Germany Expels Roma En Masse to Serbia and Montenegro

In recent months there have been a number of reports that some countries of Western Europe, including Germany, have been expelling large numbers of Roma to Serbia and Montenegro. In the case of Germany, many Roma arrived in the country as a result of armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia region beginning in 1991, and have sought asylum, but many arrived prior to the conflict. Since the early 1990s, Roma from the former Yugoslavia - like other former Yugoslavs in Germany - have been regulated under a status called "tolerated" (geduldet), which, in practice, only protected the Romani refugees from deportation. The permit of toleration (duldung) has often been issued for periods sometimes as short as several weeks. The majority of the Roma in question have thus lived in Germany under this insecure status for up to ten years. In the meanwhile, they formed legitimate ties to the country in many ways, their young children being born and educated in Germany, and many of these Roma now rightly consider themselves German.

The deportations intensified after Serbia and Montenegro signed an agreement on the readmission of its citizens from Germany on September 16, 2002. There is, however, evidence that deportations took place months before the signature. The number of Roma deported is not known. At a public debate on the issue of forced returns of Roma in Belgrade on March 3, 2003, a representative of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights of Serbia and Montenegro claimed that, as of that date, nine hundred and seventy-two persons had been returned from Germany, 90 percent of whom were Romani. This number, however, is disputed by Serbian Romani organisations, which have stated that the number of deported Roma is in the thousands, if not more than ten thousand persons. As of February 16, 2003, local Romani organisations had registered one hundred and fifty deported Romani families in Belgrade, eighteen Romani families in the town of Niš, twenty Romani families in Kragujevac, and around one hundred Romani families in the Vojvodina region. In Montenegro, Romani organisations recorded four Romani individuals and one Romani family in Nikšić, twenty families in Podgorica, and estimated that there could be as many as eighty deported families in all of Montenegro. These are, however, only the families which approached Romani organisations seeking help and it is estimated that the number of families that are not registered in any way is much higher. The ERRC was also informed that during the state of emergency in Serbia, from March 12 to April 22, 2003, some one hundred Roma returned from Germany to Belgrade. These persons signed documents that they were returning of their own free will. However, as the Romani returnees were forced to choose between signing the paper or a forced and humiliating deportation, such returns can be considered "voluntary" in name only.

While conducting field work in Serbia and Montenegro focusing on the situation of returned Roma, the ERRC registered complaints that the recent expulsions by German authorities were conducted in a degrading and traumatising manner, and Roma complained of not being given enough time to properly pack and settle their affairs. They also gave evidence that only Roma were expelled or that persons of Romani ethnicity represented a vast majority of deportees. Upon their forced arrival to Belgrade, often with little or no money, the deported Roma met no assistance from Serbian authorities, and state assistance still remains out of their reach. One of the major problems reported is a lack of personal documents, which creates a serious obstacle in the exercise of their human rights. Romani children mostly do not speak Serbian and cannot continue their education; some also lack personal documents that the state authorities require for school enrolment. Many Roma who fled Serbia and Montenegro sold their houses and property in order to raise money for the trip to Germany and now have no housing of their own. Most expelled Roma are now staying with relatives who themselves often live in substandard housing without basic infrastructure, often facing threats of forced evictions by local authorities. Discrimination in employment is rampant in Serbia and Montenegro and the majority of the Romani returnees are unable to access the job market, as is the case generally with resident Roma in Serbia and Montenegro.

In a case of deportations reported on May 16, 2003, by the Belgrade-based human rights organisation Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), Mr Miodrag Petrović, a Romani man originally from Belgrade, was deported from Germany together with his wife and three children on April 23, 2003. Mr Petrović and his family left Belgrade in 1999, after their house in the Čukarica district of Belgrade was destroyed in a heavy flood - when social welfare checks became insufficient for the homeless family, they decided to join their relatives in Germany. Four years later, as Mr Petrović was queuing to collect his social welfare payment from the German authorities, two men in civilian clothing approached him and asked him to come with them to the airport, as he was being deported. When Mr Petrović called his lawyer, he was only advised not to resist the deportation. At the airport, Mr Petrović met his wife and children, and another sixty-seven citizens of Serbia and Montenegro, all of whom were deported on the same plane to Belgrade. All of the personal belongings of the Petrović family were reportedly left in Germany. In Belgrade, no officials waited for them at the airport. Since the deportation, Mr Petrović and his family have lived with his mother-in-law in Belgrade. The family reportedly has no financial means and receives no state assistance. On May 14, 2003, Mr Petrović applied for social assistance with a local social welfare centre, but was turned down as he had "no proof of the destruction of his house," despite the fact that, in July 1999, the centre issued a certificate saying that the family's housing conditions were inadequate, which had been made worse by flooding. Officials from the centre also told Mr Petrović that he had little chance of receiving welfare, as both he and his wife were considered fit for work.

