Institute of Roma-Egyptian (RE) mediators has proven to be one of the most successful models in the Western Balkans region, by enables RE community to have easier and faster access to basic rights at the local level, and now it is up to the authorities of Montenegro to do their part, i.e. to systematize the position of mediator in local services – it was mainly conclusions at the two-day international conference organized by Help on the occasion of finishing of the project “Social inclusion of the RE population through associates in social inclusion – RE Mediators”.
From the officials of the state institutions of Montenegro we also received assurances that their work is under way – to introduce the position of RE mediators in services at the local level. As the representative of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Budimirka Đukanović, said, the systematization of the RE mediator position is being introduced in the three Montenegrin municipalities, Podgorica, Nikšić and Bijela Polje, and it is also planned for Ulcinj and Bar.
Đukanović emphasized that, based on many years of experience and cooperation with Help’s mediators, the importance of this model for improving the inclusion and position of the RE community in Montenegrin society is being recognized, but, she also recommended for the future, that additional work needs to be done for improvement of the level of quality in formal education of RE mediators.
A head of department for RE population at the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, Ramiz Šahman, pointed out that the plan is that Montenegro systematize 20 positions for RE mediators by the end of 2023.
In the past year, with the project financed by the EU, through the EU and Montenegro program for employment, education and social protection, Help had deployed, trained and certified RE mediators in 11 Montenegrin municipalities in employment offices, centers for social work and health centers, which helped citizens from the Roma-Egyptian community to easier exercise their basic rights.
Meanwhile, while waiting for the state to do its part, as announced, after the ending of the project, Help – with the support of German government, has decided to keep a number of mediators so that RE population, which recognized the importance of mediators, would not lose continuity and keep more easily access to local services provided by the state.
EU representatives have repeatedly emphasized that the RE mediators for social inclusion are one of the most successful projects that Brussels have financed in the Western Balkans, and it is a part of the recommendations for Montenegro, stated in the last EU Progress Report for Montenegro.
RE mediators have been introduced in different forms into the system of local services in Serbia and North Macedonia, and although the process is not fully completed, representatives of these countries shared their experiences, during the two-day conference, and presented advantages of RE mediators work, or as they calling them – coordinators for RE community, in the local services in the two countries.
The representative of the Ministry of Health of Serbia, Dragan Đorđević, said that social mediators are the best implemented program in Serbia from the Program of Roma Decade. Although in that country the position of RE mediators is not systematized, ever since 2008 they have a budget line from which they are financed, especially RE female health mediators. Serbia has an Association of health mediators and they are every day on the fields in the 70 of the 173 municipalities in Serbia.
As the president of Association, Svetlana Ilić, said, they gave priority to female mediators, because the goal was to improve the health situation first of all for RE women, so the female mediators gained the trust of the community more easily and quickly, and in a way they also became a model for Roma women.
Osman Balić from the YUROM Center pointed out that it is necessary to work on raising the level of professionalization of the position of mediators and suggested that this title should be harmonized with codification that exists for this profession in the International Labor Organization (ILO). He, as well as other panelists, especially representatives of local institutions where Help’s mediators worked, suggested that it is not necessary to link the profession of mediator only to the RE population, but also enable them to provide assistance for all vulnerable categories that need additional help.
Balić emphasized that it is very important to collect data and conduct analyzes during the mediator’s work, which can easily prove the benefit and profitability of mediator’s work, from the point of social and economic aspects, but also from the point of view of human rights.
Nadir Redžepi from the Initiative for social change – InSoC from North Macedonia, pointed out that at the beginning of the implementation of the mediators project in his country, there was a lot of resistance, but with the help of international organizations and RIC (Roma Information Centers) RE mediators managed to achieve significant results in the field of education and raising level of health services among Roma in North Macedonia. However, as he pointed out, stable financing is still a significant challenge and depends on the political will. As Redžepi stated, from 2016 to 2021, the act of the systematization of this profession was changed 18 times.
Help’s partners in implementation of the RE mediator project, financed by the EU and the Government of Montenegro, were the Capital City of Podgorica and the municipalities of Berane and Ulcinj. Jetmir Muja from the Municipality of Ulcinj, pointed out that the work of Help’s mediators over the passed year and the data they provided had a significant impact on the new local Action plan for Roma and Egyptians, as well as increase in the municipality’s budget plans for social benefits and inclusion.
Besides the importance of RE mediators, a day before the International day of the Romani language, the importance of Romani language for better inclusion of Roma in the majority population was discussed. Panelists pointed out that the enabling education of Roma children in their mother language, in line with the official language in use, would without doubts increase chance for better social inclusion.
They also reminded that Roma is the only community in Montenegro that does not have the opportunity to exercise their right to use their own language, guaranteed by the Constitution and international conventions. Rhetorically, emphasizes Elvis Beriša from the Youth organization “Walking together Phiren Amenca”, the state expresses will to enable citizens to enjoy that right, but for various formal reasons there is a delay in fulfilling this important means for promotion of education, culture and history of the fellow citizens of Roma nationality.
The special guest of the conference on the topic of Romani language was the poet Ruždija Sejdović, born in Montenegro, who lives and works in Germany, who is also a mediator for education and language in that country. He presented the German model by which Roma children as well as all others are provided with education in their mother tongue.