Author: Armela Toska
Mira Aliu, a resident of the Roma community in Shkoza, talks about the difficult living conditions of her family. Lack of food, unemployment and lack of basic necessities for daily life have made these families turn to undeclared work and not only adults but also minors, who have left school benches and turned to dumpster diving for recyclable scraps. This is due to the lack of support services, which should be provided by the social center in Shkoza, but for this community are non-existent.
The lack of soup kitchen service, unemployment, lack of enrollment of children in school and the lack of monthly assistance for families bring greatest difficulties for the residents.
Mira is one of the many residents of this community, who talks about the lack of services from the social center. She says that she benefits from nothing but threats from the center, where, among other things, she is told that if she goes out to beg, she will be arrested. Even when she seeks a solution, she is not given one.
“I do not benefit from that center. Sometimes I get a meal there, but I do not take them every day. Only from Monday to Friday, two bags for the whole house. Even those two bags are only two meals, which is not enough, we are 6 people at home, but there are days when they do not even bring us the bags, because when we go to the soup kitchen, they tell us: “Leave, we will bring it to you.” And, when they do not bring the food to us, we go back to the soup kitchen and say: There is no more food for today, it’s finished.” My eldest granddaughter has diabetes and every time I ask for medicine or diapers for the children, they tell me: “Go, work!”. But I cannot work, I myself am sick. What should I do? I go out and beg, but even begging is prohibited, the police van follows me from behind and they take pictures of us. The director of the center comes to me with the photo and says: “If you go out and beg, you will be arrested!”.
The Roma community in Shkoza is one of the few in the city of Tirana, where various services are provided by the social center, relevant to these communities. These services are provided by the Municipality of Tirana for the increase of social welfare and easier integration in the population of this community. In November last year, the mayor, Erion Veliaj, stated that the Community Center of Shkoza serves more than 500 families through various services. This service helps the whole community, both those in social housing and the Roma community in one-storey housing.
However, according to the information of the Municipality of Tirana, beneficiaries of these services are 434 individuals, where only 171 of them are part of the Roma minority in one-storey houses. The families of this community are in a severe economic situation and most of them, if not all these families, depend a lot on the social center and the services provided by it, and for this reason the Municipality of Tirana provides an annual budget of ALL 33.4 million. If we make a small calculation, the Municipality of Tirana pays 128,570 ALL per day for 100 families that are part of the community or 1,285 ALL per person for these services, even though these services are non-existent for the community.
One of the main services that this community should receive is the soup kitchen service. According to the employees of the social center, the service that is offered the most and that occupies the largest amount of the budget, is the soup kitchen, where from Monday to Friday are offered about 330 meals a day for the entire community aided by the social center of Shkoza. Of these 330 meals, 100 are for the Roma community of one-story dwellings. Above all, 100 of the 330 meals that must be provided for the social center are offered by the company Nelsa Sh.pk., which has won the tender of the municipality.
The following photo shows the rations offered by Nelsa sh.pk, for January 16, 2022, the service that occupies the largest part of the budget of this center. The food consists of 27 servings, 8 loaves of bread and a small box of yogurt, which make up the 100 meals that this company must provide according to the tender.
The food, which is provided to the community, comes mostly from the Firdeus foundation, 230 rations that meet the needs of the other 334 inhabitants, therefore the inhabitants are given 3 rations for 5 people or 1 ration for 2 people. The limitations in this service are also expressed by the residents of the community, who show how important this service is for their families.
Engjëllushe Demiri says that she receives the soup kitchen service only from Monday to Friday, only 3 rations, even though there are 5 people in the family.
“They do not count my husband. They tell me that he is not registered and, whenever I ask for him to be registered, they tell me: “Yes, we will register him today”. Meals are insufficient, but at least it is a meal, and we can’t do anything about it. We started work at the new clothing market, but no one is buying. It’s a poor area here. We also had to pay the municipal tax and we could not keep the stall, so my husband goes out, collects cans or things like that.”
Besmira Brahimi has the same problem with registration in the community center.
“I have only been married here for a year and they only bring food for my husband, because they do not register me. I go to the center, but again they do nothing. We only take one meal all day and they do not give us any packages or anything.”
