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North Macedonia launches €2 million development fund to support Roma businesses

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Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev (pictured) today (30 July) launched a €2 million development fund in partnership with the Roma Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (REDI) to support Roma businesses and address the issue of unemployment in the community. 

The project 'Financial Support for the Development of Roma Entrepreneurship with Matching Fund' aims to create favourable business conditions for Roma entrepreneurs by facilitating easier access to business loans; offering coaching, business development services, and creating new jobs, formalizing Roma employment, and harnessing the Roma’s demographic dividend. 

Traditionally, Roma have been declined loan and business investment in Europe because of bad credit history, lack of collateral, lack of proof of business activity and racism. In addition, on average 80% of the mapped Roma entrepreneurs work in the informal sector. In the current COVID climate, one in two Roma entrepreneurs surveyed by REDI worry that they will not be able to pay their rents, and loans if the situation continues for longer than two weeks. Six out of ten businesses owned by Roma fear they will go bankrupt in the next two months in absence of urgent support, especially for their cash flow needs. The help is timely. 

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Launching the initiative, Prime Minister Zaev said: “This Government recognized the potential of Roma entrepreneurship and their contribution for development of Roma community, which is why this first step is important towards building an economically stable community.” 

Alexander Soros, deputy chairman of the Open Society Foundations welcomed North Macedonia’s unprecedented commitment towards building an inclusive economy. “This initiative comes at a very important moment for the region. The regional cooperation spearheaded by PMs Zaev and Rama and President Vučić will open new possibilities for this initiative to succeed. Through this initiative, we can create, sustain, and grow the Roma-owned businesses and generate new job opportunities.”

Investing in Roma would pay high dividends for the Western Balkans, said Zeljko Jovanovic, Director, Roma Initiatives Office of OSF that initiated the creation of REDI. “There is evidence that Roma exclusion hurts economies in the region and this will only get worse due to the pandemic and demographic trends. Governments now have an opportunity to reverse this trend. Serbia already joined the initiative with an initial investment of one million euro in Roma entrepreneurs, today North Macedonia joins. More Western Balkan governments should sign up to the match funding development initiative.”

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REDI has a track record of aiding Roma entrepreneurs. Muamed Malikovski, a young artist entrepreneur from Bitola, North Macedonia, received a start-up COVID relief grant of € 5000 from REDI and ERIAC in 2020 to put together his initial collection of traditional clothes for Roma women. He also received branding and digital marketing support from REDI. Today, despite COVID, Malikovski has managed to sustain his business and continue to serve the community.

Another businessman Malik Maliki, owner of a pizza restaurant in Suto Orizari, who was repeatedly denied access to loan, received technical assistance from REDI in 2021 to apply for a government grant to grow his business. This helped him to employ more people and grow his business. In addition, he managed to get further business support from the government. 

Senat Jaja, Founder of Marchelo, a clothing company welcomed the news: “I have been an entrepreneur for over 15 years. At the beginning of my career, I worked as an informal entrepreneur (without registering a company) for the first five years, but I realized that I could prosper and expand my business much better if I registered it. Over the years, I have faced many challenges, but my main challenge was in 2020 when the COVID-19 virus appeared, which caused a pandemic and economic downturn, both in our country and around the world. I found it difficult to get a loan from commercial banks and was getting desperate. Fortunately, REDI stepped in to assist me in getting a loan. I managed to apply for an interest-free loan from the Development Bank with 0% interest. I got motivated to invest in my business and I feel more confident about the future. REDI in the Republic of North Macedonia is the first Roma NGO that unconditionally helps entrepreneurs, supporting them to succeed. I believe that the REDI fund as a new mechanism can help Roma entrepreneurs by motivating them to register their business and showing them that we can succeed.”

Disasters

Fire in North Macedonian COVID-19 hospital kills at least 14

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Fourteen people were killed and 12 seriously injured when a fire broke out in a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients in the North Macedonian town of Tetovo late on Wednesday (8 September), the Balkan country's health ministry said today (9 September), writes Fatos Bytyc, Reuters.

The prosecutor's office said DNA analyses would be needed to identify some of the victims, all of them patients in a serious condition. No medical staff were among the victims.

The total of 26 patients were accommodated in the COVID-19 hospital at the time of the fire, said Health Minister Venko Filipce.

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"The remaining 12 patients with life-threatening injuries are being taken care at the Tetovo hospital," Filipce said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the fire was caused by an explosion, and that the investigation was under the way. Local media said that a canister with oxygen or gas may have exploded.

A hospital for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients is seen after a fire broke out, in Tetovo, North Macedonia, September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Local media showed images of a huge blaze which broke out around 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) at the hospital in the town's west as firefighters raced to the scene. The fire was extinguished after a few hours.

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The accident occurred on the day when North Macedonia marked the 30th anniversary of its independence from the former Yugoslavia. All official celebrations and events were cancelled on Thursday, said the office of President Stevo Pendarovski.

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in North Macedonia since mid-August, prompting the government to introduce stricter social measures such as health passes for cafes and restaurants.

The country of 2 million reported 701 new coronavirus infections and 24 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The town of Tetovo, mainly inhabited by ethnic Albanians, has one of the country's highest number of coronavirus cases.

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Albania

Forest fires: EU helps Italy, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia to fight devastating fires

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As forest fires continue affecting various regions in the Mediterranean and the Western Balkans, the European Commission is swiftly mobilising support to assist countries in limiting the spread of the fires and protect lives and livelihoods.

  • Two Canadair firefighting airplanes from France are being sent to affected areas in Italy to start firefighting operations today.
  • Two firefighting planes from Cyprus are supporting Greece, on top of a firefighting team to support operations on the ground.
  • Two helicopters to support operations in Albania will be equally dispatched from Czechia and the Netherlands.
  • In addition, Slovenia is sending a team of 45 firefighters to North Macedonia.

All help is mobilised through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, with co-funding by the Commission of at least 75 % of transport costs.

Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: "We are working around the clock to send help as fires rage across Europe. I thank Cyprus, Czechia, France, Slovenia and the Netherlands for swiftly deploying firefighting airplanes, helicopters and a team of firefighters to support countries heavily affected by forest fires. At this time as several Mediterranean countries are facing fires, EU Civil Protection makes sure that our firefighting tools in place are used at maximum capacity. This is an excellent example of EU solidarity in times of need.”

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These deployments come in addition to EU-coordinated firefighting operations that are currently ongoing in Turkey, as well as in Sardinia, Italy at the end of July. Satellite maps from the EU's Copernicus Emergency Management satellite are providing further support to the emergency services to coordinate the operations.

The European Union's 24/7 Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre is in constant contact with the civil protection authorities of countries affected by the fires to closely monitor the situation and channel EU assistance.

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coronavirus

COVID-19: EU sends 200,000 vaccines to Albania and North Macedonia

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A new consignment of COVID-19 vaccines for both Albania and North Macedonia has been channelled through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. It follows a request by the authorities of both countries to the EU for support in light of the COVID-19 situation. The delivery, offered by Greece, consists of 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines for each country. Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: “I thank Greece for its offer to its neighbouring countries.  We see here yet another example of the swift coordination done by the European Civil Protection Mechanism that has proved to be crucial in supporting countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The EU finances up to 75% of the transport costs of the assistance sent through the Mechanism. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 45 countries have received support in terms of vaccines, medical and protective equipment and other material via the Mechanism.

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