News 11 Sep 15

EU Ban on Balkan Asylum Seekers Alarms Roma

Macedonian Roma associations say EU plans to ban Balkan nationals from claiming asylum are deeply unfair to their own persecuted and marginalised community.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship. | Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Roma associations in Macedonia - home to a large community - have condemned EU plans to exclude Balkan nations from claiming asylum as part of measures to cope with the growing refugee crisis.

They say it is unfair towards thousands of migrants, mainly Roma from Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania, who are fleeing both poverty and total marginalization in their countries of origin.

“The Roma have always been persecuted, and if anyone deserves asylum, they do,” Samka Ibraimovski, the head of Macedonia's Party for Complete Emancipation of Roma, PCER, said.

“My information says that some 30,000 people [from Macedonia] are applying for asylum in the EU. Some say they are Albanian, some declare themselves as Macedonian but in fact they are Roma,” Ibraimovski said.

In Brussels on Wednesday, the EU Commissioner on Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, strongly supported plans to agree a list of "safe countries" from which people may not apply for asylum, and called for the speedy return of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans.

“This [safe country] list will allow Member States to devote greater resources to protecting those in need and to return swiftly those applicants with no rightful claim to asylum,” Avramopoulos said.

He said that last year alone nationals from Western Balkans countries “submitted more than 100,000 asylum requests in EU countries - almost 20 per cent of all the applications filed in the European Union – while only a few were recognized.”

Ferdi Ismaili, from a Macedonian NGO, Roma Democratic Development Association – Sonce, says the country must prepare for the readmission of these people, however.

"These people and especially their children will have huge problems once they return. They will lose social benefits, classes in school and other things,” Ismaili said.

That is why we plan to work together with the authorities on reintegration of these returnees,” Ismaili added.

Following the lifting of visa restrictions on Macedonian and Serbian citizens, EU countries saw a surge of migration from both countries, leading some to rethink the programme.

In late 2010, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia also joined the list of countries whose nationals did not need visas to enter the Schengen zone.

Concern about Balkan migration rates has grown as Europe struggle to absorb unprecedented numbers if incomers fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East. The EU is currently planning to allocate 160,000 of them across the EU under a quota plan.

All Western Balkans countries have since been affected in various degrees by the phenomenon of mass flight to Germany and other EU countries, which has become a major topic in relations between Balkan countries and the German government.

Authorities in the Western Balkans are actively trying to convince people not to leave but their attempts have failed to stop the exodus of asylum-seekers.

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