ERRC Letter to European Commissioner Romano Prodi Concerning Human Rights Emergency in Macedonia

Today at approximately 8:30 AM, special Macedonian security forces used violence against a large group of Roma on Macedonian side of the Greek-Macedonian border. The event marks a watershed in the failure by Macedonian authorities to uphold their international law obligations with respect to several thousands of Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees seeking international surrogate protection from persecution in Macedonia since 1999. In the context of the Macedonia refugee crisis, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) has today written a letter to European Commission President Romano Prodi, urging him to act to bring Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees in Macedonia to European Union countries and provide them with surrogate international protection in EU Member States. The text of the May 22 ERRC letter follows:

Today at approximately 8:30 AM, special Macedonian security forces used violence against a large group of Roma on Macedonian side of the Greek-Macedonian border. The event -- unfolding as I write these words -- marks a watershed in the failure by Macedonian authorities to uphold their international law obligations with respect to several thousands of Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees seeking international protection from persecution in Macedonia since 1999.

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is alarmed at the situation of the several thousands of Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees in the Republic of Macedonia and in particular at the situation of approximately seven hundred Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees -- including around three hundred and fifty children -- who were as of May 21, 2003 on the Macedonian side of the Macedonian-Greek border, and being prevented from leaving Macedonia by Macedonian border officials.

Most if not all of the Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees currently at the Macedonian-Greek border have been living in a "collective centre" in the Šuto Orizari municipality of the Macedonian capital Skopje, sheltered under short-term, temporary protection mechanisms since being ethnically cleansed from Kosovo in 1999. Despite the fact that Macedonia is a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (hereinafter "1951 Geneva Convention"), and not withstanding the fact that they have been ethnically cleansed from Kosovo, Kosovo Pariah Minority Refugees in Macedonia -- including the approximately seven hundred persons at issue and the several thousands of other Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees in Macedonia have never been formally recognised as refugees by the Macedonian authorities.

Indeed, Macedonian authorities have, in the close to four years since Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptians were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo, demonstrably failed to uphold Macedonia's obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention and other relevant international laws to which Macedonia is a party, inter alia: 

  • by arbitrarily limiting the freedom of movement of the Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees;
  • by failing to guarantee even minimum standards of living necessary for basic dignity; and
  • by abusively failing to recognise their status as refugees, preferring instead to provide a temporary status which in general has only been renewed in the days previous to its expiry, causing undue anxiety and stress to persons already traumatised by the experience of racially motivated expulsion and extreme human rights abuse.

Macedonian police have also allegedly physically abused Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees on at least two occasions.

According to ERRC field research, the Šuto Orizari collective centre -- the last refugee camp to remain open in Macedonia from the numerous such centres established in the context of the 1999 NATO action in Yugoslavia and the flight of tens of thousands of persons from Kosovo to Macedonia -- was overcrowded, with highly substandard conditions. Accommodation provided to the refugees consisted of mere makeshift shacks. There were reportedly no doors on the entrances to some of the shacks and there were holes in the walls. Waste removal services were inadequate. Unsatisfactory conditions in the camps gave rise outbreaks of infectious disease.

In the early months of 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which administered the camp in Šuto Orizari, had progressively withdrawn a number of basic services from the camp including schooling, medical provision and food aid. UNHCR officials also reportedly advised Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees to seek alternate accommodation, as their temporary status would not be renewed without provision of a (non-camp) address in Macedonia. Without such status, those persons were told they would be considered to be illegally in Macedonia.

According to ERRC field research, at around 6:30 AM on May 19, 2003, approximately seven hundred Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees arrived at the Macedonian border town of Medzitlija near Bitola. Macedonian border officials have not permitted the Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees to cross the Macedonian border, in violation of the Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 12(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state, "Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own."
Honourable President Prodi, the situation in Kosovo today remains extremely unsafe for Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians. In its "Position on the Continued Protection Needs of Individuals from Kosovo" of January 2003, the UNHCR reported that "Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian communities [?] continue to face serious protection problems. [?] The problems include grenade attacks and physical harassment, in addition to acute discrimination and marginalisation." The European Union has a special role in the affairs of the Republic of Macedonia, as expressed inter alia by the April 9, 2001 Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Union and Macedonia. Moreover, the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam has placed asylum and refugee issues within the competence of Justice and Home Affairs. In light of the evident failure by the Macedonian government to uphold its commitments under international law with respect to the Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees -- indeed even to provide the modicum of dignity afforded by refugee status -- we urge you to undertake whatever measures are within your power to facilitate bringing all Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees in Macedonia to European Union countries and providing them with international protection in EU Member States. We note that to our knowledge, the only government to date to have pursued such a policy with respect to Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees is the government of the United States. We respectfully request to be informed of any actions taken by your office with respect to the concerns raised above.

Sincerely,
Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr. Romano Prodi
European Commission President
European Commission
Rue de Geneva
B-1049 Brussels
Belgium
Fax: +32 2 295 8532

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