The ERRC, in partnership with the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation Minority Rights Center (MRC), investigated the case of Mr T.P., a 43-year-old Romani man from Niš, Serbia, who was deported from Germany on November 27, 2002, after six years in the country. On March 26, 2003, Mr T.P. told the ERRC/MRC that five police officers banged on the door of his flat in Berlin at around 5:00 AM and informed him that he had twenty minutes to get ready. The officers then handcuffed Mr T.P., who does not have a police record or a history of violence, and took him to a police station. After some 5 to 6 hours of waiting at the police station, Mr T.P. was taken to the airport in Düsseldorf, in western Germany. He was sent by airplane back to Serbia together with many other Roma from Serbia and Montenegro, including Kosovo. According to Mr T.P., there were no officials waiting for them at the Belgrade airport. Mr T.P. also added that he had no documents, as the German police officers had taken all his personal identification papers.

Mr V.U., a 42-year-old Romani man from Niš, was deported from Krefeld, in west central Germany, while serving a prison sentence for not having a personal identification card. Half way through his sentence, prison authorities told Mr V.U. that he was to be deported. "I got a temporary travel document, a pack of juice and a sandwich, and I flew from the Düsseldorf airport back to Serbia on October 9, 2002," Mr V.U. told the ERRC/MRC in Niš on March 6, 2003. Living in Niš again, he was unemployed at the time of the ERRC/MRC visit. Ms I.B., a 34-year-old Romani woman from Niš, was also deported in October 2002, after living in Berlin for eight years. As she told the ERRC/MRC on March 6, 2003, she, her husband and their son went to renew their residence permits at a police station in Berlin on an unspecified date in October 2002. Officers at the station told them that they had to leave Germany in three days. Ms I.B.'s husband, however, was taken into custody, without any explanation. Ms I.B. told the ERRC/MRC that her husband had never committed a criminal offence and that she was greatly surprised at her husband's detention. The following day, police officers arrived at the flat of Ms I.B. at around 11:00 AM and told her and her son to pack and come with them. The officers took them by van to the Düsseldorf airport, where they joined Ms I.B.'s husband. At the airport, police officers confiscated all of the personal documents that the family had and issued them a one-way travel document stamped abgeschoben - deported. The family is banned from entering Germany for five years.

Ms S.P., a 36-year-old Romani woman from Niš, described her August 2002 deportation to the ERRC/MRC on February 21, 2003, in Niš. Together with her two teenage sons, she lived in Berlin for twelve years. At around 5:30 AM on August 28, 2002, Ms S.P. and her sons woke up to a loud banging on the door of their apartment. As Ms S.P. opened the door, two police officers asked the family to come with them. According to Ms S.P., the officers pulled the sleeves of her shirt without reason. Immediately after the family got dressed, they were taken by police van to the Düsseldorf airport. The family was given a one-way travel document stamped "deported" , and a German border official reportedly told the family that they were banned from entering Germany ever again. The plane that took them to Belgrade was apparently full of police officers. Upon arrival in Belgrade, the family was reportedly left to its own devices. All of the family's personal documents were left in Germany, as they had not been given any time to gather any of their personal belongings. Ms S.P. told the ERRC/MRC that she had not been able to find employment since her deportation to Serbia and Montenegro.

Upon hearing of the forced deportations, some Roma decided that it would be better to return voluntarily. Mr Z.M., a 40-year-old Romani man from Niš, told the ERRC/MRC on February 21, 2003, that prior to his return to Serbia and Montenegro, officials at the Berlin social services office advised him to return voluntarily and promised that he would be employed upon his return. Mr Z.M.'s wife, Ms O.A., informed the ERRC/MRC that she was also told that they would be given 3,000 Euro for the return, part to be paid to them in Berlin, the remainder upon their return to Serbia, through the local office of an intergovernmental organisation dealing with migration. On August 20, 2002, Mr Z.M. signed a voluntary repatriation document. Mr Z.M.'s twin baby daughters, born in Germany in early 2002, did not have birth certificates, effectively rendering them stateless. Mr Z.M. reportedly had to pay 104 Euro at the Embassy of Serbia and Montenegro for a request for international birth certificates for his daughters, thus later allowing them to apply for citizenship of Serbia and Montenegro. As a result of the failure of the German authorities to keep the promise of giving money for the return of the family and financial support for their transport, Mr Z.M. was forced to sell family jewellery to buy plane tickets for his family. Mr Z.M. returned by plane to Serbia and Montenegro on an unspecified date in late September 2002, and his wife and two children followed a few days later, on September 23, 2002. At the Belgrade airport, met by no authorities, Mr Z.M. asked a police officer how he could get to Niš, to which the officer replied that they should "hitchhike". At the time of the interview, Mr Z.M. and his family lived in Niš. Despite the submitted request, the children had still not received their birth certificates. As a consequence, they were not eligible for state-provided health care, which is especially serious as one of the daughters is ill.

