Social & Economic rights

Friday, 10 December 2021

Without Permanent Residence on the Slopes of an Abyss

Rukija Rahmani [1] lives near Bor. The road sunken due to mining mechanisation leads from Bor to the settlement of Brezonik, lying on the deposits of gold, silver and copper ore discovered a long time ago.

There, between the quarry and the mining tailings dump, in a seemingly dystopian valley, there are shacks that once accommodated miners and workers. The end of the building cannot be seen from the long, mouldy and unlit corridor. On the right side of the corridor, there are many rotten doors to the rooms inhabited today mainly by Roma families. Rukija has been living for over 10 years in one of such rooms, full of moisture and without heating. The walls cracked as a result of open-pit blasting. The window panes are covered with nylon. Rukija Rahmani rarely leaves that room. She almost never goes to the City of Bor because she does not have an ID card. Originating from Đakovica, she entered cohabitation in Brezonik. She and her partner have three small children who spend their childhood playing near the overburden dump.

Working in the field, Praxis found out that many new residents of this settlement were not able to register their address of permanent residence, because the facilities in such settlements were owned by the city and the mining company, which stopped issuing permits for the use of housing units a few years before. Considering that the majority of persons come to the settlement for marriage or cohabitation in which children are born, these families remain without the assistance granted by the City of Bor because they do not have a registered address of permanent residence. Comparing the number of children who exercise, annually, only the right to state assistance with the number of children who also exercise the right to city assistance reveals a difference of several dozens of children who are mostly Roma and whose parents do not have a registered address of permanent residence. The three children of Rukija Rahmani are among them. She has never received social assistance or child allowance.

Paradoxically, the City of Bor grants one-time financial aid to mothers of infants, but at the same time indirectly denies them this assistance by preventing them from registering their address of permanent residence. At the same time, in cases like this, the Police Administration in Bor hardly conducts any procedures to determine the address of permanent residence.

In 2014, Rukija was registered in birth registry books on the basis of a court decision, while in 2016, her citizenship of the Republic of Serbia was determined. After determination of her citizenship, she addressed the Police Administration in Bor to register her address of permanent residence, but they always orally rejected her with the general explanation that she was not allowed to submit a permanent residence registration request because she was unable to prove the legal basis of housing. Since she was always rejected orally, there is no evidence of her attempts.

As Rukija Rahmani did not succeed to register her address of permanent residence on her own, she authorised Praxis to represent her in that procedure. At first, the notary public did not want to conduct a certification procedure because Rukija could not speak or understand the Serbian language well enough. Precisely because of these local institutions that refused to register Rukija’s permanent residence and issue her an ID card, she did not dare to move more freely, integrate better and learn the language. Throughout her life in Bor, she had no support from the system.

The Police Administration in Bor accepted Rukija Rahmani’s request for permanent residence registration and ID card issuance only after she had authorised her representative. Handling the request, the Police Administration in Bor noticed that Rukija did not have a personal identification number (JMBG) and ordered her to address the competent authority at the place of her birth, instead of taking the appropriate action ex officio to determine her JMBG. Finally, her JMBG was determined at the request of her authorised representative. While struggling to be recognised before the law, Rukija was completely deprived of the support of local authorities and institutions, which did not recognise her vulnerability and legal invisibility, preventing her to access the basic rights.

At the beginning of November 2021, the results of Praxis' work on this case were already visible: “The police came to check where I lived” - Rukija told Praxis staff happily - “They also talked to the neighbours”. Ten days later, Rukija Rahmani obtained her first ID card.

In the devastated settlement of Brezonik, where wells are no longer usable and where, according to local residents, water passes through asbestos pipes, in a cloud of vapours and dust from tailings, with the enormous quantities of sulphur dioxide, and a whole range of carcinogenic heavy metals in the air, Rukija Rahmani will finally have access to health care.

First of all, she wants to see a doctor in order to get therapy for her leg that she finds increasingly difficult to stand on. “I can't even wear socks anymore because it’s so swollen”, Rukija adds without giving it too much importance and shows us her blue lower leg.

Now that I have an ID card, I will first go to the doctor, and to the social protection service to see if I can get some assistance” - and she adds with a smile - “and I’ll go to my husband's family, stay for a while, and then back home.”

Good luck Rukija!


[1]This is not her real name.

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