Combating Social Exclusion: Universal Birth Registration in Serbia
Belgrade, 06 May 2008 – "Social Inclusion and Access to Human Rights of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in the Western Balkans" is the title of the European Union-financed project UNHCR is launching in Serbia in cooperation with the UNICEF „Universal Civil Registration of Roma Children” and PRAXIS with the support of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Roma Secretariat at the Agency for Human and Minority Rights, Centre for Human Resources and OSCE. The main aim of the project will be free registration into birth registries, subsequent registration and legal assistance to domicile Roma population, Roma displaced from Kosovo, Roma returnees from Western Europe – all the Roma who had not registered to date.
Lack of personal documents is one of the gravest problems in the Western Balkans - a consequence of the turbulent 90s. This problem was further aggravated in late 90s, with the arrival of displaced persons from Kosovo, when many registry books had been damaged or destroyed. This problem affects the Roma population most gravely, as they are additionally threatened due to frequent migrations, poverty and marginalization– lack of personal documents impedes full integration into a local community and access to basic civic rights.
According to the estimates, 100.000 to 500.000 Roma live in Serbia. Of them, 23.000 are officially registered internally displaced persons from Kosovo. A significant number of these citizens, Roma IDPs from Kosovo in particular, are not able to exercise their basic rights to health care, education and labour due to the lack of personal documents – excerpts from birth registries, identity cards and citizenship certificates.
One of the objectives of the project is a public information campaign on the need and significance of registration of the fact of birth. The objective is also to stress the importance of documents in accessing basic social and economic rights. This information campaign will target Roma population and the representatives of local and national authorities. The project shall last 18 months and cover 20 Serbian municipalities where the needs of Roma citizens for this form of assistance have been identified.
The local NGO PRAXIS, a long-time legal partner of UNHCR, shall be in charge of provision of free legal aid and collection of the necessary documents in the field.
“The Republic of Serbia has taken a series of committments within the framework of Roma Decade. Serbia will take chairmanship of the Decade in June. The national Millenium Development Goals and the Poverty Reduction Strategy represent the basis for resolving the problems of many marginalized groups. With this project, UNHCR joins in the efforts of the Government to alleviate the position of the Roma – the most vulnerable category of population in Serbia” said Mr Lennart Kotsalainen, Representative of UNHCR in Serbia.
“Every child has the right to a name and a nationality and the right to protection from being deprived of his or her identity. Birth registration is a fundamental means of securing these rights for children. The child who is not registered at birth is in danger of being shut out of society. To address this issue, UNICEF in coordination with UNHCR has launched the “Universal Birth Registration in Serbia” project. The project will contribute to the long-term vision and commitment of the Government of Serbia, which is to achieve universal birth registration and universal access to services” said Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Deputy Representative for Serbia.