Open letter to the German Government
06 November 1996
Honorable Mr. Chancellor,
The European Roma Rights Center is an international non-governmental
organization which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides
legal defense in cases of human rights abuse.
In recent weeks, the European Roma Rights Center has become concerned
about pending deportations of Romani individuals to republics of the former
Yugoslavia, particularly to Bosnia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
According to a decision taken at a meeting of regional German interior
ministers which was held on September 19, 1996, individual states (Länder)
in the federation may begin the deportation and repatriation of refugees
from Bosnia after October 1, 1996. The Interior Ministries of Baden-Württemberg,
Bavaria, Berlin and Lower Saxony have announced their intention of taking
advantage of the decision and beginning the process as soon as possible.
On October 9, the first Bosnian to forcefully leave Germany after the Bosnian
war was sent back by the authorities of Bavaria.
The concerns of the ERRC related to the restrictions of due process
for de facto refugees are reinforced by a policy directive dated
September 24 from the Berlin Interior Ministry which instructs the Berlin
police to ignore court injunctions and to carry out deportations regardless
of whether appeal procedures for an extension of legal stay are in process
according to Paragraph 123 of the Verwaltungsgerichtsordnung.
The ERRC is concerned that Germany may be in violation
of international law if it does not ensure that every individual on its
territory has the right to apply for asylum, or for a residence permit.
Every case must be considered individually, according to strictly observed
and well-publicized asylum procedure. Every person, including all Roma
whose place of origin is in the former Yugoslavia, should enjoy the right
to have his or her case heard before a competent tribunal. No collective
deportations should be tolerated in a democratic society.
The ERRC believes that however expensive asylum procedure can
be, no one should be deprived of access to it. However, as a mechanism,
asylum affords an individual only a very limited opportunity for access
to justice and humane treatment. The de facto refugees in Germany
whose special protection expired in the wake of the Dayton Agreement should
have more options today than asylum and deportation. The thousands of persons
who currently find themselves in Germany have suffered from all the difficulties
of forced migration in the context of war. As a group they have a lot in
common. But each one of them should be given a choice: to return and take
part in the reconstruction of post-war Bosnian society, or to remain and
be permitted to work in a country which has already been a host for a number
of years, and in which various circumstances may have arisen which would
render a deportation inhumane (health problems, children's education, etc.).
This is our principled position. It refers to all persons who have arrived
in Germany from Bosnia in the last five years. The high cost which Germany
may have to pay to ensure a fundamental individual right and a humane
solution should not be a legitimate obstacle in a country based on the
rule of law. All persons, of all ethnic backgrounds and life histories,
should be provided access to justice.
However, we believe that the Roma who have come to Germany from the
former Yugoslavia, particularly from Bosnia and the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), ARE A SPECIAL CASE. Persons belonging
to this group are more likely to be eligible for asylum or work permit
than non-Roma. It is our opinion that persons of this category face additional
threats to their fundamental rights if they are sent back to specific places
in the former Yugoslavia.
The Bosnian Romani population suffered war crimes similar to the rest
of the civilian population in the war areas. Independent research currently
being conducted by the European Roma Rights Center suggests that
Roma were targeted on ethnic grounds and became victims of war crimes during
1992-95. The ERRC has evidence that a whole Romani community was massacred
in the Zvornik area in April 1992. The Bosnian Helsinki Committee also
has stated that at least 500 Roma were killed in the towns of Zvornik,
Bihaæ and Sarajevo, and that Roma were systematically subjected to
ethnic cleansing, as in the case of Banja Luka. The victimization of Roma
during the war in Bosnia has yet to be acknowledged by the international
While the refugees from Bosnia justifiably are receiving and will continue
to receive attention by the international community, refugees from the
FRY, and especially draft deserters are not regarded as a threatened group.
But they are. Some of them, if deported, may face imprisonment or various
forms of ill-treatment. The Human Rights Law Center based in Belgrade publicized
abundant evidence on forced mobilization of military-age men by the FRY
authorities. In many cases, evidence exists that those mobilized during
the years of the war were sent to Serbian-held territories of Bosnia and
to eastern Slavonia in Croatia. It is our belief that all Romani men in
military age and their families who fled from the FRY in the period 1991-1995
deserve political asylum.
As yet, none of the new states on the territory of the former Yugoslavia
have demonstrated a willingness to accept Roma; many Roma report that they
are not welcome to return to Bosnia. None of the new states which appeared
in the place of the former Yugoslavia represents itself as an ethnic homeland
for Roma, and the strong ethnic divisions tend to stream all aid toward
the main ethnic groups, excluding the Roma.
