The rusted gate creaks open as a handful of Roma women step into the shadowy entranceway of the former Dubrava Correctional Centre. The soles of their shoes slide across the dank floor as they walk through tangled corridors and between moldy, crumbling walls. The women’s eyes are hollow, their expressions are somber. Children’s wails and coughs echo through the halls of the facility, a place whose former inhabitants experienced decades of abuse.
The Centre, Kosovo’s largest detention facility, had inmates until the end of the war in 1999, when the property was returned to the municipality of Istog, in the country’s northwest. Local authorities promised to turn the center into a home for returning Albanians and Roma, thousands of whom were displaced during the Kosovo war. The promise was never kept, but Roma families began squatting here fifteen years ago and never left.
The Roma have resided in Kosovo in both permanent and impermanent settlements since the fifteenth century. They account for up to two percent of the population and can be divided into three groups: multilingual Romani (Roma, Serbian, and Albanian speakers), Albanian-speaking Muslim Ashkali, and Albanian-speaking Balkan Egyptians. In Kosovo, the Roma have a lower life expectancy than the rest of the population, and they suffer from high unemployment due to a greater difficulty staying in school and reaching university-level education.