What Happened That Night

(feature photo: Donna Ferrato)

Albanian translation

Many of you have heard that the Kosovo government withdrew funding from Women’s shelters because of funding issues. The shelters were closed without warning in late December. Women and children were thrown out. Only one shelter in Gjakova was able to stay open. However it could not accept new clients. 65,000 Euros was given to the shelters in emergency government funding last Friday allowing them to reopen-for now.

In Kosovo, we are often inundated with political news. But we wanted to know how women and children and the people who work with them were affected by the shutdown.

According to Kosovo Police figures from 2014, there are 1,000 reported cases of domestic violence annually. 80% of these cases are women. Children and elderly comprise the rest of the cases. Usually the perpetrator is the male head of household. The shelter system is essential to helping victims of domestic violence and human trafficking protect themselves and their children.

We had a chance to speak with a local NGO, Operacioni i Mëkembjes, that runs a rehabilitation and reintegration centre for victims of domestic violence or human trafficking. “We are not a safe house or shelter – we give each woman or family for a period of up to 3 years with the therapy, training and support they need to become safe and healthy members of society.”

In their own words, read how Operacion i Mëkembjes experienced the withdrawal of funding:

“We received a call from one of the Qender per Pune Sociale (QPS) that we work with on Thurs 28th Dec, saying that they had been informed that it was possible that on Fri 29th December, the government would announce that they were withdrawing all funding for the shelters and they would have to close that same day. The social worker asked us that if that were the case, could we take in a lady for a short-term period? We accepted. The next afternoon, they called us again and said that it had happened, the government had withdrawn funding. The social worker dropped off the lady around an hour later with a few bags. We are a small center, so she went into a room with a couple of other ladies already living in it.

An hour or so after that, our doorbell rang and a teenager with a small baby in her arms stood outside, saying that she had been told to come to us because she had nowhere else to go. We had not been informed by either the shelter or social services or anybody that she was coming – when we called, we got the impression that it was chaos and they had no other options. A social worker came with her suitcase a little later. We could not leave the girl and baby on the doorstep, so of course we took them in.

One of these cases was in a very high-risk situation, which we are not equipped to accept. It was a difficult decision because having a high-risk case puts the other women, kids and staff at risk too. The social workers knew it when they asked us to take her in, but had nowhere else for this lady to go. Since we accepted the case, the social workers tried to find a safer place for her to go, but nobody knew if or when the shelters would re-open and any shelter that didn’t close wasn’t able to take anybody new in. They couldn’t find a safer place for her to stay.

To my understanding, the majority of the women in the shelters were sent back to their families, even if those situations were completely unsafe. However for one of the two cases we accepted that day, her family had rejected her completely – and the other has a restraining order against a very dangerous man. The ladies had to turn up at the doorstep and trust complete strangers to take them in, with no time in advance to adjust to the change.

Since the shelters have reopened last week, we have decided to keep one of the ladies as a long-term member of the program, and the high-risk case has returned to the safer environment of the shelter. “





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