Roma and Other Refugees Face Threats and Abuse in Macedonia

Approximately seven hundred Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees -- including around three hundred and fifty children - have been living in a "collective center" in the Orizari municipality of the Macedonian capital Skopje, sheltered under short-term, temporary ‘surrogate protection’ since being ethnically cleansed from Kosovo in 1999.

Macedonian authorities have arbitrarily limited the freedom of movement of the thousands of Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees living in the country, and have failed to guarantee even minimum standards of living necessary for basic dignity, including an adequate water supply. Macedonia has failed to recognize their status as refugees, preferring instead to provide a temporary protective status, causing undue anxiety and stress to persons already traumatized by the experience of racially motivated expulsion and extreme human rights abuses. In recent days, reports have surfaced that Macedonian security forces have even resorted to violence against Romani refugees.

In the early months of 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which administered the camp in Orizari, had progressively withdrawn a number of basic services from the camp including schooling, medical provision and food aid. UNHCR officials also reportedly advised Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees to seek alternate accommodation, as their temporary status would not be renewed without provision of a (non-camp) address in Macedonia. Without such status, those persons were told they would be considered to be illegally in Macedonia.

According to field research by the European Roma Rights Center, at around 6:30 AM on May 19, 2003 approximately seven hundred Kosovo Romani, Ashkaelia and Egyptian refugees arrived at the Macedonian border town of Medzitlija near Bitola. Macedonian border officials have not permitted them to cross the Macedonian border, in violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 12(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state: "Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own." ERRC has written a petition to European Union President Romano Prodi asking him to provide protection for the refugees in EU member states.

For more information on the situation, see ERRC’s website: http://www.errc.org, and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) http://www.ihf-hr.org.