There are also claims that Kosovo Roma were expelled from Germany and sent to Priština, Kosovo. Such is the case of Ms R.S., who was interviewed by the ERRC/MRC on January 6, 2003, in Bujanovac, the southern Serbian town near the border with Kosovo. Before the ethnic cleansing of Roma from Kosovo in 1999, Ms R.S., a 33-year-old Romani woman, lived in the town of Kosovska Kamenica, in northeastern Kosovo. In 1999, together with her husband and their young son, she fled to Cologne, Germany, where she applied for asylum and received the so-called "tolerated" status. According to Ms R.S., on September 12, 2002, her family's permit of toleration was prolonged until January 15, 2003. However, around at 4:00 AM on November 21, 2002, the family woke up to loud banging on their door. They opened the door to meet six police officers in plain clothes who told the family that they would be sent back to Kosovo and that they had ten minutes to pack all their belongings. The officers told the family that they could pack around twenty kilograms of luggage per adult and some clothes for the child. They also told the family that they should not speak in the Romani language. According to Ms R.S., this unexpected early morning visit deeply frightened her family, especially the little boy who reportedly could not stop crying. Ms R.S. also stated that the officers took away her mobile phone card and 4,000 Euro in cash, only letting the family keep 600 Euro. The officers then took the family by a police van to the airport in Düsseldorf, where the family boarded a Montenegro Airlines flight to Priština at around 2:00 PM. According to Ms R.S., the rest of the passengers on the plane were all ethnic Albanians; the family did not dare speak Romani as they feared for their safety lest they be recognised as Romani. The only documents they had were one-way travel documents that they were given by the police officers, dated November 8, 2002, which Ms R.S. understood to mean that their expulsion had been prepared well in advance of the actual act. Ms R.S. stated that the family never received any information to the effect that they had to leave Germany. Upon arrival at the Slatina airport in Priština, a man and a woman, who did not identify themselves, took the family by van to a local bus station, where the family boarded a bus to Gnjilane, and continued by taxi to their previous place of residence in Kosovska Kamenica. In Kosovska Kamenica, the family found their former home looted and damaged. Having no shelter and fearing for their safety, the family decided to leave Kosovo and cross the border to the south Serbian town of Bujanovac, where the ERRC/MRC interviewed Ms R.S.. Ms R.S. stated that her young son was traumatised by the expulsion experience, had experienced nightmares since the deportation and had developed a fear of unknown adult men. At the time of the interview, both Ms R.S. and her husband were unemployed and did not receive state-provided or other assistance. According to ERRC findings, many of the Kosovo Roma deported to Kosovo fled Kosovo again and found refuge in southern Serbia. Mr Enver Indić, president of a local Roma association in Bujanovac, told the ERRC on February 21, 2003, that in the Bujanovac region there were around one hundred Roma from Kosovo who had been expelled from Western Europe back to Kosovo, via Priština, in the past months.

Racially discriminatory expulsions of Roma from Germany and other Western European countries are slated to increase in number in the coming period: At an OSCE Human Dimension Meeting on Roma and Sinti, held in Vienna on April 11, 2003, Ms Jelena Marković, Deputy Minister for Human and Minority Rights of Serbia and Montenegro, stated, "Germany will send back more than 50,000 of our citizens. More than 80 percent of the persons to be sent back from Germany are Roma. We have signed readmission agreements with thirteen European Union countries."

The large scale expulsion of Roma from Germany is the single largest expulsion of one factually long-term resident ethnic group in Europe in peacetime since World War II. This fact notwithstanding, as of August 1, 2003, there had been no significant public protest against the deportations. In a follow-up to a visit of a Council of Europe expert delegation to Serbia in February 2003 to investigate the situation of returned Roma, a group of MPs initiated a motion related to "Forced returns of Roma from the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia including Kosovo to Serbia and Montenegro from Council of Europe member states" at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, held on March 4, 2003. The group expressed their concern for the compatibility of the manner in which the returns were conducted with international law and human rights and called for a re-examination of the readmission procedures. The "Mission Report" prepared following the Council of Europe expert delegation visit to Serbia recommends, inter alia, the following:
 

  • Kosovo Romani refugees should not be forcibly returned to Kosovo, or returned to Serbia and Montenegro to become internally displaced persons;
  • Return must only be considered on a case-by-case basis;
  • Western European goverments should contribute substantial funding for Roma reception and settlement programmes in Serbia and Montenegro;
  • Relevant local authorities should ensure access to all personal documents to returnees prior to their actual return; and
  • Creative solutions should be sought to deal with the problems of Roma already in Serbia and Montenegro.

