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Disabled Bosnians Face Uphill Battle For Jobs

The case of Ana Kotur Erkic, a young lawyer from Brcko, shows that people with disabilities still face stigma and discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mladen Lakic
Ana Kotur Erkic/Facebook

 Ana Kotur Erkic should have everything going for her. Aged 29, she is a trained lawyer, human resource manager and an awarded activist for human rights.

Instead, she is unemployed, which she is convinced is a result of her being disabled.
She even took her case to a tribunal and won. “In 2015, the Human Rights Ombudsman in Bosnia confirmed that I had been discriminated against, when applying for a job – but two years on, nothing has changed,” she says.

Kotur Erkic told Balkan Insight that her case is all too typical in a country where people with disabilities face numerous hurdles trying to get a job. 

In 2014, she received her law degree and applied to work as an intern at a lawyers’ office in Banja Luka.

Publicly funded positions were available in the firm for three persons from marginalized groups. 

She was also the only candidate for the internship. Although the office was located in a building with no access for wheelchairs, she still hoped for the best.

It was not to be. “A lawyer from the company even asked me if I might faint during working hours, even though my medical documentations did not mention any medical problem of this type,” she recalled of the interview.

When the interview was finished, the lawyer concluded that Kotur Erkic was not “mentally strong enough” for daily work in an office, despite the fact that she only has certain mobility problems as a result of cerebral palsy.

After a while, she contacted an NGO to get help in proving a case of discrimination at work.
Despite much evidence in favour of her claim, she felt reluctant to take her case to court, however, because of the long procedures and lack of support from a specialised lawyer.

Instead, she opted to present her case to the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In July 2015, it concluded that her case was indeed one of work-related discrimination.
It issued a recommendation which noted that her rights as guaranteed by the law in Bosnia had been violated.

It noted also that the lawyers’ office had not hired someone with disabilities, while at the same time receiving money from public funds to support employment of the vulnerable groups.

But nothing has changed for the better for Kotur Erkic as a result. Recommendations from the Human Rights Ombudsman are not obligatory for companies or the government to follow, which can choose to ignore them.

It is hard for anyone to find a job in a country where 480,379 people were recorded as jobless in September, and where the unemployment rate among youth is as high as 60 per cent.

For the disabled, it is even harder. Figures show that as many as 300,000 people out of a population of 3.5 million have some form of disability.

That includes the estimated 84,000 people who were left disabled from the brutal war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995.

Precise data on how many people in Bosnia with disabilities are jobless are not available, but many of them clearly rely on help of families and friends, as the modest welfare payments cover little more than the cost of food.

How unusual it is to find a person in Bosnia with a disability in work was highlighted by the attention given to the case of Azra Dedic – the first person with Down Syndrome that got a job in Bosnia and Herzegovina in February this year.

Experts say that while Bosnia has quite good legislation in place, especially since it ratified the Convention on the Rights with of Persons with Disabilities in March 2010, the problem is that the regulations are not applied in practice.

Civil society organizations draw attention to a lack of money and expertise in the field as the main problems, but in the meantime the situation remains the same.

For Kotur Erkic, one of the worst problems facing people with disabilities in Bosnia is the simple stigma.

Most employers see the disabled as automatically less productive, which creates an instant problem even for those who are lucky enough to find a job.

“We need to be accepted as a valuable part of the society,” Kotur Erkic says. “Persons with disabilities need to be included in every aspect of society such as education, health care, justice system and not just to be placed in the sector that is focused on the problems of people with disabilities,” she concluded.

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