On July 1, the Roma Women’s Organization in Macedonia (also known as DAJA) organized a roundtable for advocates, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and local and federal government officials to discuss issues affecting the country’s Roma community. Held in Kumanovo, Macedonia, the roundtable was attended by 30 people, including participants from the Center for Social Affairs and the ministries of the interior, justice, education and science, as well as more than 20 Roma advocates.
The event is part of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) regional program to support a network of Roma NGOs in Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia in their advocacy for improved access to justice for Roma citizens. Participants discussed several pressing issues, such as the existing travel ban that prevents the Roma from leaving Macedonia, the availability of legal aid, the plight of Roma children who beg in the streets, the challenges and successes in Roma education and the importance of networking among Roma-focused groups both within Macedonia and across the Balkan region. The advocates and NGO representatives helped illustrate the challenges the Roma face by sharing the personal stories of clients, including those that described the difficulties in obtaining identification documents. They said that Roma children who were either not born in a hospital or whose registration was not completed while they were in a hospital face an uphill battle when seeking such documents. That in turn limits their access to public services. Government representatives spoke about future plans and opportunities that can help alleviate some of the challenges. Additionally, a representative of the Ministry of Justice’s office in charge of birth registrations answered participants’ questions, providing helpful insights.
Participants said that the ABA ROLI-supported workshops afford them rare and valuable opportunities to share ideas, raise awareness and strengthen ties among Roma-focused groups in the region. They also said that the networks that they have formed have allowed them to assist Roma clients across national borders, calling for more roundtables that would address specific challenges more deeply.