As a member of the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG), the European Network on Independent Living – the European Coalition for Community Living have been involved in a series of national seminars on the role of European Union (EU) funds in supporting the right to live in community. The last of these, and the first one to take place outside the EU, was organised in Belgrade, Serbia on 8 December 2014. It was led by the Ministry of Employment, Labour, Veteran and Social Affairs and facilitated by EEG and the European Commission.
The seminar brought together about 150 participants with the two main objectives: to discuss the key challenges in Serbia in relation to de-institutionalisation of children and adults with disabilities, and to reach an agreement about what concrete steps should be taken by the Government and other stakeholders to address them.
Several ENIL-ECCL members and allies participated in the seminar – among them Damjan Tatić, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Gordana Rajkov from the Centre for Independent Living (CIL).
Damjan Tatić raised his concerns about poor accessibility of the built environment in Serbia and the lack of access to personal assistance (PA). Although the legal framework (i.e. the Law on Social Welfare) is adequate, services such as PA have been made the responsibility of the local government, without a mechanism to ensure that it will be provided by them. Mr. Tatić also highlighted that, while there is good practice in de-institutionalisation of children’s services, thousands of adults are still segregated in institutional care. He spoke about the difficulty of closing institutions without community-based alternatives in place, and noted the need for a reform of the outdated guardianship system.
Gordana Rajkov, a member of ENIL’s Advisory Group, noted the good normative framework in Serbia, which provides for a range of community-based services. However, she highlighted the many problems that arise in practice, caused by the lack of understanding of what these services entail and how they should be provided, as well as the lack of funding. In addition to the lack of awareness by the centres for social welfare, the Belgrade municipality, for example, published a tender for the provision of PA, where this service was classified as a medical service, with no reference to existing quality standards. The only condition for the tender was previous experience with similar tenders, irrespective of the fact that this was the first tender of its kind. As another example, she noted that some residential institutions provide what is referred to as “personal assistance”. Furthermore, Gordana spoke about the difficulty in obtaining funding for the provision of PA, despite the fact that they are an accredited provider. She therefore called for a strategy to be adopted on raising awareness about the importance of community-based based services and the training of officials at the local and national level.
Before the seminar, a number of NGOs prepared a statement which was presented by Saša Štefanović, from the Network of Children’s Organisations, Dragana Ćirić Milovanović, from the Mental Disability Rights Initiative – Serbia and Vesna Avramović, from the Association of users of psychiatry “Duša”.
Through EEG, ENIL-ECCL will be involved in the follow up to the seminar, which will involve a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels and monitoring progress towards the right to live independently in the community in Serbia.
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