Monday, 30 July 2012

Hundreds of Roma Refugees in Montenegro Homeless

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Dear Friends,

Let me share a brief account of a very dramatic event our Renewing Our Minds Team witnessed at the very end of our Southeast European Trial of Friendship 2012.

On Tuesday July 24, 2012 we were in Podgorica, Montenegro, and our plan was to visit two Roma camps (Konak 1 and Konak 2) crowded with refugees from Kosovo, who sought their refuge in Montenegro in 1999. The two refugee camps were supposed to be their temporary shelter till a permanent solution was to be found. However over the past 13 years the two camps has become their permanent home, neglected by the Montenegrin Government, abandoned by international humanitarian agencies, and treated as a nuisance by the local population. In short hundreds of Roma families living in the two camps under appalling conditions are stuck in poverty, with no prospect of a more dignified life conditions in the future.

Sinisa Nadazdin, who has committed the past ten years of his life to helping and serving Roma refugees in those two camps, took us on Tuesday to the camps, only to become unwilling witnesses of an outstanding tragedy. On the morning of our visit fire broke out, most likely caused by accident, in the biggest Roma camp of the two (Konak 1). Extreme heat that has visited the entire region for more than a month made the wooden Roma homes an easy pray to the fire that in no time consumed up to 80% of all homes in the camp Konak 1. Only a few homes were spared. One thousand Romas lost their homes and everything they possessed to the flames.

Our team witnessed children, young people and old, trying to rescue whatever they could - not much really. We saw children and Roma families wondering confused and lost, trying to make sense out of the tragedy.  I heard some of them saying that "it would have been better had they died in the fire than to have lost their modest homes and the few possessions they had. None of us in the team could keep our eyes dry as we pondered helplessly at the overwhelming consequences of the disaster that struck so many Roma families in Podgorica that Tuesday morning.

And yet, in the middle of the tragedy that plunged close to one thousand of Romas in Podgorica into a new stage of miserable existence, we witnessed something beautiful that none of us in the team would ever forget. Sinisa Nadazdin, who is also a leader of a small but growing Roma church community, invited us to their Roma church house for a special prayer service. In no time the small room was filled with Romas, more than twenty, some of who lost all their possessions, which for two hours worshiped the Lord through prayer, music and sharing times in the most beautiful way. The honesty of their prayers, sincerity of the spirit and the simplicity of their faith was a powerful witness to what it means to trust in the Lord even at the time of a great tragedy. A more meaningful worship I have not experienced for a very long time.

The Roma victims in Podgorica, Montenegro who have lost their homes and all belongings need our help. The Government of Montenegro is slow again to provide any meaningful assistance. And yet those people and their families need urgently portable homes, tents, mattresses, blankets, urgent humanitarian aid to sustain their lives at this time. Would you know a person, church community or an organization that could help? Maybe you too can do something too to help?

Information or further questions related to the nature of the most immediate help that could make a difference in the lives of the hundreds of homeless Romas in Podgorica at this time could be obtained from Sinisa Nadazdin, our friend and Romate, who is very well known and respected in the Roma communities in Podgorica. His contact details are: , mobile number if +38269352052. Please, ask Sinisa about what you can do to elevate the suffering of the homeless Roma families in Podgorica, Montenegro.

Thank you for whatever you can do. Remember the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt. 25:40.

Tihomir Kukolja
Renewing Our Minds, Director
Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation, Executive Director

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