The key to a better life for the Roma is education, experts say. However, very few Roma complete even the mandatory, eight-year elementary school curriculum, and only a handful out of a population of tens of thousands earn a university degree.
Belgrade (dpa) - In the last census, 147,000 people in Serbia, or 2.1 per cent, declared themselves as Roma. However, according to the national statistical bureau, only one in 1,000 university students identified similarly.
An elderly woman stands between piles of rubbish in the Belvil residential estate inhabited by local Roma in Belgrade, Serbia, 9 April 2013.
Only one in eight Roma - around 12 per cent - starts high school. Fewer graduate.
Overall, a Roma individual completes only 5.5 years of school in Serbia, according to Znanje na Dar (Gift of Knowledge), a Roma education project in Novi Sad. Illiteracy stands at 20 per cent and is rampant among children and women.
Children start school late and often are sent to work - anything from collecting recyclable garbage to wiping windshields at intersections - at a very early age.
With a large part of the Roma population living in isolated slums, children are also exposed to abuse.
Emina Redzic is one of around 150 government-appointed school guidance counselors tasked with the inclusion of Roma children. A Roma herself, she says that improvement is agonizingly slow.
"When I started, I was euphoric, sure to change everything. But it is true what they say: when hungry and cold, you don‘t care about school. We need to support those who can go through with it, then wait until they come back and educate others," she says.
"My people are trapped," she says. "Without an education, poor, forced into worst jobs since a young age, [they are] unaware of their rights as much as of their duties, they see no way out. And there isn‘t one, at least not now. It will take generations."
Serbia's negotiations on EU membership began in earnest on Monday with the opening of the country's first two accession chapters in a move aimed at rewarding Belgrade for improving relations with Kosovo.
Conservative Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his Progressive Party (SNS) win their third consecutive parliamentary elections in Serbia, according to an unofficial projection based on exit polling.
A second far-right party won seats Wednesday in the Serbian Parliament, and the overall winner, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, still lost ground in a repeat election held on a small number of polling stations because of irregularities.