4 August 2011 – In a letter to the Macedonian government, refugee and Roma rights organisations have expressed concerns that the recent measures which have been taken in order to prevent Macedonian citizens from seeking asylum in the EU would violate basic human rights principles. In a move to diffuse pressures from the side of the European Union, the Macedonian authorities have recently kept several hundred Macedonian citizens from leaving their country.

Over the last few months, refugee organisations and professionals working with asylum seekers noticed that asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia would suddenly drop their application and return to their home country citing fears of punishment. More recently, evidence appeared that the Macedonian authorities kept Roma from leaving Macedonia under the pretence that they would apply for asylum abroad.

According to a statement made by the Macedonian Minister of Interior, Gordana Jankulovska, at the so-called Salzburg Forum, which brings together the Ministers of Interior of eight Central and Eastern European States, 764 Macedonian citizens were prevented from leaving Macedonia between April 29th and June 27th. Prior to this meeting, she declared that the persons, who would be rejected at the Macedonian border, would have their passports stamped as a “clear sign to our colleagues at the other border crossings that these persons need to be subjected to additional controls.” She added that the purpose of this measure was to prevent these people from abusing the visa-free system and damage Macedonia’s reputation abroad.

Roma who were deported to Macedonia claimed that they lost their social benefits upon their return. Macedonian Roma NGOs, which have been enrolled as part of the government’s campaign to curb the number of asylum seekers, reported warning their clients that they would risk losing their social benefits and health coverage and might even be issued a travel ban. According to Macedonian media reports, the same NGOs were given the task of informing the Roma constituency that they might face imprisonment upon their return.

Indeed, the Macedonian government has made several attempts to criminalise emigration. In July, the former Minister of Justice, Antonio Milošoski, presented a draft proposal for a reform of the criminal code aimed at introducing the abuse of the visa-free regime within the EU as a criminal offense. Accordingly, travel companies and tour operators, who would transport persons, trying to stay in the EU, would face imprisonment of up to five years, even if they were unaware of these persons’ intentions. The same minister also announced another law reform, which would enable the Macedonian authorities to deprive failed asylum seekers and returned migrants of their passports.

According to the NGOs, these measures are not only in contradiction with the Macedonian constitution, but also violate basic principles of international human rights. They remind the Macedonian government that freedom of movement, which includes the right of every person to leave every country including his or her own, is protected by several international conventions and treaties, which Macedonia has subscribed to.

They highlight the absence of a legal basis and criteria upon which people are prevented from travelling. They also point out that the freedom of movement is concomitant with the right to have a passport, which can only be restricted under very specific conditions. They also warn that although only a few Macedonian citizens have been granted asylum recently, it does not imply that these citizens do not have the right to seek asylum. In this context, the NGOs point out that international organisations including the EU Commission have remained concerned about the widespread discrimination of Roma in Macedonia and their social marginalization. They also express concerns about the discriminatory character of the governmental measures as Roma are the most targeted.

The NGOs call on the Macedonian government to refrain from any measures which are not in accordance with international human rights law. Instead, they invite the government to combat poverty and discrimination as the root causes for Roma to apply for asylum. Finally, the NGOs ask the Macedonian government to integrate the Kosovo Roma refugees who have been kept in limbo since their violent expulsion from Kosovo, more than twelve years ago.

Chachipe a.s.b.l.

Tabanovce border crossing between Macedonia and Serbia: This where the trip for many Macedonian Roma ends