Enough living in the camps

Kosovo, March 30, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Blerim Cerkini/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Rifat Sulejmani (right, in red shirt) and part of his eight-person family in front of the house that Mercy Corps helped provide them after years of displacement and life in squalid camps. Photo: Blerim Cerkini/Mercy Corps

“Life in the camps was terrible for my family and all who lived there” said Rifat Sulejmani, a former refugee in Mitrovica, Kosovo. “Living in a ghetto was very difficult; there were very bad living conditions like shared bathrooms, it was crowded, small barracks, lack of food and clothes, and many other things.”

Rifat is 58 years old and heads a family of eight (including his wife, daughter, two sons, granddaughter and two daughter-in-laws). Prior to the war of 1998 and '99, he and his family lived in Roma Mahalla; during the war, they were forced to move to the Zitkovac refugee camp in North Mitrovica. In 2004, they moved again to the Osterode camp, hoping to find better living conditions.

Mercy Corps’ European Union—Mitrovica RAE Support Initiative, funded by the European Commission, started in February 2010. The project is aimed at permanently resettling the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) community to better and safer living environments. The RAE people have lived in refugee camps for more than a decade in North Mitrovica, and are numbered among thousands of Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Kosovo.

Rifat first heard Mercy Corps’ name in 2008 when Mercy Corps began working in his community. He did not realize then that the organization would change his life forever in only two short years. During the first months of 2010, the Sulejmani family received long awaited news: they had been selected to receive a new home from Mercy Corps’ project. The family was one of 38 families resettled back in the Roma Mahalla district during the resettlement phase of the project.

”We are very happy to have our own home. We lived long enough in the camps — I don’t even like to recall the experiences we had for more than 10 years there,” Rifat said.

New homes are not the only benefits offered by Mercy Corps. Rifat’s son, Sulltan, explained that he was able to attend a vocational training though the program: “With Mercy Corps’ support, for three months I attended vocational training at the Regional Vocational Training Center in Mitrovica to become a cook. At the end of the training I got a certificate and now I am a qualified person. This will help me a lot to establish our future business.”

The Mercy Corps program also provides Income Generation grants to help resettled families who have clear business plans. Rifat’s family has over 30 years of experience as butchers, and with Sulltan’s new certification as a cook, their goal to open a kebab shop in Roma Mahalla is not far off.

Sulltan looks forward to providing for his family and settling into the family’s new permanent home. “We are satisfied with our neighbors and we feel better now. We have a place to live and now we are focusing on how to reintegrate into our new living environment,” he said. “Through this grant, our family business will generate a monthly income of up to $400 dollars.”

With a new home and the prospect of a family business, the Sulejmani family can begin to reestablish the lives they lost in 1999. The security, independence and dignity that they have been deprived of during their displaced years will slowly — but surely — be recovered.