Stop Deporting Roma to Kosovo

France is embroiled in a furore over its deportation of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria. Sweden has also deported Roma to Romania in ways that have been criticised, although these large-scale expulsions have not attracted the same attention. Sweden and other EU countries are deporting Roma to Kosovo in full knowledge  that these people face abject poverty and systematic discrimination. We are calling for an immediate halt to the deportation of Roma to Kosovo and we urge the government to make every effort to get other EU Member States to follow suit.

After the war just over ten years ago, Kosovo’s Albanian population accused the country’s Roma of collaborating with the Serb forces. Some 100,000 Roma were forced to flee in fear of retaliation. They found a haven in various European countries, and now these very same countries, among them Sweden, have started to send them back to Kosovo. In Germany alone, information sources tell us that 8,500 Roma are threatened with expulsion. Half of them are under 18 years of age. The very young children often only speak their local languages as they were born and raised in another country.

The future outlook in Kosovo has slowly improved over recent years. Nevertheless, there is approximately 50% unemployment in the country.  The judicial system is corrupt and freedom of expression is limited. The social gulfs are wide and the situation is worst for Kosovo’s Roma population. Many live in the camp areas. At one camp in northern Kosovo, the inhabitants have abnormal levels of lead in their blood as a result of  lead contamination at the camp. The Kolonia camp in western Kosovo is home to around 2,500 Roma who live at or close to the city’s waste disposal site. They earn a living from the city’s rubbish by collecting metal objects.

A large proportion of Kosovo’s Roma are or have been stateless. They have been denied all the fundamental human rights such as the right to education, the right to receive health care and the right to vote. Through our work, in cooperation with our partners, we have tried to create the conditions for a more tolerable existence. With the help of legal aid, almost all Kolonia’s inhabitants have been registered as citizens and received ID cards. For the first time in their life they have the right to vote, their children can go to school, they have access to healthcare and are entitled to the same benefits as everyone else. Although this is far from resolving all the problems, the results of our efforts are a much-needed step in the right direction.

In deporting the Roma to Kosovo, Sweden and other EU countries  are not only morally and ethically wrong but are also contravening fundamental human rights. Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, has been highly critical of governments for this on a number of occasions. On Wednesday (22/9), the Council of Europe’s Migration Committee urged European governments to stop deporting Roma to Kosovo until their safety and means of living can be guaranteed.

There are no simple solutions for dealing with the ostracism suffered by the Roma in Europe. However, recent policies stigmatise an already vulnerable group. This goes against the fundamental values built up by European states over a long period. This is why the Swedish government must actively promote policies which protect these fundamental values rather than policies which undermine them. If the latter is the case, there is a danger of fuelling xenophobia and antiziganism, which are spreading across Europe. The EU Member States, in particular Sweden, must take responsibility and counter this. And sending people away to face a hopeless existence is hardly a good start.

We therefore call for the Swedish Migration Board to put a stop to the deportations of Roma to Kosovo and for the government to clearly pursue this line in the EU.