Slums and plans: Poverty and spatial segregation of Roma in Serbia
Architecture and Urban Planning master level student, Faculty of Technical Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Serbia Novi Sad, Serbia
Serbia is a country currently presiding Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015.
Last census of 2002 has determined that Roma population in Serbia counts 108,000 , though it is widely accepted to be a significant underestimation of the true size. Unofficially, it has been estimated that the real figure is somewhere in between 400,000 and 800,000. Such an unreliable data is yet another proof that Roma population has been heavily marginalized and excluded in today's Serbian society. It has been noted that the poverty among Roma is between four and five times higher than among the general population. In addition, it has been predicted that in the following 5 years another 150,000 Roma will be forced to return from EU countries to Serbia.
Poor housing conditions are in fact both a cause and a consequence of Roma exclusion in Serbia. Majority of Roma population lives in the so-called "Roma mahalas" - enclaves with number of inhabitants ranging from few hundreds to couple of thousands people, formed on religious and/or ethnic basis. Nearly 80 percent of Roma live below the poverty line, in separate settlements, mostly alongside industrial zones, garbage dumps, and marketplaces. Studies have shown that 43.5 percent of all Roma settlements are categorized as slums , just 47 percent are connected to the city water supply, only 24.2 percent have sanitation, while 10 percent are without electricity.
Following the privatization process of state properties in the neoliberal market of transitional Serbia, forced evictions of Roma families squatting these properties often occurred. Alternative accommodation is almost never provided and when it is, the new location is on the edge of the city, making it hard for Roma to commute to the city centre where they, in most cases, make their living. Most previous attempts of social and spatial inclusion failed due to resilient attitude of non-Roma population living on the location.
Issues concerning Roma inclusion can be solved neither by simple housing refurbishments nor by shortsighted relocations. A well planed state-governed action is needed, implying a set of measures of economic, social, educational an urban policies, all developed in cooperation with Roma.