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Kosovo: Roma surviving as informal collectors in struggling waste management system

In February 2019, it was reported that the struggling waste management system in Kosovo, especially prevalent in the largest cities, was not only an environmental threat but affected some of the poorest and most vulnerable in Kosovan society - Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities (Roma).  Without formal contracts, fair pay or protection against hazardous waste, Roma (including children) work "informally" to survive, helping to seperate materials for Kosovo's lucrative scrap materials sector.   

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Article
4 November 2019

Roma work informally for waste management companies, surviving on a fifth of the average Kosovo wage

Author: Stuart Greer, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

"A Dire Need To Survive' Drives Kosovo Roma To Risky Recycling", 9 October 2019

Faced with discrimination, many among Kosovo's [Roma] population make a living by selling scrap to recycling companies. The job is poorly paid and risky, but one of the few they can find.

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Article
1 November 2019

Kosovan waste management companies use informal Roma labour in struggling system

Author: France 24

"In Kosovo, Roma's recycling work is unsung, underpaid", 29 September 2019

Kosovo's…haphazard waste management…is one of several environmental threats…with illegal dumpsites...and harzardous landfills leaking into the grounwater...Similarly forgotten are the poorest...who do the bulk of waste sorting in Kosovo,...[mostly hailing] from the marginalised Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian [(Roma)] communities...

An absence of formal contracts - coupled with discrimination…leaves the scrap collectors open to exploitation by companies who purchase what they collect and export it abroad. [Collectors] earn [approximately]...50-100 euros…a month, a fifth of the average wage in Kosovo, according to…the European Centre for Minority Issues Kosovo. [I]n an industry that generates around 40 million euros annually,…[NGO Advancing Together say]…some of that money could be used to help lift the waste collectors out of poverty.

Dirty and dangerous, the work...keeps Roma…and other minorities marginalised, [says] Bashkim Ibishi from NGO Advancing Together. The recycling…poses health risks as the workers lack proper [protection] to handle [hazardous] waste…The Maksutis [(one Roma family)]…come to Kosovo to work…[and] send their older children to dig through bins…"We keep the (young) children away so they do not get sick".

[Kosovo's] Environmental Protection Agency said that "the current solid waste management system…is environmentally unsustainable”…fewer than 60 percent of homes covered by garbage collection. [Efforts] to tackle the issue were cut short by the collapse of the government this summer…In the meantime, families...eke out a living, bringing home up to eight euros on a good day. 

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Article
31 October 2019

NGOs report exploitation of Roma children and families in Kosovo's €40 million scrap materials sector

Author: Leonida Molliqaj, Balkan Insight

“Scavenger Hunters: Kosovo’s Exploited Scrap Collectors”, 11 Feb 2019

Twelve-year-old Resmije…, [tears] open bags of household waste and rotting food, she plucks out anything of value: plastic bottles, soft drink cans, electric cables…For thousands of informal workers in Kosovo’s booming trade in recyclable materials, a handful of euros is all they can expect for a full day’s work, …[selling]…[whatever] they [can] salvage to middlemen at neighbourhood collection points...

Kosovo has no public recycling programme…[but], [w]orth on average more than 40 million euros a year, scrap material for recycling is Kosovo’s number one export, according to customs data. It is an industry built on the backs of desperately poor communities — especially marginalised RAE — Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian. Elizabeth Gowing, head of the Ideas Partnership, a Pristina-based minority rights group, described the scrap trade as a vicious circle that ensnares generations. Hilmi Jashari, Kosovo’s independent ombudsman, said the plight of child scrap collectors poses serious human rights challenges…Last year, a 24-year old scrap collector, died after he was hit by a bulldozer while trespassing on a landfill [and] a seven-year-old Roma boy…was mauled to death by a dog while collecting…in 2014.  Most scrap collectors work long hours without…protective equipment…The ministry of labour and welfare did not respond to interview requests…

[Penalties] for running [illegal] waste management facilities…include fines...Everybody involved in the transactions declined to comment, [but] ...a kilogram of iron typically fetches 16 cents while the same amount of plastic gets 12 cents…The customs data [does] not include the names of exporting companies…but a[n] investigation by Preportr…identified more than 60 firms involved...[t]he biggest being…Nderimi. Nderimi did not respond to…requests for an interview, [but]...did confirm...that the company buys scrap from both individual scavengers and collection points. [Nderimi] sells scrap to Kurum International, a Turkish maker of steel and iron products for the construction industry,…based in Albania. Kurum did not respond…

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