13 August 2009 – MRG partner organisation in Macedonia, Roma Democratic Development Association, ‘Sonce’, is seriously concerned for the fate of 20 Roma families who are under pressure from the Swedish government to ‘voluntarily’ return to Kosovo.

Reports highlight that Roma returned to Kosovo face continuous discrimination and violation of their human rights. In a number of cases, discrimination is so pervasive that they are unable to identify as Roma, instead forced to identify as Ashkalia or Egyptian.

Minority Rights Group International’s (MRG) Director of Programmes, Snježana Bokulić, says, ‘Sweden should ensure that before it returns Kosovo Roma, circumstances are created which allow them to live in dignity and without discrimination, and no-one should ever be returned to a situation where they face persecution.’

Although Roma under special protection may be offered some return assistance if they ‘agree’ to return, most are placed on planes without any aid and dropped at the airport in Kosovo without any support in terms of housing, employment or healthcare.

It is particularly difficult for children who have lived in European countries since birth and attended local schools. Lack of Albanian or Serbian language skills means that they are unable to enrol in schools in Kosovo, whilst no alternative arrangements have been made to enable their education.

Sweden and other European sending states are well aware of this situation; however, the onus is on the government of Kosovo to provide adequately for Roma returnees, which it does not. Sweden does have the obligation not to expel, deport or extradite a person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that this person would run a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment. The European Court of Human Rights has long held that discrimination may constitute degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, the Court has established that if a population was condemned to live under debasing conditions which violated the very notion of respect for the human dignity of its members, such discriminatory treatment amounts to degrading treatment and therefore a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

MRG has grave concerns for the security of Roma returnees. Although Kosovo proclaimed its independence in 2008, nothing has been changed in practice for Roma and their peaceful coexistence.

Nadir Redzepi, of the Roma Democratic Development Association, ‘Sonce’, says, ‘The majority of people in Kosovo still believe that Roma collaborated with Serbs during the war, which automatically makes their lives and survival insecure on their return.’

‘What the sending states are not considering is the specific impact the return has on Roma communities. The security situation is not the same – where it is safe for Albanians, or even Serbs, it would not necessarily be safe for the Roma’, adds Bokulić.

Source: Minority Rights Group International