November 29, 2018 — A new group has joined the masses emigrating to Western Europe: Croatia’s Roma, an oft-marginalized societal and economic underclass which has until now stayed put.
The most impoverished of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County’s Roma have started leaving Croatia, according to Novi List. About four thousand Roma lived in the area surrounding Rijeka until recently, but the number dropped drastically as the unemployed and poorest families left for Germany.
Croatia overall is enduring a mass exodus as young, well-educated citizens leave to the tune of nearly 200 a day by some estimates.
The last two years saw the number of families surviving on some part of Croatia’s social safety net fall by over 100 in the broader Rijeka area.
“Some left three years ago; some two years ago, others yesterday. They left for bread, for a better life,” Sadik Krasnić, president of the Council of the Roma National Minorities of the Primorsko-Goranska County, told Novi List. “More people would have left, but we managed to employ them on time, mostly in Sanitation.” Krasnić know of about 15 to 20 families who have left recently, each with three children or more.
The worst-hit areas appear to be Rujevica and Škurnjske Drage. The town of Delnica may also see a mass exodus. There, many families lack employment or any connection to basic municipal services such as water or electricity. Some, according to Krasnić, still live in tents.
Roma have historically been ostracized within Croatia and often unable to access basic municipal services and social welfare benefits granted other citizens. A 2015 UN Human Rights Committee report claims Roma effectively became stateless after the breakup of Yugoslavia and “face difficulties in meeting the requirements for obtaining Croatian citizenship because they often lack personal identity documents.”
Roma moved into the Rijeka region, the northwestern corner of Croatia next to the Istrian Peninsula, in the 1950s. The first migrants made their living shining shoes under the clock at the city’s center. Their descendants, including Krasnić, still live there — of have until they started moving out.
A cadre of local politicians have helped Rijeka’s Roma find jobs, get electricity, legalize homes, and build playgrounds for children, according to Krasnić.
“We desperately want our kids to go to school, finish their educations so they can find their callings,” Krasnić said. “We don’t want to live in isolation.”
Those who emmigrated found jobs, apartments, schools for their children, Krasnić added. The better-off members return during the summers to fix the homes they left behind, checking odds and ends such as electric and water connections — still in the works at the time they left.
“They’ll come back some day, I know their souls,” Krasnić added.
Check out our other stories on Croatia’s ongoing demographic problems.