10,000 Roma in Germany to be deported to Kosovo: A cold welcome

During the wars in former Yugoslavia, some 130,000 members of the minority of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (RAE) from Kosovo, fled. After arson attacks and expulsions during the war in Kosovo in 1999, and after the renewed flare-up of ethnic violence in 2004, no more than 35,000 of them still live in Kosovo today. For years, the German Federal Government has tried to deport a large number of the RAE refugees living in Germany to Kosovo – a total of more than 10,000 people.

To examine the situation on the spot and assess the possible results of German deportation policy, an investigative journey to the Kosovar cities of Prishtina and Mitrovica was organized in December 2009 by GUE/NGL MdEP Dr. Cornelia Ernst and her staff member Manuela Kropp. Anna Striethorst of the Brussels office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and Detlef Pries of the newspaper Neues Deutschland accompanied them.

The purpose of the investigative journey was on the one hand to hold conversations with the international organisations and NGOs represented locally, and on the other, to visit families who had been deported from Germany in 2008. They live in the southern part of the city of Mitrovica under extremely adverse circumstances, where of the 8000 members of the RAE minority who formerly lived there, only 600 remain today.

The institutions of the international community in Kosovo, UNMIK, the Kosovo mission of the United Nations, the KFOR mission of NATO and EULEX and the civilian mission of the EU, all agree in their assessment that although the political situation in Kosovo after independence has remained stable, the young country of just 2 million inhabitant is nevertheless not able to receive and provide for such a large number of refugees. The contradiction between this assessment and the perception of the German government was already apparent prior to the repatriation agreement implemented under heavy German pressure in 2008. In 2003, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the UNMIK transitional administration which provided for deportation after a detailed individual examination. UNMIK always re-fused mass deportation, pointing to great endangerment of the RAE minority due to racially motivated attacks. Some 60% of the repatriation applications of the Federal Government were turned down.

After the independence of the country, the responsibility for signing international agree-ments was transferred to the Kosovar government. Under heavy pressure from the German Federal Government, the new country, which is heavily dependent on international support, finally committed itself to taking in the RAE refugees. In view of the deportations which have taken place in rapid succession since the autumn of 2009, even the Kosovar Ministry of the Interior is now questioning this decision, and referring to the self-obligation of the German authorities to support the refugees after their return.

Both official statistics and the living conditions of the families visited show that Kosovo is overtaxed with the task of integrating even the few RAE refugees who have already returned, and is hoping in vain for German support. With an official average unemployment rate of 40%, ethnic minorities and particularly returnees have hardly any chance to earn a living for themselves in their country. For example, more than 90% of the families of the so-called Roma-Mahalla in Mitrovica are presently dependent on state aid. It is particularly tragic if social payment are not received, either because the persons affected have no identity papers – as is the case of one third of the RAE people in Kosovo – or because their enti-tlement applies only in the municipalities where the families lived before the war and where they can return today only at the risk of their lives. Hence, some of the families have been left on their own since their return, with no means of living whatever, and, like the eight-member O. family literally “living from what you can find on the street” – a clear contradic-tion to the statement of the German embassy that “nobody goes hungry” in Kosovo.

The repatriated people are housed in unplastered, damp houses with no heating or sanitary facilities. Often, there is no furniture, and a wood-burning stove is used for cooking. The living space provided is extremely small; the H. family for example shares two rooms of twelve square metres each. The houses in which the returnees lived before the war were destroyed, or are now inhabited by members of the majority society; for many of the refugees, it is ba-sically impossible to prove their claim of ownership. Since they are often moreover not able to pay rent, many of the families live in constant fear of homelessness.

This extremely precarious economic situation of the refugees is worsened by their exclusion from the majority society and by local members of the RAE minority. In a country with tradi-tionally close family ties and where everyone has “their own problems”, solidarity with the returned refugees is slight, also because they are accused of cowardly flight from the war, and people suspect they have hoarded secret fortunes. With the increasing number of deportations from Germany, the number of people who can support their families financially in Kosovo is also dropping.

One problem which the international organisations consider especially alarmingly is how the Federal Government is dealing with the refugees to be deported. The criticism concerns the inadequate preparations of the refugees before their return, the lack of individual examinations, and provisions for hardship cases, as well as a completely unsatisfactory provision of support and integration for the deportees. Promises are made to so-called voluntary returnees under the Repatriation Agreement URA 2, which are then observed inadequately or not at all. Deportees receive no support whatever from the German authorities, even if they are ill, aged, handicapped or children.

