The right to asylum does not tolerate any differences!

15 October 2012 – Over the past few days, conservative politicians, but also members of the social-democratic party in Germany have repeatedly called for the re-introduction of visa requirements for Serbian and Macedonian citizens, which were partially lifted in December 2009. With this measure, they seek to stop “the massive influx of Serbian and Macedonian citizens”. This initiative is actually essentially targeted at members of the Roma minority, who have increasingly applied for asylum in EU countries and other countries of the Schengen zone, since the visa requirements for short-term travels were lifted.

The lifting of visa requirements for the countries of the so-called Western Balkans came at the end of a long process during which countries of the so-called Western Balkans, at the request of the EU, introduced far-reaching reforms in the area of legislation and other areas such as document security, border controls and migration policy. These reforms have remained well behind the expectations in one particular field: human rights. At the end of August, the European Commission concluded in its third report on the implementation of the visa liberalization that Roma remain exposed in all Western Balkan states. The Commission underlined the prevalence of discrimination which prevents Roma from the exercise of their fundamental human rights such as access to education and training, health care and employment.

According to the Serbian government, approximately 60 percent of the estimated 450,000 Roma in Serbia live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions; 30 per cent have no access to drinking water; 70 percent lack access to canalisation. Surveys show that Roma children are over-represented in special schools, where their share is over 30 percent. According to public opinion polls, Roma are viewed as the most discriminated group in Serbia. Discrimination is considered as mostly prevalent in terms of access to the labour market. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted in its latest country report on Serbia, that the majority of Roma are confined to performing odd jobs such as scrap metal collection; hardly any Roma is employed in public companies.

In Macedonia as well, discrimination against Roma remains also widespread. Just as in Serbia, Macedonian Roma tend to live in isolated areas, where they have no or only limited access to basic services. Roma children are overrepresented in special schools and in special classes within ordinary schools. As the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest indicated in a recent survey, this is as much the result of inadequate tests as of a wrongful information and orientation of their parents. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted in its 2010 country report that 70 percent of Roma in Macedonia are unemployed. With this, their unemployment lies well above the national average. ECRI also found that Roma are confronted with prejudices in the health care system, which affects their access to health care.

Accordingly, it is highly derogatory when asylum applications from Roma are assessed from the outset as unfounded. According to the UNHCR Handbook on procedures and criteria for determining refugee status from 1951, which was updated in December 2011, discrimination may well be considered as a form of persecution. This is particularly the case if it affects a person’s ability to earn his or her livelihood. In addition, the UNHCR has also found that racial discrimination is one of the most striking violation of human rights, which must, therefore, taken into consideration when determining the refugee status.

Under the pressure from the EU and individual EU member states, such as Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg, Serbia, Macedonia and other Balkan countries, whose citizens have recently benefited from a liberalisation of their visa-regime with the EU and Schengen countries, have put in place extensive measures in order to combat the alleged abuse of visa-free regime and the right to asylum. These include a tightening of border controls, which has prevented several thousands of people, mostly Roma, from leaving. The reasons for keeping them back were mostly flimsy and arbitrary. Returned asylum seekers are threatened with a penalty and the loss of their passports, which should prevent their renewed departure. In the media and political discourse, Roma are increasingly and generally referred to as either “lažni azilanti”, bogus asylum seekers, and blamed for the possible reintroduction of visa requirements. Racist resentments against Roma keep reinvigorating. Violence against them is on rise.

In Western countries, we are witnessing, in parallel, a selective repeal of the right to asylum. Accelerated 48-hours procedures, as recently proposed by the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann as a means to curtail the number of asylum seekers, do not provide the necessary guarantees for an individual assessment of the asylum claims, as prescribed by the Geneva Convention. Roma from the Balkans, who apply for asylum in the EU and Switzerland, are anyway already under a general suspicion of being so-called economic refugees, which makes an objective review of their application for asylum impossible, from the outset. Asylum applications of Serbian and Macedonian nationals are already dealt with on a priority bases, leading mostly to their rejection. The declared aim of this maneouvre is to discourage Roma from applying for asylum in Germany.

