Statement of the ERRC Concerning the Forced Return of Bosnian Roma from Germany
21 April 1997
The European Roma Rights Center expresses its strong concern about the present attempts of the Federal Republic of Germany to force the approximately 320,000 de facto refugees which it has harboured since the outbreak of the war in Bosnia to leave Germany. While protesting deportation in principle as an inhumane solution to the problem of forced migration, the ERRC is particularly concerned about the effect of deportations on Bosnian Roma, who comprise a significant portion of the Bosnian refugees.
The ERRC is concerned that:
- The precarious legal status of Bosnian refugees leaves them vulnerable to psychological pressures by government authorities. Very few of the Bosnian refugees received political asylum in Germany. Instead, the overwhelming majority were given the relatively weak status of "tolerated" (Duldung). In legal terms only a stop on deportation, the Duldung is the most inferior of the multi-tiered system of residence permits available under German law.
- The execution of deportation policy is poor and inconsistent. To date, a number of deportations have been carried out in a manner both insensitive to the needs of the refugees and inconsistent with the government regulations.
In January 1996, following the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, a conference of the Interior Ministers of the German lands set forth guidelines and a timetable for the return of a first group of Bosnian refugees. Beginning in February 1996, the Berlin authorities began informing individuals included in the so-called "Phase I"- singles, families without children, and offenders- that they should leave "of their own free will" or face deportation.
By all accounts, Phase I has gone sloppily. Individuals with children have been issued orders to leave. The category of "offenders" has included individuals caught driving with a Yugoslav driving license. One wave of approximately 40 deportations from Bavaria in March 1997 included a single pregnant woman and people who had been awoken in the middle of the night and allowed no time to pack. The psychological pressure on the Yugoslav refugees is tremendous. Phase II of the return is set to begin on May 1, 1997, and may include many if not all of the rest of the Bosnian refugees.
Although the deportation measures implemented by the German authorities are explicitly only to assist them to leave "of their own free will", the manner of their implementation calls the idea of free will expounded by the German authorities strongly into question.
- Conditions on the ground in Bosnia remain unsatisfactory for return. Much of the material infrastructure destroyed in the war has yet to be rebuilt, and intense hostility toward, and violence against members of minority ethnic groups persists in numerous communities. International organisations have documented that conditions in Bosnia remain precarious. According to UNHCR, 60% of the houses in Bosnia were destroyed in the war and only a small portion of these have been rebuilt. According to a March 1997 Amnesty International report, there is simply not enough accommodation available for large-scale returns in the near future. Almost none of the stipulations of the Dayton Accords have been implemented as envisioned. The ERRC is convinced that the forced return of Bosnians is rash and immoral, motivated only by Realpolitik.
- As a stateless minority, Roma are at particular risk in the ethno-nationalist political environment still prevailing throughout much of the Federation and Republika Srpska. Investigation conducted by the ERRC among Bosnian refugees in Berlin in early April 1997 revealed that Roma fear discrimination and exclusion in the new Bosnian state. The ERRC believes that Roma, without an ethnic homeland state representing their interests, may be justified in their fear of unequal treatment in Bosnia.
The ERRC therefore calls on the German government to:
- Stop all deportations of de facto Bosnian refugees.
- Recognise the legitimacy of the Bosnian refugees in Germany.
- Halt psychologically coercive measures.
- Reconsider the legal basis of the current deportation policy, taking into account:
- the refugees' personal preferences;
- the security situation in their Bosnian places of residence;
- the presence of a minority identity, such as Roma, which would effect unfavourably their integration in society;
- their individual housing situation in Bosnia;
- other individual factors of humanitarian nature.
The ERRC calls on the governments of western countries to accept significant numbers of Bosnian refugees and create conditions for their integration.