News 04 Jun 12

Macedonia Contests Critical Roma Refugee Report

Ministry of Social Affairs takes issue with Amnesty report which says it is failing to provide due care for Roma and Ashkali refugees from Kosovo.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Social welfare centre in Shuto Orizari near Skopje | Photo by: Shutka Reporter

A report by the international human rights watchdog Amnesty International says Macedonia is failing to provide due care for some 1,100 Roma and Ashkali who fled Kosovo during the war in the 1990s and remain in Macedonia.

“The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare failed to provide them with the financial assistance and housing required under the 2010 local integration agreement,” Amnesty's report claims.

Under the agreement, Macedonia is obliged to help refugees who cannot return to Kosovo to integrate into Macedonian society.

Macedonian authorities contest the findings. Davor Politov, spokesperson for the welfare ministry, says they are doing all in their power to help the refugees rebuild their lives.

“We are providing social welfare, paying health and social insurance contributions and paying [housing] rent for some 780 people from Kosovo who wish to stay here,” Politov says, adding that the country is also trying to find them jobs.

Macedonia gives 2,150 denar, (some 35 euro) a month in welfare to each Kosovan refugee.

Politov says the ministry cannot help some 400 others, mainly Roma, who have been denied asylum status.

“They are going to have to find a way to leave the country,” Politov said, adding that Macedonia is not planning to forcefully expel them.

“Macedonia is not expelling us but is not helping us either, and many of us just want the chance of a clean start in life because we are afraid to go back,” one 24-year-old Roma, who came to Skopje when he was 12, said.

This refugee currently lives in Skopje's biggest Roma settlement of Shuto Orizari.

During the Kosovo conflict, the Roma were seen by the Albanian majority in Kosovo as allies of the Serbian government.

After the Serbian authorities withdrew from Kosovo, many Roma fled, and they fear reprisals if they return.

The adoption of a Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection in 2003 made it possible for Roma, Ashkali and Roma who had obtained temporary protection status in Macedonia to apply for asylum.

But in 2007 the European Roma Rights Center, ERRC, and the UN's refugee arm, UNHCR, became aware that Macedonia had begun to expel about 400 rejected asylum seekers.

Their final appeals for asylum had by then been rejected by the Macedonian Supreme Court on the grounds that no obstacles prevented their return to their place of origin.

Human Right watchdogs and some European parliamentarians have alleged that some Roma were denied refugee status for purely arbitrary reasons.

The expulsions stopped under international pressure but human rights activists continue to say that only some of the rejected applicants receive proper treatment in Macedonia, as laid down in the 1951 Geneva Convention.



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