Amnesty International urged Serbian authorities Thursday to "take urgent and immediate action" to halt forced evictions of Roma, also known as Gypsies, from their settlements in the capital Belgrade and prevent "systematic discrimination" against them.
The rights group said in a report issued on the eve of the International Roma Day on Thursday that a series of forced evictions since 2009 from informal settlements in the city are breaching their right to adequate housing.
The report says some Roma families have been resettled in metal containers on the outskirts of the capital, segregated from the rest of the population.
The report describes how the "systematic discrimination" against Roma often gives them no choice but to live in slums, where they have no security and are vulnerable to forced evictions.
"Human rights violations are interconnected and inadequate housing is at the core of the problem," Amnesty International's Deputy Director of Europe and Central Asia program, Andrea Huber, said at a press conference in Belgrade.
The group called on the authorities to pass a law that would ban forced evictions and ensure that those who are resettled are granted compensation and proper housing.
"The Serbian government has completely failed in its duty," said Meghna Abraham, the group's head of economic, social and cultural rights team. "Serbia has to take urgent and immediate action."
There are an estimated 500,000 Gypsies living in Serbia, or about seven percent of the population. They often face harassment from Serbian extreme nationalist groups, and almost exclusively can find work as garbage collectors.
"Instead of halting forced evictions the Serbian authorities in Belgrade are carrying out more and more, driving Roma communities from their homes and forcing them to live in inadequate housing," said Sian Jones, Amnesty International's Serbia researcher.
"They must stop this practice if they are to abide by their international obligations," she said. "This includes guaranteeing Roma the right to housing provided with sanitation, within reach of public facilities and employment."
Since April 2009, at least seven forced evictions of informal Roma settlements have taken place in the capital, the report said.
Many of the forced evictions are part of the Belgrade authorities' plan envisaging large scale infrastructure projects funded by foreign loans. The plans are set to affect the residents of at least 50 of the 100 Roma settlements within Belgrade, the Amnesty report said.
Many of the Roma living in the capital have fled Kosovo after the 1999 war there, and some have been forcibly returned from Western Europe after seeking work or international protection in the European Union countries, the report said.
Unable to register as citizens of Belgrade, they are often denied access to employment, social security, health care and education, it added.
"The authorities should also identify social housing and other housing options in locations not segregated by ethnicity to ensure that Roma families have the choice of housing outside Roma-only settlements," Jones said.
Jovana Gec contributed.