Further Attempts by Denmark to Force Roma to "Voluntarily" Return to Kosovo

29 October 2003

On April 14, 2003, the Danish Refugee Board rejected the request of Mr Murat Haliti, his wife Gjylperian Haliti, their 7-year-old daughter Sumeja, their 6-year-old daughter Miterema and 10-month-old son Davud Erik (born in Denmark), for refugee status, according to information given to the ERRC by Mr Haliti. On the same day, their family's attorney filed an application for permission to stay on humanitarian grounds. As of August 6, 2003, the application was pending. Despite this permit application, Danish police informed the Haliti family in a letter dated April 29, 2003, that if they left Denmark voluntarily before May 15, 2003, they would receive financial assistance in the amount of 3,000 Danish crowns (approximately 405 Euro) per adult and 1,500 Danish crowns (approximately 200 Euro) per child. According to the letter, however, if the family did not leave before the May 15 deadline they would be moved to the Sandholm Prison and Probation Service Immigration Detention Centre and lose all social entitlements. While their application for permission to stay on humanitarian grounds is pending, the Haliti family will not be placed in detention. The ERRC has received credible reports that numerous refugees in Denmark from Kosovo and other parts of the former Yugoslavia received the same letter from the Danish police, despite extensive evidence of the persistance of conditions in many places in the former Yugoslavia discouraging the return of Roma, and in particular very real threats to the safety of Roma in Kosovo (information on the situation of Roma in Kosovo is available on the ERRC's Internet website at: http://www.errc.org). On May 9, 2003, the ERRC filed an application for interim measures with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the Haliti family, asking the Court to order that the family be allowed to stay in Denmark pending its examination of their claim. This application was pending as of September 17, 2003. The Haliti family fled from their home in Prizren, Kosovo, in August 1999 to Macedonia following physical attacks by ethnic Albanians who accused them of being members of a paramilitary organization. The family remained in Macedonia until May 2001, when they tried to return to Kosovo. Upon their return, they repeatedly received threats and had stones thrown at their house causing them to flee from their home again. They arrived in Denmark on July 24, 2001 and sought asylum.

Ms Mirjana Kaldaras, an 18-year-old Romani woman from Serbia and Montenegro, received a similar letter from the Danish police. Ms Kaldaras, who lives with her husband, a Romani man from Serbia and Montenegro with permission to stay in Denmark, and two young children, both born in Denmark, faces separation from her family. In July 2002, the Danish Romani organisation Romano filed an application against Denmark with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on behalf of Mr and Ms Kaldaras. The application claimed that Denmark violated Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, "Right to respect for private and family life", in attempting to expel Ms Kaldaras to Serbia and Montenegro while her family is in Denmark. On February 20, 2003, Romano informed the ERRC that the ECHR had rejected the application of the Kaldaras family. On June 19, 2003, Romano informed the ERRC that at approximately 1:00 AM that morning, two Danish police officers visited the home of Romano's chairman, Mr Eric Thomsen, in Helsingřr, eastern Denmark, where Ms Kaldaras's residence is registered, in an effort to deport her. Mr Thomsen reported that he refused entrance to the officers as they did not have a warrant to enter his home. A short time later, three officers - Mr J.K., Mr J.S. and Ms D. - returned to Mr Thomsen's home in search of Ms Kaldaras and threatened to use force if not permitted to enter. According to Mr Thomsen, he allowed the officers to enter his home, although they did not produce a warrant. The officers reportedly proceeded to search Mr Thomsen's entire home, including his office, and one of the officers looked through his legal files on Ms Kaldaras. Mr Thomsen stated that he told the officer that he did not have the right to look at the file, to which the officer replied he could do whatever he wanted. When the officers had completed their search, Officer J.K. asked Mr Thomsen to name the whereabouts of Ms Kaldaras, to which he responded that he did not know. Officer J.K. then called the police station and asked if Mr Thomsen "was known to the police". Mr Thomsen, who had outstanding parking tickets and other small fines owned to the Danish government, was then arrested and detained at the Prřvestens-centre Police Station. Mr Thomsen reportedly called his attorney to contest the detention, but Officer J.K. refused to speak to him. Despite having asked many times, Mr Thomsen was not allowed to use the toilet while in police custody. Mr Thomsen reported to the ERRC that he was held in detention until approximately 9:00 AM.

On March 13 2003, the ERRC sent a letter to Danish Prime Minister Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Danish Minister of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs Mr Bertel Haarder to express concern at measures recently undertaken to put pressure on Roma from Kosovo to leave Denmark. The ERRC letter additionally expressesed concern at the threatened expulsion from Denmark of Roma from Serbia and Montenegro. In its letter, the ERRC noted that a number of Roma from Kosovo presently in Denmark had been ordered to report to the Sandholm Prison and Probation Service Immigration Detention Centre in North Zealand, as a preliminary measure prior to their "voluntary repatriation" to Kosovo. Such persons had been instructed, in a form letter such as the one received by the Haliti family, that they "must leave Denmark". The ERRC also raised the issue that such persons had been offered money and medical assistance to leave "voluntarily", while being informed that such goods would not be made available to persons who are forcibly expelled from Denmark. The ERRC noted that, while it does not object to the concepts of "voluntary return" or "voluntary repatriation" per se, it is concerned that in Europe today, a large number of the returns of Roma - returns frequently classified as "voluntary" - are voluntary in name only and may in fact be abusive returns violating international law including Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ban on cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights (ban on the collective expulsion of aliens), and Article 33(1) of the International Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (ban on expulsion or return of refugees - "refoulement"), as well as similar provisions under other international laws.

In a letter dated April 28, 2003, Minister Haarder responded to the concerns addressed in the ERRC's letter. Mr Haarder stated "[?] according to the Danish Immigration Act a residence permit will be issued to an alien if the alien falls within the provisions of the Convention relating to the status of Refugees of 28 July 1951. Moreover a residence permit will be issued to an alien if the alien risks the death penalty or being subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in case of return to his or her country of origin. [?] It is solely the Danish Immigration Service and the Refugee Board that make decisions in asylum cases, and they do so after having examined every case closely. Thus Denmark does not expel aliens who are at a risk as mentioned above."

There is widespread documentation available indicating that the situation of Roma and other persons regarded as "Gypsies" remains extremely unsafe in Kosovo. The Danish government has been widely criticised for undertaking forced returns of minorities and other threatened groups to Kosovo.

(ERRC, Romano)


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