Sani Rifati, Carol Bloom, and Frederika Sumelius attended the first Conference of International Romani Organizations working with Romani refugees from Kosovo. Sani and Carol both made presentations. VOR spent one week in Macedonia, visiting refugee camps, talking with Roma from other Romani organizations, and establishing contacts for future projects in Macedonia. Approximately $1,000 was distributed in aid to Romani refugees from Kosovo.
September November: Frederika attended, participated and facilitated the "capacity building" section of the UNHCR/OSCE (United Nations High Commisioner on Refugees/Office of Security and Cooperation in Euroope) Civil Society Conference and presented VOR's proposal. VOR distributed $8,275 in direct aid to Romani refugees (285 households) living in both private housing as well as in a Refugee camp in Skopje and was awarded "Certificate Of Appreciation" by the International Federation Of Red Cross in Macedonia. VOR initiated several projects with refugees and further developed contacts with international humanitarian aid and human rights (including Romani) organizations in Macedonia for current and future projects. VOR was instrumental in advocating for refugees to secure documents, and providing social services. VOR led and documented testimonial interviews of current Romani refugee Human Right's abuse cases in the camps as well as prior to their departure from Kosovo.
CZECH REPUBLIC & BULGARIA
June August: VOR Board member, Petra Safarova, attended the Interational Romany Union Conference in Prague and helped to write the English Declaration on the situation of Romani refugees from Kosovo. She also did some research with Roma victims of the Holocaust. VOR Board member, Bruce Cochran traveled in Bulgaria, visiting several Romani neighborhoods and learning more about Romani music and dance in the region.
June August: VOR worked with and on behalf of Roma living in ghetto camps in Florence and Rome and as refugees in other parts of Tuscany. VOR presented and discussed proposals for projects with Romani residents to the President of District Four in Florence and other officials and NGO's working with Roma there. VOR facilitated two meetings with Roma in Florence, to discuss issues of concern, community building efforts and how to organize; and established contacts for future projects in Italy with several organizations. VOR was part of protest actions at Camp "Casilina 700", where Italian police were dismantling the homes of Roma and in some cases, forcing deportations. Approximately $1,750 was distributed in direct aid to refugees in Tuscany, Rome and Florence and approximately $250 was contributed to expenses for the protest actions at Camp "Casilina 700".
July: VOR visited Sani's family and other Kosovo Romani refugee communities in several cities in Northern Germany. Sani did advocacy work on behalf of family members and educated a German human rights/ immigrant organization and the local press in Bremen about specific issues faced by Romani refugees from Kosovo. Approximately $300 was distributed in direct aid to Romani refugees in Bremen and Dortmund.
June August: VOR continued its educational and fundraising efforts at: the premiere showing of the award winning film American Gypsy at the Berkeley Fine Arts Cinema, EFFC-Balkan Music Camp in Mendocino, and Julia Pecak's fine Roma restaurant, Bistro E Europe in San Francisco. Most notable was the generation of funds and letters of support for the Romani refugees in Italy through the use of the internet to get the word out regarding VOR's work in theses areas. Altogether VOR USA was able to raise approximately $1,500 over the summer months. Thanks to all who volunteered and helped to make this possible!
VOICE OF ROMA IS CURRENTLY SUBMITTING GRANT PROPOSALS TO CONTINUE OUR WORK IN MACEDONIA. YOUR GENEROUS, TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS ARE GREATLY APPRECIATED. OUR TAX I.D. NUMBER IS: 68-0437536.