The picture described by the international organisations locally and the families concerned is one of conscious brutality on the part of the German authorities in the execution of the de-portations, as a result of which the already very difficult process becomes a serious ordeal for the persons affected. First, the families describe the years of fear resulting from their “toleration” status, which is common for Kosovar refugees, and permits deportation at any time. The deportations are carried out with no warning at night or in the early morning, to prevent escape or help. The families are given only a very short period to pack; often, even minors are handcuffed to prevent flight. The families are then driven to the airport and flown to Kosovo under guard of German policemen. The father of the family H. described the phone call to his surprised employer whom he had to inform on the morning of his deportation – calling from Frankfurt Airport – that he wouldn’t be back. His daughter has had no opportunity to call her boyfriend in Germany even once, after more than a year.

Once deportees arrive at the airport in Prishtina, it is more the exception than the rule that authorities and NGOs will be informed about their arrival. Often, the authorities are over-taxed by the arrival of groups of more than fifty persons simultaneously. In the best case, the deportees are housed in a hotel for the first week, and receive a rough overview of their opportunities before having to look for housing in a Roma neighbourhood. In other cases, like that of the H. family, they take a taxi to town and try to find relatives, if they have any, who can help them get through the initial period. In view of the political situation, some travel on immediately to Serbia or Macedonia, or try to return to Germany, using their savings. After a short time however, they often end up impoverished in a Mahalla like the one in the south of Mitrovica, where they live discouraged and hopeless, dependent on the help of highly committed but overtaxed welfare organisations like the Danish Refugee Council.

The children and young people deported are in a particularly difficult situation. For the most part, they were born in Germany, have never been in Kosovo before, and speak neither Al-banian nor Serbian. They are heavily traumatized by the sudden deportation to this “nowhere”, and see no perspective for themselves in Kosovo. While some, like the thirteen-year-old daughter of the family H., which was deported after seventeen years, “only” lose a school year because of language problems, others don’t go to school at all. Many of the families are afraid of attacks, and, like the other residents of Kosovo, are caught up in the Albanian-Serbian conflict. The father of the Albanian RAE O. family for example has great doubts about sending his five children to a Serbian school. There, they would, he believes, suffer discrimination and learn a language which is of dwindling importance in today’s Kos-ovo. The despair over his hopeless situation in Kosovo, after having lived in Germany and worked for a motorcar company for eleven years, has caused the thirty-six-year old man to age visibly. His children experience a father who has given himself up.

Another group which is particularly negatively affected by the repatriation is older single women and young women who have spent the greater part of their lives in Germany. While the former suffer primarily from the fact that they have no access to the labour market and are excluded from the male-dominated economy and society, young women must endure considerable restrictions on their personal liberty. Patriarchal attitudes or the real concerns of parents that their daughters could become victims of ethnically-based or other acts of violence ensures that young women are hardly allowed to venture out of their homes at all. Forced marriages of minors are very common in Kosovar society, and the women and girls deported from Germany, too, can hardly escape them.

The many local conversations in Prishtina and Mitrovica have made clear that discrimination and the humanitarian situation in Kosovo preclude the repatriation of a large number of RAE refugees to Kosovo. Since the Yugoslav wars, the group of the Romaes, Ashkali and Egyp-tians, which was integrated into the multinational society of socialist Yugoslavia as one of many ethnic groups, has been subjected to a wave of hatred and violence which continues to this day. Their opportunities to participate in the economic and political life of the new country is very slight; the fact that they are supported by the Kosovar state as “foreigners” increases the animosity of the majority population, and could lead to renewed disturbances.

For the German state, there is no need to throw people into such an existential crisis who have for the most part lived and worked with their families in Germany for more than a decade. The non-transparent mass repatriation practice represents an additional move to wall the EU off from its immediate neighbours, and runs clearly contrary to the idea of an integrated, social Europe based on the rule of law. The information gained during this investigative trip therefore allows only one conclusion: the repatriation agreement between the Federal Government and the government of Kosovo must be immediately suspended, as demanded by representatives of international organisations. Moreover, a generous regula-tion on permanent residence must be granted to refugees who have long lived in Germany.

Further information:

>> Detailed Information on Interviews in Kosovo
>> Valid for one Trip to Prishtina - Report by Detlef Pries