The Internal Displacement of the Roma, Ashkali, & Egyptians in the Former Yugoslavia and Their Denial of an Effective Remedy

32 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2012

See all articles by Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin

Portland State University - Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science; Willamette University College of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2010


As a result of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, ethnic conflict in the Balkans was particularly harsh during the 1990’s. Civil war erupted in Bosnia and Herzegovina between Serb, Croat, and Bosniak groups; this war spread easily across the fluid borders of the former Yugoslavia into Croatia and Slovenia. Additionally, Slobodan Milosevic led a bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Albanians of Kosovo. The war-torn streets and the vacant, damaged buildings remain today as evidence of this violent decade. The people who once inhabited these buildings fled amidst the conflict, with many remaining displaced today. One of the hardest hit ethnic groups was the Roma of northern Kosovo. Ethnic groups of the Balkans are divided by language, culture, and religion, and they hold strong prejudices against each other, especially the Roma. That the Roma are geographically interspersed among the other ethnic populations of the region make ethnic tensions more prominent.

In this paper, I examine the internal displacement of the Roma in northern Kosovo and the international community’s failure to provide an effective remedy to redress their injuries. In Section II, I discuss the events leading up to the displacement, including the civil strife within the former Yugoslavia and international involvement led by NATO and the UN Security Council. The Security Council established the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) through Resolution 1244, which was legally responsible for safeguarding the rights and civil liberties of the people of Kosovo. I also discuss the Kosovo Liberation Army’s (KLA) attack on the Roma Mahalla and the subsequent internal displacement of the Roma. While the majority of the inhabitants fled the country and region, some stayed behind and were placed in displacement camps of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Conditions in the camps were terribly unhealthy, but the response of the international civil presence, UNMIK, was slow and ultimately unsuccessful.

In Section III, I discuss the potential legal obligations of UNMIK by examining the law in place during the UNMIK’s nine-year administration. Despite enacting a comprehensive legal system, which included obligations to comply with numerous international treaties, the administration has refused to be held accountable for its failure to protect Roma rights. I argue that UNMIK should work with the Roma community to find an adequate and sustainable housing solution. Providing housing would not completely ameliorate the Roma community’s economic problems, but it is a step towards rebuilding the Roma Mahalla, which was destroyed during UNMIK’s watch. I also examine whether the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia can and should be held liable for the abuse of the Roma.

In Section IV, I focus on the Roma who have resettled in Western Europe. Countries such as France, Germany, and the UK have aided thousands of Roma refugees in compliance with their obligations under the Refugee Convention. Giving temporary shelter for refugees, however, does not equate to citizenship, and these countries have set forth an ambitious forcible return policy of the RAE. I examine the likely consequences of these repatriation agreements between the Republic of Kosovo and governments of Western European countries, which unfairly subjects returnees to the possibility of refoulement as well as placing extreme pressure Kosovo’s limited government resources. Kosovo’s government is making preparations for the inevitable influx of population. Though international aid groups — both governments and NGOs — can and should do more to support Kosovo’s returnees, Western European countries can help the most by delaying these deportations.

Keywords: Roma, Ashkali, Internal Displacement, Refugee, Kosovo, Serbia, United Nations, ethnic cleansing, genocide, international cooperation, UNMIK, UNHCR

JEL Classification: I00, K33, L3, O17, O19, O52, Z00

Suggested Citation

Martin, Thomas, The Internal Displacement of the Roma, Ashkali, & Egyptians in the Former Yugoslavia and Their Denial of an Effective Remedy (December 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Martin (Contact Author)

Portland State University - Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science ( email )

United States

Willamette University College of Law ( email )

245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States

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