Macedonian Police Forcibly Expel Egyptian Couple to Kosovo

07 February 2004

At around 6:00 PM on September 16, 2003, Mr Džavit Beriša and his wife, Ms Bajlie Haljiti, Kosovo Egyptian applicants for asylum in Macedonia, were forcibly expelled from Macedonia to Kosovo via Serbia, according to Mr Beriša's statement to the ERRC. According to Mr Beriša, he and Ms Haljiti had been detained in the town of Bitola in central Macedonia and taken to the police station at around midnight on September 15, 2003. They were reportedly not allowed to call their lawyer and, after being found guilty of attempting to illegally cross the border into Greece, police drove them to the border near Kumanovo and forcibly expelled them to Serbia, though Serbian border officials did not want to accept them until they promised to go directly to Kosovo. According to Mr Beriša, they hired a private car to drive them to the Kosovo border where they were met by family and brought to Kosovo.

Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti, whose mother tongue is Albanian, 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 Beriša was an activist for the Egyptian community of Kosovo, and, since 1994, he was a member of the Egyptian Association of Kosovo. In April 1999, they left their hometown of Obilić for the nearby village of Magzit, due to threats received from their Albanian neighbours who promised to kill them if they did not leave the village within 24 hours. 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, they fled to Macedonia, where they arrived on September 20, 1999, and they were granted humanitarian status.

In 2001, Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti voluntarily returned to Kosovo. Mr Beriša worked with KFOR military units in Kosovo, where he reported he faced serious discrimination and was finally fired by his ethnic Albanian superior. Moreover, he continued to receive threats. Finally, on May 20, 2002, ethnic Albanians seriously and violently assaulted Mr Beriša on the road between Lipljan and Ferizaj. On June 1, 2002, after continuing threats from civilians, Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti fled Kosovo for a second time and joined other members of their family, who were 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 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. At the end of July, the Republican Organisation for Protection of Roma Rights (ROZPR) submitted a new asylum application on behalf of Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti. A few days later, according to Mr Beriša, "Mr Blagaje Stojkovski, a representative of the Macedonian Section for Aliens and Immigration, called me and said that I am wasting my time and my application will be rejected the second time also."

On September 19, 2003, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to Macedonia's Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, expressing grave concern over the expulsion of Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti from Macedonia to Kosovo. Macedonia 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 repeatedly told the several thousands of Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees in Macedonia that they should apply for asylum, so that their claims can be examined on an individual basis. The case of Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti - and their expulsion to Kosovo - 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.

Upon arrival in Kosovo, Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti stayed with her family for two weeks in Lipljan. Mr Beriša stated, "We were very afraid and we didn't go out of the house. On Saturday, September 20, two unknown men came to the house and asked my father-in-law if I was there. My father-in-law told them I was not there, but the men became very angry and started shouting, threatening that if he didn't tell the truth he would have problems with them. My friend from Skopje, Frederika Sumelius, witnessed the incident and she told the UNCHR in Skopje. UNHCR in Priština and UNMIK were also informed about the incident. Representatives of the UNHCR and UNMIK in Priština visited me but said they could not do anything to help. My request to be moved in a safe place was rejected. The following week, stones were thrown at our house on two separate evenings in an attempt to get us out. The attacks lasted around 15 minutes but nobody went out because we were afraid. After these incidents, my father-in-law asked us to leave the house because we were endangering the whole family." On September 30, 2003, Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti fled Kosovo for a third time. They arrived in Hungary on October 1, 2003, where they applied for, and on December 17, 2003, were granted, asylum.

The expulsion of the Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti from Macedonia is in contravention of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as the effect of this expulsion would 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. On November 27, 2003, the ERRC brought legal action against the Macedonian government before the European Court of Human Rights for having illegally expelled Mr Beriša and Ms Haljiti.

(ERRC)

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