16-20 februari: fact-finding missie FRY

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Tienduizenden Roma vluchtelingen uit voormalig Joegoslavië hebben tijdens de oorlog op de Balkan hun toevlucht gezocht in West Europa. Tijdens de Kosovo oorlog zijn 100.000 Roma’s Kosovo ontvlucht.
De afgelopen jaren is het rustig op de Balkan. Dit was een reden voor veel West Europese landen om de vluchtelingen terug te sturen naar hun herkomstlanden.
De grote vraag is hoe het die mensen nu vergaat. Hoe zien de terugkeerprogramma’s eruit en hebben zij een mogelijkheid een nieuw leven op te bouwen.

Van 16 tot 20 februari ga ik met een missie van de Raad van Europa naar Servië en Montenegro. Het doel van de missie is om te kijken naar de positie van teruggekeerde Roma’s in Servië, Montenegro en Kosovo.

Introduction

The various conflicts that took place in the territory of former Yugoslavia caused tens of thousands of Roma from Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo to leave and to seek refuge in Western European countries. As a consequence of the Kosovo crises, probably up to 100,000 Roma were displaced. That is up to two thirds of the Roma population of the province. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 were displaced to other parts of Yugoslavia, and the rest to other parts of the region and to Western Europe.

The majority of the Roma refugees and asylum seekers currently live in Germany. It is estimated that between 25,000 to 30,000 Roma from Serbia and Montenegro are living there with the status of temporary protection. It is estimated that approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Roma who fled Kosovo are living in Germany.

Other Western European countries are also host to large numbers of Roma refugees and asylum seekers from Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. For example: 12,000 in the Netherlands and 3,000 in Belgium.

Re-admission Agreements

With the stabilisation of the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, various Western European states have started to encourage the return of Roma who fled the conflicts of the 1990s. This is for example the case of Germany where the Ministers of Interior of Germany and FRY Oto Schili and Zoran Zivkovic signed in the middle of September 2002 an agreement on re-admission that regulates the return of the people who do not have legal base to remain in Germany. The agreement refers to 50,000 persons from Yugoslavia. According to the assessment the of humanitarian organisations and organizations for the protection of the human rights at least one third of those are Roma.

The following countries have reported having concluded re-admission agreements with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Belgium (July 02 - not yet in force), Denmark (on 29.5.02 – not yet in force), Germany (awaiting information), Luxembourg (June 02 - not yet in force), Netherlands (June 02 - not yet in force), Switzerland (1.9.97 – in force).

The following countries have reported not having concluded a re-admission agreement: Austria, Czech Republic (under consideration), Ireland, France (under consideration), Norway (has indicated that the conclusion of an agreement is a priority), Portugal.

The Secretariat was contacted by representatives from the Centre for Integration, Affirmation and Emancipation of the Roma in Germany who expressed a number of concerns regarding one the hand the conditions under which the host countries undertake their return programmes and on the other hand regarding the prevailing conditions in FRY and the treatment by the public authorities. A press file compiled by the Centre is included in the documentation.

According to the testimonies of those who have returned to Servia, the scenario is always the same: German police, saying that they are the fire brigade, break into flats of Romany families in the middle of the night, showing them the agreement on the readmission of Yugoslav citizens from Western Europe, and give them 25 minutes so that the family can pack the things they want to take with them. After that, these people are taken to the nearest airport, where they are taken to Belgrade with Yugoslav Airlines (JAT) charter flights.

According to the official statistics some 800-1,000 persons return to Yugoslavia each year. Unofficial sources put in thousands the numbers of Roma that have been returned to Yugoslavia pursuant to the re-admission agreement with Germany.

Protests have been organised in Germany by Roma organisations concerned about issues such as the lack of employment possibilities, and that they do not have access to welfare and health services for them in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.


The situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia promulgated the Law on Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities in February 2002. This law provides for the protection of the individual and collective rights guaranteed to persons belonging to national minorities. The Roma, who are specifically named in this law, have been given the official status of national minority and fall under the protection afforded by this law.

In order to help implement provisions of the law and to further the integration and empowerment of Roma in FRY, the Federal Ministry of National and Ethnic Communities has sought international support to develop a comprehensive strategy.

A number of international organisations, including the OSCE, OHCHR, UNHCR, OCHA and UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank have consulted with the Ministry and agreed to provide financial and expert assistance to the Ministry to facilitate the development of the strategy. Specifically, OSCE, OCHA and UNHCR provided funding for the project.

Re-admission agreements between Western host countries and FRY have been often signed on the basis that recently adopted minority legislation provides the framework for the respect of minority rights and therefore the conditions for the return. However, no monitoring has been made on the implementation of recent legislation. FRY has submitted its first report pursuant to Article 25, paragraph 1, of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on 16 October 2002. A monitoring visit is planned to take place in June 2003. The strategy for the integration and empowerment of the Roma has not even been yet adopted.

The concerns raised by the Roma representatives outside FRY relate to the following issues:

- Respect for family life (eg families split in the process of return)
- Property rights
- Access to employment
- Living conditions
- Access to education (for young children born in the host country)

Another matter of concern relates to the situation of Kosovar Roma returned to Serbia or to Montenegro. In one case it appears that a Kosovar family recently returned from the Netherlands to Podgorica and who cannot return to Kosovo cannot secure a status in Montenegro (IDP status for example). As a result they cannot receive assistance and are denied access to the same rights as local Roma.

Facti-finding mission

These concerns suggest that the host authorities when undertaking their return programmes might need to distinguish more sensitively between Roma and other returnees. However, information on the precise nature of these concerns is conflicting and confused, and before appropriate recommendations and action can be considered there is an urgent need for the situation to be clarified. The objective of the mission is to assess the situation of Roma returnees in FRY, report and make such recommendations as necessary to host countries.

Documentation

The following documents are made available for the delegation:

1. Draft Strategy for the Integration and Empowerment of the Roma (see in particular pp 50-59)
2. Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities (not in electronic format)
3. Report submitted by FRY pursuant to Article 25 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (see in particular pp 20-21, 133-137)
4. Recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly 1569 (2002) on the Situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and report (document 9479)
5. Population displacement in South-Eastern Europe: trends, problems, solutions (report, document 9519)
6. Press file from the Centre for Integration, Affirmation and Emancipation of the Roma in Germany
7. Re-admission agreement Government of the Kingdom of Denmark and Government of FRY, Protocol of implementation of agreement between Denmark and FRY
8. Re-admission agreement Government of Switzerland and Government of FRY

Additional documentation relating to Kosovo is also made available for information. Kosovo will not be covered by this mission)

- UNCHR Position on the Continued Protection Needs of Individuals in Kosovo (2003)
- UNHCR update on the situation of Roma, Ashkaelia, Bosniak and Gorani (2003)
- Report of the Human Rights Commissioner on Kosovo (2002)

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