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Kosovo Roma living in fear turn to EU for help

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Over 600 Kosovo Roma refugees who are camped on the Macedonian border with Greece are claiming the right to asylum in EU countries. They fear for their safety if returned to Kosovo and claim intolerable living conditions in Macedonia. Living in makeshift camps at Medzhitlija in Macedonia the Roma, many of whom are children, are experiencing appalling conditions, but claim that they would face violence and persecution if forced to return to Kosovo and are unwilling to remain in Macedonia. The Roma fled their homes and sought refuge in Macedonia following NATO action in Kosovo in 1999.

In a statement to the European Commission President ,Romano Prodi, and EU member states, a representative of the Kosovo Roma stated: ‘Our homes are in Kosovo, but many of these have been burned to the ground or otherwise destroyed. Ethnic Albanians continue to threaten Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians with violence. Attacks continue today. Kosovo remains dangerous for us…’

Despite offers to apply for refugee status and of temporary accommodation in Macedonia, the Roma, who wish ultimately to return to Kosovo, remain suspicious, citing examples of Roma, who having followed such a course, have been detained by police and expelled to Kosovo. The Roma have further claimed that Macedonia has failed to provide them with minimum standards of living, forcing them to take action in seeking asylum elsewhere, and that subsequently violence has been used against them by the Macedonian security forces at the border.

The Roma, including around 350 children, have been camped at the border crossing point for six weeks facing unsanitary conditions and a lack of food and water, with the consequent risk of infectious disease. Their actions have highlighted the precarious position of the Kosovo Roma and the need to establish conditions within Kosovo for their safe return. Recent reports from the UNHCR, (1) OSCE and international NGOs show that there are ongoing threats to the security of all minority groups in Kosovo. Until conditions are secure, interim measures must be taken, within Macedonia or elsewhere, to ensure the safety of the Roma under humane conditions appropriate to their legitimate status as refugees.

Minority Rights Group International stated: ‘The Greek and Macedonian authorities should cooperate to ensure that adequate facilities are provided for the Roma from Kosovo fleeing persecution, and fair determination of their asylum claims. No Roma should be returned to a country where their lives or freedoms are at risk.’

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) runs a Roma Programme and has worked with Roma partners in the region for many years. MRG has highlighted the need to establish conditions of sustainable return for the Roma under circumstances of security, human rights protection and economic and social reintegration. Based on principles of non-discrimination, equality and participation in public life, such conditions for secure return must include reconstruction of property and implementation of property rights. Minority Rights Group International calls on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Kosovo authorities to take immediate measures to ensure the sustainable return of the Kosovo Roma.

Notes for editors

  1. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ position paper on the situation in Kosovo of January 2003 states ‘…improvements remain limited to the extent that the security situation of minorities continues to be a major concern […] Significantly, Kosovo Serbs, the Roma, the Egyptians and, in many cases, the Ashkaelia continue to face serious security threats…[and] should continue to benefit from international protection in countries of asylum…individuals and families should not be forced or induced to return to Kosovo’.
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