Roma in Serbia and Macedonia rightly complain about inhuman living conditions

 20 December 2010 – The Refugee Councils, PRO ASYL, Chachipe and other Roma and support organisations[1] have welcomed the lifting of the visa obligation for citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania in the Schengen countries. This has come into force, on 15 December 2010. This is an important step towards integration of these countries with the European Union. For these reasons, we are even more worried about the reservations that the Council of the European Union has expressed on the occasion of its decision. The Council’s decision was announced on the 8th of November 2010.

In reaction to the increase in the number of refugees in several EU member states, which goes back mainly to an increase in asylum applications filed by Serbian and Macedonian nationals, Commission representatives and representatives of the Belgian EU presidency visited the Balkan countries over the last few months and asked the governments to make sure that the citizens of these countries would not use the lifting of the visa requirement to ask for asylum abroad. The governments were swift to blame Roma and other ethnic minorities for the increase in the number of refugees and promised to put an end to the alleged “abuse” of the right to asylum by introducing further controls.

We would like to remind of the fact, that the EU has already made the lifting of the visa requirement conditional on the “readmission” by the countries of unwanted refugees. The request to the countries, to eventually keep their citizens from leaving their country is a request to break international law. The idea that citizens would eventually be hindered from leaving their country on the grounds of their ethnic background is unbearable to us against the background of German and European history.

According to the EU Commission, ethnic minorities continue to be discriminated against in Serbia and in Macedonia and are unable to a full enjoyment of their human rights. We are very much concerned that the current initiative of the European Union may reinforce the open and latent racism against Roma in these countries, as it makes the governments and population of these countries understand that Roma are also unwanted in Western Europe and that they are to be blamed for the restrictions to the visa liberalisation.

In view of the public defamation of Roma and other ethnic minorities from the Balkans, who have been accused of “abuse of the asylum system”, we would like to recall that the recent increase in the number of asylum applications of Serbian and Macedonian citizens has been caused mainly by the appalling living conditions of ethnic minorities and the fact that the refugee problem in these countries has not yet been resolved. About half a million people continue to live as so-called Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the region, sometimes under terrible conditions. This is particularly the case for Kosovo Roma, for whom a durable solution has not yet been found, even when eleven years have passed since the war ended. We call upon the EU to contribute to a durable solution to the refugee problem and to support the states in their effort towards integration of IDPs and the protection of minority rights.

[1] Förderverein Roma, Frankfurt am Main ; Roma Union Grenzland, Aachen, Romane Anglonipe, Hannover; Roma Support Project (in the network Flüchtlingshilfe und Menschenrechte e.V., Hannover), Projekt Roma Centre, Göttingen