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Down and Out in Kosovo

The horrendous wars during the breakup of Yugoslavia made the Balkans a byword for ethnic fragmentation and inter-communal strife. Most recently, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 has seen yet another chunk break away from Serbia, formerly the most powerful and largest of the Yugoslav republics.

Following the joy and jubilation of independence, however, Europe's newest nation has had to face up to some of the harsh realities of statehood and the many unresolved territorial and ethnic issues. The country's Serb minority, 8% of the population, concentrated in 3 northern regions abutting Serbia and in a tiny exclave on the border with Macedonia, remains largely loyal to Serbia and intransigent toward the new, Albanian dominated government. Less vocal and less visible, however, are Kosovo's Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities who, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, an NGO, face severe deprivation and discrimination. Historically, the region's Roma and other small minorities have been among the poorest and most marginalised groups. The wars that raged across the region in the 1990s caused widespread displacement amongst these smaller minorities and with the Serb withdrawal following the war, they were often accused of having collaborated with the Serb enemy.

Like hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs at the time, Kosovo's Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians migrated North in search of work. With less work available in the recession-struck EU and tougher immigration rules bearing down on economic migrants, tens of thousands of people have found themselves on the sharp end of immigration authorities in places like Germany which is planning to send up to 12,000 people back to Kosovo.

In all, 50,000 people have been sent back since the end of the war in 1999. These people often end up being the most vulnerable. Once back in Kosovo, children struggle to cope in schools due to language difficulties, people experience problems getting their new identity documents and have to fight to regain possession of their property left behind when they emigrated. Without access to public services, many returnees rely heavily on families who stayed behind who are already barely managing to take care of themselves.

Andrew Testa, who divides his time between London and Kosovo, went on a number of trips with Human Rights Watch and on behalf of the Kosovo Foundation for an Open Society (Soros) to document the lives of these most marginalised Europeans in Europe's youngest nation.
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