When your living affects your health

Jan 16, 2018

Data tells a true story, giving us a sense of the reality on the ground. But collecting stories from the community can better contextualize what those data are saying.

As part of the Roma Regional Survey project, we are looking at the Roma situation in the Western Balkans (Albania, Kosovo*, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia and Montenegro) and Turkey. To enhance the technical survey, community consultants are visiting the Roma community in Kosovo to listen to their experiences on employment and discrimination in labor markets and environmental deprivations Roma are exposed to.

In Kosovo, unemployment is one of the most troublesome issues and its unemployment rate is the highest in the Western Balkans. But the situation for Roma is even worse.

According to UNDP Kosovo’s Human Development Report 2010, the level of unemployment in Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) families was around 58 percent, compared to the national average of 45 percent. The report also shows that more than 75 percent of Roma male youth aged 15-24 are unemployed. Another UNDP data says that Roma’s involvement in the informal sector is four times more common than non-Roma populations in the region.

Such poor situations on employment for Roma may also imply the challenging environment where Roma live. The UNDP data tells that many Roma communities live in informal settlements with inadequate housing conditions and lack of access to municipal and social services in the region. In Kosovo, Roma community members often live in a location where environmental conditions are the worst, which (in)directly affect their health conditions.

Through the testimonies collected in the Roma settlements in Fushe Kosovo/Kosovo Polje and the Mitrovicë/Mitrovica South, we see a striking paradox. The very work that Roma are most likely to do is also harmful to their health.

In Fushë Kosovo/Kosovo Polje, we visited Ms. Besime Marolli.

When asked about employment situations in her family, she described, “My son always tries to find a job but he does not work anywhere. We are living by picking things from garbage cans in Pristina. We get money there for living that day and eating, but nothing more. We are 7 family members. I have no job but I receive social assistance from the (Kosovo) government because I am sick.”

A hard life and difficult living conditions unavoidably compel her children to dig through garbage cans for recyclable trash, despite her worry.

“I want to have a healthier environment in the place where I live now. My children try to find something from garbage cans. I am very worried that they get hurt doing this job.” 



 “I feel like we are just abandoned.”

In the Mitrovicë/Mitrovica South area, the amount of garbage spread across the neighborhood is shocking.

In the middle of street, we met Mr. Irfan Krasniqi, a man in his thirties. Irfan had been employed for a recycling project funded by international Non-Governmental Organizations for years, but due to their financial constraints, he is no longer working.

Staring at the waste heap, he told us, “It looks better now. People came last week to take some garbage out because of the upcoming elections next week. Otherwise, nobody will come to clear up the waste.”

Unfortunately, there is no functioning waste management system in place in Kosovo, except for a few big cities where regional waste companies operate. Ms. Dženita Shabani, a financial officer at the learning center of the Roma Mahalla in the Mitrovicë/Mitrovica South, confirmed this:   

“There is no system, like a company or governmental help, to collect and take the waste away from this place.” In addition, there are few trash receptacles in the communities where people can deposit their waste.

 “It’s terrible to live here,” another man noted. “People just throw away garbage and burn it because there is so much of it. I am just living with garbage and around garbage…It’s not good for my health.”

Kosovo’s national strategy for inclusion of RAE communities 2017-2021 explicitly mentions that family-size waste containers will be provided, together with improved waste management and elimination of scattered and unplanned dump areas. This was intended to provide better hygienic conditions and reduce exposure to chemical and physical materials harmful to Roma’s health. But clearly, the presence of a strategy does not ensure its implementation.

In addition, the presence of waste heaps in the Roma settlements not only affect Roma’s health conditions but also worsen their feelings of isolation from the society.

Ms. Nora Tarihi talked to us about her concern, her feeling of distance and detachment from Kosovo society.

“We have a lot of problems. Waste, of course. When it rains, the sewage system is not also working well. Nevertheless, the most difficult thing is the feeling that we are just forgotten. I feel like we are just abandoned.”

This ironic situation where the Roma live around garbage but also have to rely on garbage to make a living off shows the limited choices they have the power to make in their daily lives.


The project ‘Roma regional survey’ is being implemented with the financial support from the European Commission’s the Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

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