International Helsinki Federation/European Roma Rights Centre Special Representative in Macedonia

27 May 2005

Human Rights Groups Send Observer to Address Moves by Macedonian Government to Expel Romani Refugees

Skopje. International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF)/European Roma Rights Centre Special Representative Bjørn Engesland has been in Skopje this week on mission to investigate the situation of approximately 2000 Roma refugees from Kosovo currently sheltered in Macedonia and to investigate the concerns that the Macedonian government may be seeking to expel them to Kosovo or to Serbia and Montenegro. Mr. Engesland has been joined by members of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, participating members of the mission.

Upon arrival in Macedonia, Mr. Engesland said, "I have been delegated by these groups to look into factual situation in which these people exist, as well as to the very worrying reports about their situation, ongoing threats to expel forcibly them from Macedonia, and to learn what plans, if any, the Macedonian government may have for their long-term integration in Macedonia."

There are at present approximately 2000 Romani, Ashkalia and Egyptian refugees from Kosovo in Macedonia. Most fled during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and could not return after ethnic Albanians began the ethnic cleansing of persons regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo in June 1999, or fled sometime thereafter, due to extreme threats to persons regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo.

The threatened expulsions from Macedonia fall against a backdrop of similar actions by a number of Western European governments, most notably Germany, which has concluded an agreement with the UN authority in Kosovo to forcibly return minority refugees to Kosovo. Other governments threatening or undertaking forced returns of Romani, Ashkali and Egyptian refugees to Kosovo include Italy, Sweden and Switzerland.

Mr. Engesland is, among other distinctions, a Member of the Executive Committee of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and General Secretary of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. He has been engaged by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and European Roma Rights Centre to act as Special Representative in the matter of Kosovo Romani representatives in Macedonia.

Mr. Engesland told the media, "Despite having the desire -- and a right -- to return to Kosovo and claim justice and compensation for the massive crimes they have suffered, at present and for the foreseeable future, conditions do not exist in Kosovo for their possible return. It is simply too dangerous for them."

Indeed, Macedonian authorities have to date not yet recognised the legitimate asylum claims very few of the 2000 Romani, Ashkali and Egyptian refugees and there are troubling indications that the Macedonian government hopes that it will be able to expel all or most from the country.

Mr. Engesland noted, "The Macedonian government should offer all 2000 of the refugees the possibility to integrate in Macedonia, by providing long-term or permanent residence permits now to any and all individuals from this group who would accept them. I would also like to reiterate that the RAE face similar threats in other countries as well. Our criticism is not levelled solely at the Macedonian government, but indeed at all governments who have expelled, have threatened to expel, or who have undertaken plans to expel RAE to Kosovo or to the rest of Serbia and Montenegro."

For further information on Special Representative Engesland and his mission in Macedonia, please contact:

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF): Bjørn Engesland, +47-957-533 50
European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC): Claude Cahn, (36 20) 98 36 445

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