Letter to Interior Minister of Macedonia

31 August 1999

On August 31, 1999, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, sent a letter to Macedonian Minister of Internal Affairs Mr Pavle Trajanov to urge his office to reaffirm the commitment of the Republic of Macedonia to abide by international law and to providing Romani refugees from Kosovo safe haven. The text of the letter follows:

Honourable Minister Trajanov,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is disturbed at recent statements appearing in the Macedonian press which suggest that Macedonia is considering returning Romani refugees from Kosovo to "areas under Serb control".

According to an article published by the news service MILS NEWS on August 30, 1999, reprinting an article from the Macedonian daily Dnevnik on August 27, you reportedly stated, "I believe that the ideal solution for the approximately 35,000 refugees still in Macedonia is to be returned to Kosovo. However, since this is not possible for the Serbs and the Roma, we are planning on contacting the Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs [to] try to persuade the authorities to accept Kosovo refugees on the territory controlled by Serbs." According to MILS NEWS, you additionally stated that should such negotiations fail, you thought the Macedonian government should give serious consideration to deporting the refugees "back to where they came from." You reportedly stated that this alternative would "not be good for the reputation of Macedonia", but that refugees from Kosovo would not be able to stay in Macedonia "forever". You stated that the government would discuss this issue at its next session. Present permits allow refugees from Kosovo to stay in Macedonia until September 28, 1999.

Honourable Minister Trajanov, the ERRC calls your attention to the fact that the issue of the forced return of Romani refugees to Yugoslavia is not an issue pertaining only to the "reputation of Macedonia", but is primarily an issue of international law. Roma from Kosovo can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution and are therefore refugees under the 1951 Convention Pertaining to the Status of Refugees. Additionally, the ERRC has documented instances in which Yugoslav authorities have returned Roma fleeing Kosovo back to Kosovo. The return of Romani refugees to any part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would therefore create the danger of refoulement, a very grave crime under international law. Threats on the part of your office that such returns might take place are additionally extremely insensitive in light of the grave human rights violations which many of the refugees have recently undergone in Kosovo. The ERRC therefore urges your office to reaffirm the commitment of the Republic of Macedonia to abide by international law and to providing Romani refugees from Kosovo safe haven.

Respectfully,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Documentation pertaining to the situation of Roma in Kosovo is available on the ERRC internet homepage at www.errc.org. Persons wishing to express similar concern are urged to contact Minister of Internal Affairs Mr Pavle Trajanov at the following fax number: (389 91) 112 468

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