Strasbourg, 2 December 2009 – The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, expressed today his very deep concern at the forced returns to Kosovo of people who have found shelter in European states. “The time simply is not right for returns in general, let alone forced returns”, said the Commissioner.

Commissioner Hammarberg visited Kosovo last March and in July he made public a report on the human rights situation. His one-week field visit and continuous monitoring attest to the fact that Kosovo is a post-conflict society still struggling to come to terms with the consequences of the armed conflict. It has not the infrastructure that would allow a sustainable reintegration of refugees. This goes all the more for Roma, the biggest minority in Europe subject to wide and systematic discrimination.

The Commissioner’s worries have been accentuated even more recently when he was informed that a number of Roma expelled from Council of Europe member states have returned to the lead-contaminated camps of Česmin Lug and Osterode in northern Mitrovica, inhabited for a decade now by Roma families, including children, with very serious effects on their health. The Commissioner has urged the closure of the above camps as a matter of priority, the construction of adequate housing for these families and repeated courses of decontamination treatment for all families affected.

The Commissioner stresses that in November UNHCR confirmed that the people who fled Kosovo and are still at particular risk of persecution include, but are not limited to the following groups: Serbs and Albanians in minority situations and Roma, persons in ethnically mixed-marriages and persons of mixed ethnicity, persons perceived to have been associated with the Serbian authorities after 1990, victims of trafficking, victims of domestic violence and persons whose claims are based on sexual orientation.

Commissioner Hammarberg calls upon European governments to stop concluding or applying readmission agreements for returns to Kosovo. European states should look into the issue as a matter of urgency and adopt all necessary measures in order to prevent any further forced returns, particularly of Roma people, to Kosovo, as long as the situation there provides grounds to believe that these returns put the returnees’ lives and personal security at a real and serious risk.

Source: Council of Europe/Commissioner for Human Rights