In carrying out large scale, racially discriminatory expulsions of Roma to Serbia and Montenegro, the German government calls into question its compliance with a number of provisions of international law, including Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which bans the collective expulsion of aliens. Some of the persons being expelled may be refugees in the sense of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol ("1951 Geneva Convention"). The term "refugee" applies to any person who is outside the country of his nationality and, owing to well-founded fear of persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. The principle of non-refoulement established in Article 33 of the Convention applies to refugees irrespective of their formal recognition as refugees and covers so-called "asylum seekers". The implementation of these international standards requires a review of each individual case: In order for protection to come to an end, it must be established that the person can return in "safety and dignity".

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has further noted that "[...] in certain circumstances [...] discrimination will amount to persecution. This would be so if measures of discrimination lead to consequences of a substantially prejudicial nature for the person concerned, e.g. serious restrictions on his right to earn his livelihood, his right to practice his religion, or his access to normally available educational facilities."

In light of indications that expulsions from Germany target Roma in particular, there are grave concerns that the entire process is infected with racial discrimination, a very serious violation of a number of international laws.

In addition, in Europe, the expulsion of an individual who is not a refugee may violate a number of European legal provisions, notably Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as Article 8 of the European Convention, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence. These provisions are of particular relevance for many Roma from the former Yugoslavia currently in Western Europe and threatened with expulsion, as many have been there for a number of years or even decades, and many have children born and raised in Western European countries, attending school there, etc. In many instances, ties to the country of exile may have become enduring, while ties to Serbia and Montenegro may be attenuated at best.

Furthermore, together with the Human Rights Field Operation in Serbia and Montenegro of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR), the ERRC recommended that the government of Serbia and Montenegro consider the adoption of the following measures and policies in the context of large-scale expulsions of Roma from Germany and other Western European countries:

  1. Ensure that implementation of all readmission agreements negotiated is done in a transparent way that guarantees human dignity of returnees, adequate reception arrangements for vulnerable groups or individuals, and is otherwise in full compliance with international law.
  2. Refuse all expulsions of Roma and others to Serbia and Montenegro that are not carried out in full accordance with international law, including the principle of "non-refoulement".
  3. In view of the present climate of insecurity and lack of adequate human rights protection in Kosovo, ensure that no Roma from Kosovo are forcibly returned to Kosovo or returned to a situation of internal displacement elsewhere in Serbia and Montenegro.
  4. In co-operation with diplomatic offices of States with whom the authorities have readmission agreements, ensure that Roma expelled to Serbia and Monte-negro obtain access to any and all personal documents, finances and material goods that may have been left inaccessible in the country of removal, due to the circumstances of forced return.
  5. Inform the relevant ministries in charge of education, housing, employment, social care and health care, as well as local and municipal authorities, about the readmission process; instruct relevant authorities to provide targeted plans to ensure that Roma are able to exercise fundamental rights in these sectoral fields.
  6. Without delay, and in close co-operation with Romani non-governmental organisations, adopt a comprehensive policy to address all aspects of the human rights situation of Roma expelled to Serbia and Montenegro; provide levels of funding adequate to ensure full implementation of the strategy and adequate reception and integration processes.
  7. Adopt contingency plans to react quickly to any outbreaks of racially motivated violence occurring in the context of expulsions and returns of Roma to Serbia and Montenegro.
  8. Facilitate the speedy provision of school enrolment certificates to Romani children educated in other countries such that they may continue their education in Serbia and Montenegro; stop the practice of returning Romani children to attend classes they had already successfully completed in countries abroad; provide supplementary classes for Romani children to learn the Serbian language, in order to assist in their integration into the educational system of Serbia and Monte-negro; ensure that no racial segregation arises in schooling provisions of returnee children.

These recommendations, together with a number of others in various fields of Roma rights, were submitted to the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro in the framework of the "The Protection of Roma Rights in Serbia and Montenegro", a memorandum prepared by the ERRC, in association with the UN OHCHR. This memorandum was prepared in support of the Serbian and Montenegrin government's Strategy for Integration and Empowerment of Roma, and the Poverty Reduction Strategy in Serbia and Monte-negro. The full text of the memorandum, together with more case studies of deported Roma and links to other ERRC documents on Roma in Serbia and Montenegro, can be found at: www.errc.org

(ERRC, Humanitarian Law Centre, Minority Rights Centre, UN OHCHR)

donate now

Challenge discrimination, promote equality

be informed

Receive our public announcements Receive our Roma Rights Journal

news portal

The latest Roma Rights news and content online

join us

Become a part of the ERRC's activist network in Europe