Profile of One Community: A Personal Document Survey among the Romani Population of Kumanovo, Macedonia

Profile of One Community: A Personal Document Survey among the Romani Population of Kumanovo, Macedonia1

Narrative project report of the Romani organisation Roma Community Center DROM2

During the period February 15, 2003 through April 15, 2003, the Kumanovo-based Romani organisation Roma Community Center Drom undertook a project entitled "Statistics on Roma in Kumanovo". The aim of the project was to conduct a detailed survey of the Romani population of the eastern Macedonian city of Kumanovo for the purpose of documenting the extent of personal documents problems within the community. The European Roma Rights Center funded the project as part of its action "Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental Rights among Roma in the Former Yugoslavia".

Methodology

The first stage of the project saw the delineation of the survey and the recruitment of a mobile team of five. The mobile team visited all Romani households in Kumanovo and completed the surveys. The survey was organised in each of four Romani settlements, including Bavci, Baraki, Stari Lozja and Sredorek, as well as in the centre of the city. Roma in the centre of Kumanovo were found to be living throughout various neighbourhoods. The second and third of stages of the project consisted of entering the data into a computer database and analysing the survey results.

Survey Results

One thousand nine hundred and ninety-six families, comprising three thousand eight hundred and eighty-four people, participated in the survey. However, the actual number of Roma in Kumanovo is believed to be much larger than this. The reasons for this are many. First of all, forty-three Romani households refused to participate in the survey. Additionally, it is believed that around two thousand Roma from Kumanovo have either been living for a number of years or temporarily working away from the community, therefore these Roma were not included in the survey.

Of two thousand two hundred and twenty-four Roma over the age of 18:

  • One hundred and fifty-three, or 7 percent of the survey group, did not have citizenship certificates. Forty percent of the Romani participants in the survey cited financial impediments as the main reason why they had not applied for Macedonian citizenship; 28 percent stated that they were citizens of a foreign country; 14 percent of the respondents stated that they had not tried to obtain citizenship; 9 percent listed their possession of a foreign identification card as the primary reason that they had been unable to obtain Macedonian citizenship; and 9 percent stated that they did not have citizenship of Macedonia because one or both of their parents were foreign citizens.
  • Seven hundred and forty-nine, or 34 percent of the survey group, did not posses passports. Ninety-six percent of Roma without passports claimed that they had never applied for one because they did not need it. The remaining 4 percent reported that their applications for a Macedonian passport had been denied because their parents were considered foreign nationals. 
  • One hundred and forty-eight, or 7 percent of the survey group, did not possess ID cards. Of the respondents without ID cards, 55 percent said the fees for obtaining such were too high; 27 percent stated that they had not applied for ID cards - many of the young survey participants had not applied for ID cards because they did not believe that they needed one; and 18 percent reported the foreign citizenship of their parents as the primary obstacle to obtaining an ID card.
  • One hundred and twenty, or 5.4 percent of the survey group, did not have birth certificates. When asked about the reason for not having birth certificates, 63 percent of the participants stated that they could not afford the cost of having the document issued;3 25 percent reported that because their parents possessed foreign birth certificates, they were not eligible; and 12 percent stated that they had foreign ID cards and therefore could not register themselves in the Book of Births because they were regarded as non-citizens of Macedonia. 
  • Eighty-four, or 4 percent of the survey group, did not have medical insurance cards. Of this group, 57 percent responded that the administrative fees for obtaining the card were too high; 27 percent stated that they were prevented from obtaining a medical card because their parents were reportedly of foreign citizenship; and 16 percent had reportedly not applied for a medical card. 
  • Four hundred and two, or 18 percent of the survey group, did not have employment cards. Fifty-seven percent of these people reported that they did not think that they needed one; 28 percent cited their old age as the primary reason why they did not have employment cards; 13 percent stated that the foreign citizenship of their parents disqualified them from possessing an employment card; and 2 percent listed poor health - unable to work - as the primary reason for not having an employment card.
  • One hundred and sixty-six, or 7.5 percent of the survey group, were unable to exercise their right to vote. Of the Roma denied the right to vote, 64 percent reported that they were denied this right because they were regarded as foreign citizens. The majority of persons falling within this category were women formally from Serbia and Montenegro or Croatia, although they had been living in Macedonia for some time. Thirty-one percent were unable to vote because they did not have ID cards and 5 percent did not have the required documents because their parents were regarded as foreign nationals.

