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(Brussels) - The Serbian authorities should provide alternative homes and compensation for 47 Roma families forcibly evicted in Belgrade on April 3, 2009, from housing considered substandard, Human Rights Watch and the European Roma Rights Centre said today in a letter to the Serbian government.

Police forcibly evicted 128 Romani individuals living in Novi Beograd's Block 67, a poor neighborhood populated by the displaced, including women and children, and destroyed much of their personal property. Residents were told the day before the eviction that they had 15 days' notice before being forced out. The police came with bulldozers the next day, leaving the families homeless.

"It's a scandal that the government left these families on the street," said Wanda Troszczynska, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Serbia needs to get these people rehoused now, and make sure that other Roma families don't suffer the same fate."

The Serbian government should compensate the families involved for lost property and other damage associated with the forced eviction and destruction of property, Human Rights Watch said. It should also ensure that other Roma families are protected from forced eviction and that any future actions in relation to evictions are carried out in accordance with Serbia's international obligations, including assistance finding adequate housing.

Although the evicted persons were told that alternative accommodation in containers was available in the Boljevci settlement in the Municipality of Surčin, residents in Boljevci forcibly prevented the evicted individuals from making use of this housing. As a result, the evicted Roma, including children, were forced to sleep outside without any shelter on the night of the eviction. At least 12 families remain homeless. Further evictions are planned for an unspecified date.

Currently holding the presidency of the Roma Decade of Inclusion, which is an initiative of European governments to improve the socioeconomic status and social inclusion of Roma, Serbia is obliged under international law to protect people from forced eviction. The letter calls on the Serbian government to ensure that Romani communities in similarly precarious positions are afforded appropriate protections against arbitrary forced evictions, and to provide adequate alternative housing to those subject to eviction.

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