Benelux agreement leaves Roma at risk of persecution in Kosovo

An agreement signed by the Benelux countries to enforce the removal of Roma and other members of minority communities to Kosovo where they risk serious human rights violations, must be reversed, Amnesty International said today.The agreement, signed by Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, leaves Roma at risk of being forcibly returned to Kosovo, where unemployment levels for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians often reach 97 per cent and access to basic healthcare and education is limited. “Kosovo has so far shown absolutely no willingness to make sure that members of minority communities who are forcibly returned, are properly reintegrated in the community,” said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s Balkan researcher.“Without proper measures to address the severe discrimination faced by Roma in Kosovo, their removal there may lead to them facing persecution. The Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg authorities must immediately halt these repatriations.”A strategy to assist forced returnees with reintegration was introduced in Kosovo in 2010. However, many of the measures to help reintegrate them – including enabling them to access education and healthcare – have yet to be put in place, making the return of the Roma unsustainable.At least 196 people from minority communities have already been forcibly returned to Kosovo in 2011, including 62 Roma and 120 Ashkali and Egyptians, as well as Serbs, and Albanians being returned to areas in which they are a minority. The UN Refugee Agency has also listed these groups among those who should be eligible for continued international protection as they face the risk of persecution or serious harm in Kosovo, including through discrimination.Few receive any assistance on their return to Kosovo, meaning many also face problems in obtaining access to education, healthcare, housing and social benefits. In the absence of assistance about 50 per cent of forced returnees leave Kosovo again, according to Roma NGOs and international organizations working in the area.Discrimination against Roma in Kosovo is widespread and systematic, compounded by their perceived association with Kosovo Serbs. “Until the Kosovo authorities are willing to ensure the fundamental human rights of Roma and other minority communities, they will return to face systematic discrimination,” Sian Jones said. “For the foreseeable future, they are entitled to expect that the international community will continue to extend the protection they need.”

Amnesty International’s work on Roma is party of its Demand Dignity campaign which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. The campaign mobilizes people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and protect their rights. For more information visit the Demand Dignity page