Legal Action Challenging Forced Expulsions to Kosovo

23 November 2003

European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) Legal Action against Macedonia at the European Court of Human Rights Challenges Forced Expulsion of Kosovar Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians to Kosovo 27 November 2003.

On 27 November 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) filed a pre-application letter with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against Macedonia, one of a number of European countries currently exerting intense pressure or actively moving to expel forcibly Kosovo Romani, Egyptian and Ashkali refugees to Kosovo or to Serbia and Montenegro. On the occasion of the filing, ERRC Legal Director Branimir Plese said: "We look to the European Court to act now to make clear that in the current circumstances, forcible expulsions of Roma and others regarded as 'Gypsies' in Kosovo are far beyond the pale of legality."

Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians suffered a campaign of ethnic cleansing by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo beginning in 1999, resulting in the displacement within or expulsion from Kosovo of tens of thousands of persons, as well as "disappearances" (of persons now presumed dead), gang rape, and mass destruction or confiscation of property. Today, Kosovo remains an extremely unsafe place for persons regarded as "Gypsies". Indeed, in recent months intergovernmental authorities involved in the governance of Kosovo have registered a dramatic rise in racially motivated attacks against minorities in Kosovo, including a number of killings. Arson, grenade and other attacks on building projects aimed at minority return are reportedly very frequent -- and are so commonplace that they are not even listed as "serious crimes" by some intergovernmental monitoring agencies. To date, according to UNMIK and OSCE officials, no prosecutions of perpetrators of racially motivated crimes against Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians have ever taken place, either in connection with the events of 1999 or for any of the extremely serious incidents taking place subsequently. Despite the extremity of the situation in Kosovo, driven by xenophobic publics, the governments of a number of European states have undertaken forced expulsions of Roma, Ashkalia and/or Egyptians to Kosovo in recent months, and others have stated their intention to begin doing so soon.

In the instant case, Mr Dzavit Berisa and his wife Mrs Bajlie Haljiti are Kosovar Egyptians, and although their mother tongue is Albanian, they were regarded by ethnic Albanians as having collaborated with the Yugoslav regime, a stigma which Roma, Egyptians, Ashkaelia and other persons regarded as "Gypsies" in Kosovo have had to bear. Mr Berisa was an activist for the Egyptian community of Kosovo and, since 1994, he has been a member of the Egyptian Association of Kosovo.

The Berisa family left their hometown of Obilic due to threats from their Albanian neighbours, who promised to kill them if they did not leave the village within 24 hours. Mr. Berisa and his wife fled Kosovo to Macedonia, where they arrived on September 20, 1999, and where they were granted humanitarian status.

On April 4, 2001, Mr. Berisa was offered a job as an interpreter for the KFOR military units in Kosovo. He agreed to join a voluntary repatriation program to Kosovo and his wife followed him five months later. For approximately one year, Mr. Berisa faced serious discrimination at the work place until he was fired by his ethnic Albanian supervisor on racial grounds. On May 20, 2002, Mr. Berisa was violently assaulted by Albanian extremists. Finally, after receiving subsequent additional threats, including telephone threats and stones thrown at his house, on June 1, 2002, he fled Kosovo with his wife for the second time and joined other members of their family, who were by then living in Macedonia.

On June 19, 2002, they applied for asylum with the Section for Aliens and Immigration Issues of the Macedonian Ministry of Interior. Their appeals were rejected repeatedly by Macedonian asylum authorities and ultimately by the Macedonian Supreme Court. On May 29, 2003, they were notified that they must leave Macedonia within 30 days or face forcible expulsion.

On September 15, 2003, Mr Berisa and his wife were detained in the street and taken to the police station in the town of Bitola, southern Macedonia. They were not allowed to call their lawyer and at around 6 p.m., after they had been sentenced for illegally trying to cross the border, they were put in a car and forcibly expelled from Macedonia. As a result of this expulsion the Berisa family was exposed to violence in Kosovo and the failure to be protected from violence, as well as to inadequate housing, medical care and employment opportunities, along with abject poverty and severe discrimination.

In view of the obvious inability of the Macedonian legal system to hear and decide fairly in asylum cases involving Roma, Ashkaelia and/or Egyptians, and to protect the Beriaa family from the serious violation of refoulement -- expulsion to face persecution in one's country of origin, the ERRC has decided to turn to the European Court of Human Rights on their behalf and request that international justice be served and their clients afforded adequate and comprehensive redress. The submission asserts violations of Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and/or degrading treatment), Article 6 (right to a fair trial), Article 4 of Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens) and Article 13 (right to an effective domestic remedy) taken together with Article 3 and Article 4 Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

For further details on ERRC action in the case, please contact Ms. Ioana Banu, staff attorney at the European Roma Rights Center, at: ioana@errc.org. Further information on the human rights situation of Roma is available on the ERRC internet web site at: http://errc.org.

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