Of one thousand six hundred and sixty-four Romani children below the age of 18:

  • Sixty-five, or 4 percent of the survey group, did not have birth certificates. A lack of money, as reported in 62 percent of the cases, was the largest hindrance encountered to obtaining birth certificates; in 23 percent of the cases, the parents were unable to register their child because they themselves did not have personal documents; and in 15 percent of the cases, the parents had simply failed to apply for the registration of their child.
  • Eighty-seven, or 5 percent of the survey group, did not have medical insurance cards. At 43 percent, finance was the most frequently cited barrier to accessing medical cards; 26 percent were reportedly not able to acquire medical cards because of their parent's taxes owed to the Macedonian government; in 16 percent of cases, the parents had simply failed to apply for their child's medical card; and 15 percent of the Romani children did not have medical cards because their parents, as foreign citizens, were not able to apply for such.

A Note on Foreign Citizenship/Statelessness Among Roma in Macedonia

The issue of foreign citizenship is extremely complex. Many Roma officially regarded as foreign citizens in Macedonia were citizens of the former Yugoslavia, although not registered citizens of the Macedonian Republic at the time of succession. This meant that they were not automatically eligible for citizenship of the newly formed Macedonian State. A one-year period was allowed during which people falling into this category could apply for Macedonian citizenship, provided they met a number of requirements.4 Roma in Macedonia have disproportionately felt the negative effects of the criteria due to high levels of unemployment, discrimination in access to social assistance, and high percentages of Roma in Macedonia living in unregistered residences. For these reasons, and also because the Macedonian government did not adequately inform people residing on the territory of Macedonia of this opportunity, many Roma missed this one-year period and still to this day have not been able to regulate their citizenship, nor can they meet the citizenship requirements imposed on aliens. While the Macedonian government regards such people as foreign citizens, most, in fact, do not have citizenship of another country, as they were also precluded from gaining, or did not want, citizenship of what is now Serbia and Montenegro. Therefore, they are stateless.

Summary

On the basis of the survey results, it is noted that many Roma from Kumanovo lack one or more personal documents. A major reason for this is, as noted previously, the new citizenship law adopted when Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia. Official government policy is to now deal with such people as foreign citizens, although many of the affected Roma have longstanding demonstrable ties to Macedonia. Financial encumbrances also prohibit many Roma who lack personal documents from acquiring such. Even nominal fees are, in most cases, not within the financial means of this most impoverished community. Discrimination in access to employment and social services compounds this problem. The fact that many Roma also live in houses that are not legally registered in many cases prevents them from accessing their missing documents, as a formally registered residence is required for most documents. A striking lack of knowledge of the application procedures and the requirements upon applicants was also found during the survey period. A serious commitment on the part of the Macedonian government is necessary to resolve the problem of personal documents and statelessness. The scale of the problem is too large to be tackled by independent activists and non-governmental organisations.

Endnotes:

  1. Roma Community Center Drom (Drom) is based in Kumanovo. Drom undertook the project activities on which this report is based, within the scheme of the ERRC's action "Personal Documents and Threats to the Exercise of Fundamental Rights among Roma in the Former Yugoslavia." ERRC Researcher Tara Bedard rendered the Drom report into article form.
  2. Aside from the administrative fee of registration in the Book of Births, persons not registered within the time prescribed by law (15 days) must pay an additional amount of money as a penalty for late registration.
  3. Article 26 of the Act on Citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia states, "The nationals of the other republics of former SFRY [Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] and the nationals of former SFRY with registered residence on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia may acquire citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia by lodging a request within one year from the date this act takes effect, in case they have a permanent source of income, they are adults and before filing the request legally resided on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia at least 15 years." Unofficial translation by the ERRC.
  4. See the "Roma Made Stateless by the Act on Citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia" section in the ERRC country report on Macedonia. A Pleasant Fiction: The Human Rights Situation of Roma in Macedonia.

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