Regarding the lack of food for the community and insufficient rations from the winning company, we addressed a request for information to the Municipality of Tirana, but until the publication of this article we have not received a response from this institution.
Another disappointment for them [the Roma families] is the lack of food packages, a service promised by the Municipality of Tirana, but that, according to residents, packages are offered by the municipality and various organizations in case of holidays or different needs for the community, but the center does not distribute them, so they have them for a state of emergency.
According to the municipality, to the Community Center of Shkoza, 5 food packages are sent every month or 60 packages per year, but the residents say differently. Residents say they have not received a single package for the holidays, only residents near social housing have received packages.
Leonora Ismaili, one of the residents of the community, says: “ We did not receive packages, but, even when we receive them, we are afraid, the pasta they bring is expired. I do not want food, as much as I want baby pampers or medicine. I go to the director in the office and she says: “We do not have it”, but the boxes in the back are full“.
To confirm this, we knocked on the director’s office, but she was not present and, after talking to the staff, they told us that they themselves, as a center, do not offer aid packages, but distribute packages donated by various organizations, such as GO, Plan & Go and ARSIS. Asked about the packages, which the municipality states are delivered to the center every month, the center staff had no answer.
One of the most important services that this center should offer is the enrollment of children in schools and educational institutions, as well as educational support after school. Evidence shows that educating Roma children is the key to bringing the cycle of social exclusion to an end, and providing the opportunity to develop and advance in life effectively.
According to a community survey, only 4 out of 46 children attend school regularly, most of them are not at school but on the streets. Children do not go to school due to discrimination and economic hardship, they are forced to take to the streets to provide one more meal for them and their parents.
Esmeralda Aliu states that, although her daughter had finished preschool and she prepared almost all the documents for her enrollment in school, the center did not enroll her.
“They did not explain much to me. They told me at the beginning: “Bring the documents” and I took them and, when they came and brought the books for the first grades, they did not bring them for Eraton, my daughter. I asked her where the books for the girl were, they told me: “She is not enrolled in school, next year maybe”. I’m a widow and I have to go begging. My husband died because he was electrocuted, I cannot leave the children alone, but when I take them to beg, I am afraid they will take them and put them in an orphanage, they are my only family.”
Child self-employment in the black market has led social services to move some children from their families to an orphanage due to parental negligence.
R.XH., Mother of 5 children, tells how her boy, Arbër, was taken by social services because he was forced to search through the bins to sell cans.
“Children go out to work, sell bottles, cans or beg, wherever they can, as much as they can afford. Arbër was taken, one of the big boys, the social one. It has been about 3 months, but they also want to take Marcel, the little boy, because he was photographed a couple of times on the street by the police. I have nothing to do, my husband does not work for me. What I get, I get when I beg … What should I take them to school with? I can’t do anything. At least the children on the streets work, get some money, eat something.”
Most of these families ensure their survival through informal self-employment – an impossible activity during this period due to the measures taken by the Municipality of Tirana for these types of activities, which according to activists of the organization House of Hope (Christian organization, focused only on helping this community), has left the residents of this community with no income.
Alison Kemp, director of the House of Hope organization, has indicated that it has become very difficult for the Roma community in Shkoza to secure income.
“They usually deal with undeclared work, such as collecting metals, cans or begging, but in recent months they have not been allowed to beg or collect cans, taking away the tools they work with or even chasing them away, with the threat of being arrested. I agree on one point, that they should not do these jobs in the black, but at the moment they cannot find jobs or do not have any financial support, it is difficult for them as well. Our organization tries to help them with the preschool project, with different projects for men or women, but we are a small, local organization and we cannot do much for them.”
Roma and Egyptian communities are among the poorest, most marginalized and excluded from society in Albania. According to UNDP, studies show that the poverty rate in Roma communities is twice as high as the majority of the population in the country. Low levels of educational attainment, high levels of unemployment, low monthly incomes, extreme living conditions, and direct and indirect barriers to accessing public services are indicators that prevail among the majority of Roma and Egyptians. For these reasons, these services are very important for this community, to make the integration of this minority in society as easy as possible.