Macedonian Police Forcibly Expel Roma to Kosovo

19 September 2003

On September 19, 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter of concern to Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, to express grave concern over the fact that Macedonian police have, on September 15, forcibly expelled Mr Dzavit Berisha and wife Mrs Bojlije Berisha from Macedonia to Kosovo. Mr Berisha and his wife Mrs Bojlije Berisha are members of the Egyptian minority of Kosovo, widely regarded as "Gypsies" by ethnic Albanians. Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians and other persons regarded as "Gypsies" by ethnic Albanians were ethnically cleansed from the province during the months following the end of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo in June 1999. Several thousand Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees have been in Macedonia since 1999. Mr Berisha is an active member of an Egyptian association in Kosovo. In addition, Mr Berisha took part in a voluntary repatriation program to Kosovo in 2001, but was forced to flee Kosovo again in 2002 after he was savagely attacked and beaten by unknown ethnic Albanian assailants. These facts notwithstanding, Macedonian courts failed to recognise Mr Berisha or his wife as refugees, and in May 2003 the Macedonian Supreme Court dismissed his final appeal for refugee status in Macedonia. Mr and Mrs Berisha were in hiding until they were detained on the street in the central Macedonian town of Bitola Monday September 15, arrested, and after being briefly detained at the Bitola police station, summarily expelled to Kosovo.

Macedonia has recently amended legislation in order to provide for the clear possibility for asylum status, in accordance with Macedonia's obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In the run-up to the adoption of the Law on Asylum, Macedonian authorities have repeatedly told the several thousands of Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees in Macedonia that they should apply for asylum, such that their claims can be examined on an individual basis. The case of Mr Berisha -- and his expulsion to Kosovo this week -- raises very serious doubts about the ability of the Macedonian legal system to hear and decide fairly in asylum cases where Roma, Ashkaelia and/or Egyptian persons are at issue, or in practice to protect Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians from the very serious violation of refoulement-- expulsion to face persecution in one's country of origin.

The full text of the ERRC letter to Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski follows:

Honourable Prime Minister Crvenkovski,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organization which monitors the rights of the Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is deeply concerned about the recent expulsion of a Kosovar Egyptian family to Kosovo.

Mr Dzavit Berisha and his wife Mrs Bojlije Berisha 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. Berisha was an activist for the Egyptian community of Kosovo and, since 1994, he was a member of the Egyptian Association of Kosovo.

The Berisha family left their hometown of Subotic due to threats received from their Albanian neighbors who promised to kill them if they did not leave the village within 24 hours. They moved to the nearby village of Mazgit but shortly thereafter they were forcibly evicted by Serbian troops together with all local ethnic Albanians. Following the end of the NATO action in Yugoslavia in June 1999, ethnic Albanians began a campaign of ethnic cleansing of persons regarded as "Gypsies", during the course of which tens of thousands of Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians were forced to flee their homes. The Berisha family fled Kosovo to Macedonia, where they arrived on September 20, 1999, and they were granted humanitarian status.

On April 4, 2001, Mr Berisha was offered a job as an interpreter for the KFOR military units in Kosovo and he agreed to take part in a voluntary repatriation program to Kosovo. His wife followed him to Kosovo five months later. They remained in Kosovo for approximately one year. During this period, Mr Berisha reportedly faced serious discrimination at the work place and he was finally fired by his ethnic Albanian superior. Moreover, he continued to receive threats. Finally, on May 20, 2002, Mr Berisha was seriously and violently assaulted by ethnic Albanians on the road between Lipljan and Ferizaj. After receiving subsequent additional threats from civilians, including telephone threats and stone-throwing at their house, the Berisha family left their home and stayed with other families because they were in fear for their safety.

On June 1, 2002, Mr Berisha and his wife fled Kosovo for a second time and joined other members of their family, who were now 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 application was rejected repeatedly by Macedonian courts -- and ultimately by the Macedonian Supreme Court -- and on May 29, 2003, they were notified that they must leave Macedonia within 30 days or face forcible expulsion. On September 15, 2003, Mr Berisha and his wife were detained in the street and taken to the police station in the town of Bitola, central Macedonia. They were reportedly not allowed to call their lawyer and at around 6 p.m., after they had spent the whole day in the police station, they were placed in an automobile and forcibly expelled from Macedonia.

Honourable Prime Minister Crvenkovski, the lack of safety for Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians has been broadly acknowledged by competent international bodies. 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." In the same position paper, the UNHCR has urged states and decision-makers not to compel or induce certain groups of refugees including minorities to return home against their will. The paper concludes that: "... in order to be safe, dignified and sustainable, the return of members of the Serb, Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian communities can only take place on a voluntary basis and in a very gradual manner."

The expulsion of the Berisha family is in contravention with the Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights as the effect of this expulsion will be exposing them to violence and the failure to protect them from violence, as well as a pervasive lack of adequate housing, medical care and employment opportunities, along with abject poverty and severe discrimination. Discriminatory treatment additionally violates international legal provisions to which Macedonia is a party, including Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Honourable Prime Minister Crvenkovski, we understand that Macedonia has recently amended legislation in order to provide for the clear possibility for asylum status, in accordance with Macedonia's obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In the run-up to the adoption of the Law on Asylum, Macedonian authorities have repeatedly told the several thousands of Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees in Macedonia that they should apply for asylum, such that their claims can be examined on an individual basis. The case of Mr Berisha -- and his expulsion to Kosovo this week -- raises very serious doubts about the ability of the Macedonian legal system to hear and decide fairly in asylum cases where Roma, Ashkaelia and/or Egyptian persons are at issue, or in practice to protect Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians from the very serious violation of refoulement -- expulsion to face persecution in one's country of origin.

The ERRC urges your office to take immediate steps to reverse the expulsion and return the Berisha family to safety in Macedonia. In addition, we urge you to rescind publicly without delay all policies targeting Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian communities for expulsion from Macedonia. We respectfully request to be informed of any and all measures undertaken by your office in this regard.

Sincerely,

Claude Cahn
Programmes Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Prime Minister Mr Branko Crvenkovski
Ilindenska bb
91000 Skopje
Republic of Macedonia
Fax: +389 2 311 2561

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