Danish authorities pressure Kosovo rome to return
13 March 2003
On March 13, 2002, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to Danish Prime Minister Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen to express concern at measures recently undertaken to put pressure on Roma from Kosovo to leave Denmark. The ERRC letter additionally expresses concern at the threatened expulsion from Denmark of Roma from Serbia and Montenegro. A copy of the ERRC letter was also sent to Danish Minister of Refugees, Immigration and Integration Affairs Mr Bertel Haarder. The full text of the ERRC letter follows:
It has been reported to the ERRC that on March 10, 2002, a number of Roma from Kosovo presently in Denmark have been ordered to report to the Sandholm Prison and Probation Service immigration detention establishment in North Zealand, as a preliminary measure prior to their "voluntary repatriation" to Kosovo. Such persons have been instructed in writing that they "must leave Denmark". We note from reviewing documents provided to such persons that they are offered goods such as money and medical assistance if they leave Denmark "voluntarily", with the information that such goods will not be made available to persons who are forcibly expelled from Denmark. In addition, we understand that a number of Romani individuals from the rest of Serbia and Montenegro have already been ordered to the Sandholm center and may be forcibly returned to Serbia and Montenegro.
The ERRC has no objection to the concepts of "voluntary return" or "voluntary repatriation" per se. However, we are concerned that in Europe today, a large number of the returns of Roma coming to our attention -- returns frequently classified as "voluntary" -- are voluntary in name only and may in fact be abusive returns violating international law including Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ban on cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ban on the collective expulsion of aliens), and/or Article 33(1) of the International Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (ban on expulsion or return of refugees -- "refoulement"), as well as similar provisions under, for example, the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Persons perceived to be "Gypsies" in Kosovo, including members of three groups -- Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians -- were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo following the June 1999 cessation of NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, and the large-scale return of predominantly ethnic Albanian refugees to the province. In November 2000, four Ashkaelia men were killed less than 24 hours after returning to their homes in the framework of a "voluntary return" program. Today, despite close to four years of international administration of Kosovo, the situation of ethnic minorities in Kosovo -- particularly of Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians -- remains precarious and a very high number of municipalities are unsafe for return. As recently as January 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has stated: "Members of non-ethnic Albanian minorities originating from Kosovo continue to face security threats, which place their lives and fundamental freedoms at risk. [...] Significantly, security threats can be severe (grenade attacks, arson attacks, physical assault) among the Roma, the Egyptians and, in many cases, the Ashkaelia throughout Kosovo."* Those areas in which a bare minimum of protection of minorities has been secured continue today to be characterised by such high degrees of anti-Gypsy sentiment -- resulting in crippling degrees of racial discrimination -- that a person returned to the province would stand almost no chance of enjoying a life with dignity.** Indeed, tens of thousands of displaced Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians currently live in conditions of utter destitution and extreme poverty in the rest of Serbia and Montenegro, frequently squatting in extremely substandard conditions under bridges or elsewhere in the open -- apparently because such arrangements are preferable to a return to Kosovo. Due to the very serious human rights situation for Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians in Kosovo, the ERRC -- with a number of other international agencies -- advocates that at present no members of these groups should be returned to Kosovo. Pressure to participate in "voluntary return" or "voluntary repatriation" programs, under present conditions, amounts to cruel and arguably illegal treatment of persons who may have suffered trauma as a result of treatment in Kosovo.
As to the situation of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro, extensive documentation by the ERRC and partner organisations in Serbia and Montenegro indicates that Roma in Serbia and Montenegro face very serious human rights concerns including but not limited to:
- Physical abuse of Roma by police officers and other members of the
- Violence by racist "skinheads" and other non-state actors
- Discrimination and racial segregation in the school system
- Forced eviction, threats of forced eviction, and other violations of the right to adequate housing, including extremely substandard housing and failure to provide services
- Discrimination in access to health care services
- Discrimination in access to employment
- Discrimination in the allocation of social assistance
- Discrimination in access to public places
- Threats to the exercise of fundamental rights caused by a lack of personal documents/statelessness among Roma in Serbia and Montenegro Serbia and Montenegro presently host tens of thousands of displaced Roma from Kosovo, persons whom in most cases are entirely excluded from access to state services necessary for the realization of fundamental rights. Expulsion of Roma to Serbia and Montenegro may contravene international law, notably the provisions cited above.
We urge your office to ensure that all persons belonging to the Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian minorities of Kosovo presently in Denmark be provided with surrogate international protection in Denmark, as well as to cease immediately measures aimed at putting pressure on Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians to leave Denmark. In the present circumstances, all members of these three groups from Kosovo should be provided with surrogate international protection. In addition, we urge your government not to expel Roma from Serbia and Montenegro, as doing so may also result in violations of the fundamental human rights of the persons concerned. We respectfully request to be informed of measures undertaken by your government in relation to the concerns detailed above.
* United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Update on the Situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptian, Bosniak and Gorani in Kosovo", UNHCR Kosovo, January 2003, p. 3.
** The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has 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." (See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, reedited, Geneva, 1992).
Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:
To: Prime Minister Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Prins Jorgens Gard 11
1218 Copenhagen K
Fax: +45 33 11 16 65
Cc: Minister of Refugees, Immigration and Integration Affairs
Mr Bertel Haarder
1057 Copenhagen K
Fax: 45 33 11 12 39