In less than two weeks, the German Federal chancellor Angela Merkel will inaugurate the central memorial to the more than a half million Sinti and Roma, who were murdered under National Socialism, in Berlin. Their persecution and subsequent murder should be a reminder and a warning as to the consequences of racism and prejudices. In Serbia, several tens of thousands of Roma and Jews were executed by Wehrmacht soldiers in the context of so-called retaliation actions. Several thousands of them died in the concentration camps of Banjica and Sajmište in Belgrade and Crveni Krst in Niš.

It is therefore entirely oblivious (of the past) and unrealistic, if German politicians are now calling for the introduction of fast-track 48-hours procedures for asylum seekers from the Balkans or the reintroduction of visa requirements, with the sole aim of keeping Roma from coming to Germany. Doing so, they provide Serbian and Macedonian politicians, who anyway do not make a secret of their dislike towards Roma and relegate them to remote areas, where they have no way to survive, an excuse to discriminate them even more and to further restrict the exercise of their fundamental human rights.

We call for an end to the racist attacks against Roma! Roma from the former Yugoslavia should not be excluded from the right to asylum! They have a right to an individual assessment of their claim within which racial discrimination in their home countries needs to be taken into consideration in an appropriate way.

We call for an end of a restrictive immigration and asylum policy, which has led to the fact that several thousands of Roma from the former Yugoslavia, often victims of war and persecution, have never had a fair chance to get permanent residence rights in Germany. People who were born or grew up in Germany must be given a right of return. To consider them as foreigners is cynical and a disregard of their rights!

Chachipe a.s.b.l., Luxemburg

Förderverein Roma e.V., Frankfurt am Main

Rom e.V., Köln

Forschungsgesellschaft Flucht und Migration e.V., Berlin

Romane Aglonipe e.V., Hannover

Freiburger Forum aktiv gegen Ausgrenzung

Flüchtlingsrat Berlin e.V., Berlin

Bayerischer Flüchtlingsrat e.V., München

Redaktion des Hinterland-Magazins

Flüchtlingsrat NRW e.V., Essen

Grüne Alternative Freiburg

Roma Center Göttingen e.V., Göttingen

Hessischer Flüchtlingsrat, Frankfurt am Main

Antirassistische Initiative Rostock

Aktion Bleiberecht Freiburg

Bündnis gegen Abschiebungen (BgA) Mannheim

Flüchtlingsrat Niedersachsen, e.V., Hildesheim

Flüchtlingsrat Brandenburg, Potsdam

Flüchtlingsrat Hamburg e.V., Hamburg

Bündnis „MünsteranerInnen für ein Bleiberecht der Roma“

Verein für politische Flüchtlinge, Münster

Pro Asyl e.V., Frankfurt am Main

Gemeinnützige Gesellschaft zur Unterstützung Asylsuchender e.V. (GGUA Flüchtlingshilfe), Münster

Initiative Grenzenlos Karlsruhe

Flüchtlingsrat Sachsen-Anhalt e.V., Magdeburg

Roma Union Grenzland e.V., Aachen

Amaro Foro e.V., Berlin

Flüchtlingsrat Bremen

Rostocker Friedensbündnis

Kampagne “Zusammen handeln! Gegen rassistische Hetze und soziale Ausgrenzung!

NaturFreunde Deutschlands e.V., Berlin

Flüchtlingsrat Thüringen e.V., Erfurt

Flüchtlingsrat MV e.V., Schwerin

Bündnis „Bürgerinnen und Bürger des Kreises Steinfurt für Humanität und Bleiberecht“

Bündnis „Bürgerinnen und Bürger des Kreises Steinfurt für Humanität und Bleiberecht“

Flüchtlingsrat Oberhausen e.V.

Oberhausener Friedensinitiative

Eine Welt Netz Oberhausen e.V.

DFG-VK-Regionalgruppe Mülheim-Oberhausen-Bottrop

Evangelischer Kirchenkreis Oberhausen