Following a fact-finding mission to Bosnia in May 1996, the Council
of Europe stated that Roma "...risk finding themselves in the last position
when looking for accommodation, jobs and a decent position in society."
Returning persons from such a vulnerable minority in the beginning of winter
will almost surely result in discrimination against them in the spheres
of housing, labor, and other services.
In the FRY, there is now an active skinhead movement in Serbia, targeting
Roma on ethnic grounds. Most recently, three skinheads attacked Roma in
the town of Kraljevo in southwestern Serbia. Following the attack, Romani
associations from around Serbia met in Kraljevo on September 18, to call
the government's attention to "a growing number of skinhead attacks against
them." The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe decided, in
Recommendation 1203 (1993) on Gypsies in Europe, Article 11, section xv,
that "It should be acknowledged that the fact of becoming victim of a pogrom,
or of having reasonable fear of becoming the victim of a pogrom, against
which the authorities refuse or prove unable to provide protection can,
in individual cases, constitute a well-founded fear of persecution for
being a member of a social group, as indicated in the 1951 United Nations
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees."
The ERRC is aware of at least one case of a Romani individual,
Mr. Rifet Hasimoviæ, who will be deported to Republika Srpska. Mr.
Hasimoviæ has received orders to leave Germany, in contradiction
of statements by the German Interior Ministers that no one will be required
to return to Republika Srpska. Mr. Hasimoviæ's place of residence
prior to the war was Bijeljina. He reports that his house has been confiscated
by the Bosnian Serb army, whose headquarters are there.
That orders to leave Germany have been sent to Mr. Hasimoviæ also
contradicts statements by the Ministers that only individuals without families
will be deported. Mr. Hasimoviæ presently lives with his wife and
children in Berlin. Cases such as that of Mr. Hasimoviæ, as well
as other cases which the ERRC is aware of, suggest that the decision
to return Romani individuals to Bosnia may not be being weighed properly
against the right of the individuals concerned to enjoy asylum and their
right to respect for home and family life.
Indeed, it seems evident that at least two German states, Bavaria and
Berlin, have decided to interpret the decisions of the Interior Minister
Conference significantly more radically than the spirit in which the decision
was originally drafted. For instance, Interior Minister Kanther gave assurances
that only Bosnians from the 22 areas specified by the UNHCR would be part
of "Phase 1" of the procedure (October 1, 1996-May 1, 1997). However, the
Berlin policy directive states only that "above all" (vorrangig)
Bosnians from the 22 areas should be "forced back" (zwangsweise zurûckgeführt).
Deportations of Bosnians to Republika Srpska are not explicitly prohibited
by the directive.
It is therefore the position of the European Roma Rights Center that:
- No one should be returned to Bosnia or the FRY against his or her will.
- The right of appeal of deportation orders should be available to all persons
currently in Germany.
- All individuals who fear persecution on the territories of the former Yugoslavia
should be given the chance to apply for asylum and should be provided access
to a full and legitimate asylum procedure according to the 1951 Geneva
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Asylum seekers and de
facto refugees facing deportation have the right to fully inform themselves
of their rights and of procedures available to them. They additionally
should have the right to legal counsel. Information should be made available
by the authorities, in a language understandable by the individual concerned,
on how to contact local NGOs assisting with asylum issues, or issues concerning
their social or ethnic group.
- Appeals of all decisions by the asylum authorities should result in automatic
suspension of deportation orders until a decision has been reached.
- When assessing the safety of conditions on the ground for Roma in Bosnia
and the FRY, persecution by non-state parties should be recognized as a
legitimate ground for asylum, if that persecution is not criminalized and
prosecuted by the authorities in the home country.
- Roma are more vulnerable than other groups from Bosnia and the FRY. This
consideration should be integrated not only in asylum policy to the fullest
extent possible, but also in the process of decision-making for residence
permits in Germany on grounds other than political persecution. Recognition
of the special status of Roma involves: acknowledgement and concomitant
policy decisions at a national level that Roma are more likely than other
groups to suffer human rights abuses if deported to republics on the territory
of the former Yugoslavia; a concerted effort by local authorities in determining
whether individuals applying for asylum or other residence are Roma; close
work with local Romani and human rights NGOs.
- Repeated assertions by leading German politicians that "Germany is not
a land of immigration" foster anti-foreigner sentiment, damage the moral
atmosphere and lead directly to politically expedient measures such as
group deportations or the threat of group deportations. Germany should
acknowledge that foreigners who have been in the country for a period of
over five years may be able to demonstrate that they have founded a life
in Germany and are entitled to integration and a progressive accruing of
rights in Germany.
We hope that our concerns will meet with a proper response from your government
in the form of concrete measures. Additionally, the European Roma Rights
Center welcomes any and all direct comment in response to this letter.