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News 24 Jun 14

Macedonian Roma Actress to Sue Police for Bias

Young actress Emra Kurtishova said she will file discrimination charges against the police after the Macedonian border authorities prevented her from flying to Germany to see her sister.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Emra Kurtishova

Twenty-eight-year-old Kurtishova, an actress with Skopje’s state-owned Children’s and Youth Theatre, said she was convinced that a police officer at Skopje airport prevented her from boarding a plane simply because she is Roma.

“I will not let this thing pass. I will most certainly press charges on account of the discrimination and ask for help from the ombudsman’s office and from human rights NGOs,” Kurtishova said.

The actress, whose case has already caused a stir in Macedonia, said she is also thinking of suing for damages for her discomfort as well as reimbursement for her cancelled plane ticket.

“Yes, I believe I was turned back  because I was Roma. I have never in my life felt so humiliated,” Kurtishova said.

On June 19, Kurtishova was set to travel to the small German town of Konstanz to see her sister who had a problematic pregnancy and needed someone close to take care of her for two months.

But the police officer at the airport had cancelled her plane ticket and ordered her to take back her luggage and leave.

First he deemed invalid her letter of guarantee which she said had an official stamp from the town of Konstanz, and in which her sister said that she would cover the expenses for her stay. Later the officer told her that the 500 euro in cash that she was carrying was not enough.

“I was the only one turned back from the flight. Why do I even own a passport if I am not allowed to travel abroad?” she asked.

Police Minister Gordana Jankuloska on Monday denied allegations of discrimination against Kurtishova. Jankuloska said that the police investigated the case but insisted that the officer had the right to stop Kurtishova from travelling because she did not have enough money.

“A police officer has to check whether the person has the required amount of money which in this particular case, for Germany, is 43 euro per day. This means that if the person has a return ticket for two months, they have to procure 43 euros for each of the 60 days of the stay,” Jankuloska said.

A Macedonian lawyer who tackles cases of discrimination, Pavlina Zefic, said that Kurtishova’s case is a clear example of ethnic discrimination, adding that the Macedonian police have no right to request additional documents except for a passports from citizens who are departing the country.

“The officer had based his decision solely on the assumption that that the person would apply for asylum in a foreign country, despite the evidence that they had money and a letter of guarantee,” Zefic said.

“I believe this is not an isolated case because the Interior Ministry practices continuous discrimination against the Roma community. However it is encouraging that there is a positive court practice and that similar cases get court resolutions,” she said.

In May, the Skopje Basic Court reached its first verdict in which it ruled that such discrimination had taken place. The case against the police was filed by a Roma citizen who was prevented last year from leaving the country to head for Italy for a wedding.

The court determined that the police breached article 8 of the Law on Border Control by restricting the right of free movement and the right to equality, both guaranteed by the articles 9 and 27 in the Macedonian Constitution.

The European Union lifted visa requirements on Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro in 2009, allowing their citizens to travel freely into the EU's Schengen zone.

But since then Serbia and Macedonia have received complaints about mass arrivals of asylum-seekers, mainly ethnic Albanians and Roma, filing applications in Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France and other countries.

As a result, the EU has warned Balkan countries that if they don’t cut the number of asylum seekers, visas may be reintroduced and Macedonia and Serbia last year said they have introduced stricter border controls and boosted education among sectors of the population considered most likely to claim asylum, urging them not to do so.

In his latest annual report published earlier this month, the State Ombudsman noted cases of restriction in the free movement of Roma people by the Macedonian authorities. 

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