Roma and returnee stories of drive to succeed – for better future back home

UNDP-European Union initiative empowers Roma in Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia

April 12, 2024
Roma in the Western Balkans

Regional Returnee Reintegration Project empowers Roma returnees in Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia

Arbnora Mehmeti / UNDP North Macedonia

Barriers and prejudices against Roma and returnees need to be torn down. Every day, Roma returnees with their energy and determination, tearing down the barriers, inspire us with their drive to succeed.    For International Roma Day, 8th of April and throughout the year, we recognize their resilience, energy and drive to address challenges and contribute to their success and success of their communities.    

The EU-UNDP Regional Returnee Reintegration initiative empowers Roma returnees in Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia, enabling them to build a better life back home through entrepreneurship and enhanced skills.  We advocate for and spur systemic change related to Roma returnee inclusion into the labor market for decent employment and for enhanced access to services.
On the International Roma Day, we share with you these inspiring stories of Roma & returnees from our partner municipalities in Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and ask you to consider how you can make a change for their better lives and for their communities and act on it. In partnership, working together, for a better future back home. 

Feride Dalipi is a 22-year-old returnee from Berat, Albania. Feride and her family have tried to make their living in the EU and now are back in their hometown. To lift her family out of financial difficulties, with no previous formal work experience, Feride took the lead and pursued her idea for a business in a conventionally male-dominated service: car-washing. Feride received support from the project to start her car-washing business. This support shouldered the weight of launching a business through business planning mentoring & technical assistance, as well as support for some equipment. Now, with her husband’s companionship, Feride’s family business successfully caters to customers and is growing.

Luan and his daughter Blerina are committed to make Devoll, Albania a better place for all and an inclusive community. Luan is an active member of his community, promoting Roma inclusion and education of young Roma generations. A medical driver at the Medical Urgency Services of the municipality, Luan serves daily citizens ensuring their access to health care services.  Luan’s daughter Blerina, currently a high school student, works also for the community’s well-being. Blerina volunteers in the after-school classes for children at the Multifunctional Community Center in Devoll, these classes are supported by the EU-funded UNDP implemented Regional Returnee Reintegration Project. Blerina helps children from families that experience economic hardship in after-school classes, helping children with their homework, but also playing educational games with them and helping develop their social skills.  

Jetmira, now 34 years old, had to abandon her studies to take care of her children at a very young age. Recently, Jetmira returned to her hometown Fier, Albania from the EU, where she worked in seasonal jobs. As household economics started to go out of balance with the kids growing up, Jetmira looked for ways to respond to the family’s needs rather than migrating abroad.  Jetmira decided   to hone her entrepreneurship skills and establish a business of her own, which she dreamed of all her life. The EU-funded UNDP-implemented Regional Returnee Reintegration Project gave Jetmira the needed mentoring and some equipment support, helping her realize her dream."I am free and strong! I want to continue working for my children, I don't want them to be deprived of anything and to receive their education. I want all their dreams to come true!” 

A 25-year-old returnee, Dzevdet walks proudly along Prilep’s Old Bazaar towards his shop, where he sells various kitchen gadgets and tools. Two years after he came back home from the EU, Dzeko (his “business” name) was able to get on his feet again with a determination to re-build his life back home. Dzevdet decided to apply to the Self- Employment programme, supported by the EU-funded UNDP implemented Regional Returnee Reintegration Project.  The programme gave him the means to turn his business idea into reality, with mentoring and financial support provided.

“Yes, I am more than satisfied. I love running my business, paying for the rent and covering all the other expenses…. The business is going so well that I plan to expand my store and add some new products in the offer.”

Metula, a 29-year-old returnee from the EU, found inspiration to return to education through her school-age children. Leaving school early and marrying at a very young age, Metula left North Macedonia in search of a better life abroad. After her return, Metula embarked on her learning and literacy journey as part of the adult education programme supported by the EU-funded UNDP implemented Regional Returnee Reintegration Project.  This was a key step that would help Metula build a better life back home: “First and foremost, I aspire to become a literate individual. Obtaining a certificate for completing primary education will open numerous opportunities for me. It will also enable me to expand my knowledge and provide assistance to my children in their studies. I won’t miss out on job opportunities as I did before due to my lack of education.”

After many years spent in the EU, Izet came back to Shuto Orizari, North Macedonia and is now the proud owner of the small restaurant “Romani Sofra,” located in center of Shuto Orizari. Benefiting from the Self- Employment Programme, supported by the EU-funded UNDP implemented Regional Returnee Reintegration Project, Izet received business mentoring and support for some equipment to establish his business and make his dream true.  Izet worked closely with his business mentor to develop a business plan and put his restaurant on a growing path. The place is now a big hit, offering wide range of fast food, but also some traditional Roma dishes. “I can’t believe how my life has changed. From not knowing where the day would take me, now I plan my working day ahead while providing for my family. The business is going excellent… and I am even thinking to expanding it with few more tables and a wider menu….”  

As a practicing student in vocational training, Uroš carefully listens to the sounds of cars in a repair shop in Valjevo, making sure that cars he repaired run flawlessly. Uros is taking part in the VET training, provided as part of the project.  Specifically, Uros is taking part in the module on “Auto Mechanic Training”; this training has paved the path for Uros internship in car repair shops in Valjevo. "Since I'm going to a technical high school, it was important for me to get an internship. So, I came across the Auto Mechanic Training and signed up right away. I was overjoyed when I found out that I was chosen! I learned a lot during the training, senior colleagues are always there to correct me and explain everything I'm interested in. I also got the opportunity to continue working in this service-shop, of course, as far as my obligations at school allow. And one day, I would like to open my own service-shop." 

With her degree in environmental studies, Slavica, from Novi Sad, Serbia, like many young people, ventured into a demanding job market, where her degree and skills did not match with market demands. As Slavica actively sought to overcome this challenge, one could say that it was almost a serendipitous encounter with the training designed and offered by the EU-funded UNDP implemented Regional Returnee Reintegration Project that changed her life.  These trainings provided Slavica with opportunities to explore and realize her learning potential in new skill areas.  With the training Slavica completed in QA testing and with the newly acquired digital and other skills, Slavica has now chosen to steer her career in new fields and has taken up an administrative job, offering her prospects for future career growth.

Finding employment in the formal market for young people can be a struggle. For Denis and David, two cousins from Bujanovac, Serbia, completing vocational educational training  gave them a chance to break down the job barriers with the new skills they gained. The training gave them new skills, equipping them to work on CNC machines: "After finishing elementary school, it was not easy to find a job. And I always wanted to learn a specific trade, get a certificate and be able to do a job. Of course, training is only 50% of the solution, I started working and now it's up to me to get an internship," says 32-year-old Denis, who, like David, gained his first formal employment opportunity supported by the EU-UNDP initiative. 

About the project

The Reintegration of Returnees in the Western Balkans project is focused on addressing key barriers for socio-economic reintegration of vulnerable returnees in the Western Balkans.  The project is part of the EU Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) II Multi-Country Action, EU support to Fundamental Rights of Roma Community, and Reintegration of Returnees, entrusted to UNDP, World Bank, and the Council of Europe.   In all Western Balkan economies, the project assesses policy and institutional gaps and facilitates a dialogue on mechanisms for implementation and monitoring of reintegration policies and programmes. In Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, the project implements local level programmes and tests innovative solutions for sustainable socio-economic reintegration of returnees.

Find out more:

Reintegration of returnees in the Western Balkans project