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JONES 1999- ROMA MIGRATION ETHNICITY and CONFLICT

JONES 1999- ROMA MIGRATION ETHNICITY and CONFLICT

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57
Migration,
ethnicity
and
confict:
Oxfam'sexperience of workingwith Romacommunitiesin Tuzia,Bosnia-Hercegovina
AlexJones'
Thearticledrawson the experience f OxfamGB n Tuzla,Bosnia-Hercegovinanresearchingand workingwith Romacommunities,nd focuseson the changesn the roleof womenasaresultof therecent onflict.
A
round he world,Romapeople often
referred to as Romanies or Gypsies)arepopularlyseen asnomadic,with constantmigrationastheirwayoflife(Crowe 1996). For Roma peoplein formerYugoslavia, this simplistic assumptionnotonly ignorestherealityoflife formany,who do notlead nomadic waysoflife,butunderplaystheshockto thecommunitycausedby forced migration andsettlementas a resultofthe conflict.
The context
Romapeople asagroup are living in a verydifficult situation and are, to a largeextent,socially marginalised. Lackofknowledgeabout thenatureandcausesof thismargin-alisation could be seenintwo consecutivestrategicplanningsessionsinOxfam,in 1995and 1996.Romapeoplewere identifiedbyOxfam staff asmarginalised,but thereasons for marginalisationremainedunclear: 'OneRoma community whichlivedinthe middle of Tuzla were notaccessingreliefdistributions;weneeded totake a closer look to see why'(informationfrom UshaKar,former Oxfam GB BosniaCountry Representative,1998).In May 1996, Oxfam GB (formerlyOxfamUK/I) commissioneda researcher,DinkaMasic,who hadpreviouslyworkedwithRoma people inMacedonia, to work withlocal Roma peopleto collect informationabout their situation and needs.The primaryaim of Oxfams researchwas to investigatehowaccessibleOxfam's projectshadbeenthus farto Romapeople,and to identify whatotherforms of assistancewere needed. Theresearchwas also seenas an opportunity to collectinformation for advocacy work, andto raiseawarenessof the situationof Roma people.At the time of the research, no organisedgroups amongRoma people could beidentifiedto work with. The researchercontacted Roma communitiesin the Tuzlaarea tobegintheprocessofcollectinginformation. The research involvedabout1,000 Romawomen, men and children inTuzla,who wereencouraged to define theirsituation and needs themselves. Muchtimehas been spent with the communitiesparticularlywith women
-
discussingwhat kindofsupport is useful and effective.
GenderndDevelopmentol6, No. 1, March998
 
58Gender ndDevelopmentAlthoughhumanitarian aid(in theformofreliefdistributions) wasclearlyexpressedasaneed, the Romapeoplealsosoughtsupporttoaccesstheirrightsand tochallengeprejudiceanddiscrimination,asthese,forthem, were theunderlyingcausesof theirpovertyandpowerlessness.ManyRomapeoplearehesitanttobeopenabouttheirbackground andculture,for fear offurtherprejudice.Thereare thereforesomelimitations tothescopeanddepthofthisarticle, fromtheverynatureof socialrelationshipsbetween the Romacommunityandthewiderworld.
Lifebefore theconflict
Historically,Romapeople-alsoknown as'gypsies'havebeenrelegatedtolowsocialandeconomicstatus inthecountries ofEasternEurope(Crowe1996). Romapeopleidentifythemselves asethnicallyRomayetcan beOrthodoxorCatholicChristians, orMuslims.DespitethesignificantinfluenceoftheircultureonEastemEuropeanmusicandart,theyhave notcommandedrespectfromotherethnicgroups.Prejudicehastaken theformofsocial andeconomicmarginalisation andalso oforganisedviolence,notablythegenocideknownasthePorajmos('Gypsyholocaust')between1933and1945,whenanestimated26,000
-
28,000peoplediedintheterritory which in1941becametheIndependentStateofCroatia(NDH)2.Of the60,000RomawholivedinSerbiabeforeWorldWarTwo,12,000 diedin thePorajmos(ibid.).InformerYugoslavia,onlyBosnia andMontenegrocametorecogniseRomaasadistinctnationalgroupintheirconstitutions;theconstitutionsofYugoslavia'sother fourrepublicscontinuedtoidentifythemonlyasanethnicgroup. Thestatusof'nationality'enabledRomapeople toestablishschoolswhereteachingwasintheir ownmothertongue,todefendthemselves incourtintheirmothertongue,andto mediaproduceintheirownlanguage.However,inBosnia,recognition ofRomaasadistinctethnicgroupwasarguably usedmoreas atool fortheirsegregation withinsocietythaninorder torecognisethemasequalcitizensofasocietywhichrespectedtheirculture andway oflife.Thegradualpolitical, economicandsocialbreakdownoftheYugoslavstateinthe1980s, andexistingprejudicetowardsRomapeople,servedtoincreasehostilityandviolencetowardsthem(ibid.).Economically, Romapeopleareamongthemostmarginalisedgroupsinsociety,withthehighestunemploymentrateofanycommunity inTuzla (interviewwithstaff,Centre ForSocialWork,Tuzla,1996). WhileRomapeopleareoftenpopularlybelievedtoleadanomadicexistence,hereality s morecomplex. SomeRomastayedinoneplace,usually those withaspecifictrade orcraft,whereas thenomadicRomatravelledtowhereverthere wasafairorfestival, totellfortunes andtotradeingifts.However,theromanticmage ofgypsynomads,asgivenintraditionalfolk-tales,ismisleading;Romasocietyisnot staticbutdynamic,reactingtochange. Romapeople have takennote ofchanging economiccircumstances,denfifyingnewservicesincludingcar-washing,andnewmarkets.ManyRomahaveswitchedtheirattendanceatovercrowded ruraltownmarkets tothebiggermarketinSarajevo(Masic1996).
TheimpactofconflictonRomalife
Mobilityandsettlement
Since thewar,thereare noreliabledatakeptonthenumberofRomapeopleinBosnia-Hercegovina,as noofficialcensushas beencarriedout.Twoyears afterthesigningoftheDaytonPeaceAgreementandthe endofhostilities,despite effortsbyOxfam,ithasbeenimpossible togetanyaccurateinformationfrom thelocalauthoritiesaboutthenumber ofRomapeoplelivinginanyonearea.ThishasundoubtedlybeencomplicatedbytheRomapeople'sreluctancetogiveinformation forfearofprejudice

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