Sunday, June 26, 2011

RAE Field Interviews

Last week I visited several Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian (RAE) settlements in Kosovo, with an additional one scheduled for tomorrow. It goes without saying that the poverty, hopelessness, and perhaps most glaringly, the helplessness, that permeates these settlements is palpable. And to think that many of these communities are "settled," rather than in camps, which does exist just outside Prishtina in one known instance, is only more shocking; how much more severe is the problem elsewhere in Europe? We know from NGOs and the like that the problem is indeed severe, and perhaps most alarmingly, progress is slow, if there is any progress at all.

In two instances, the people we talked to didn't look any different from what people in NYC look like. The way they were dressed and the tone of their skin color would allow them to fit in on a Manhattan street, putting aside the obvious issue of language. But this is what I thought as I looked at them - they don't look any different from the melting pot that is NYC and here, they are pushed to the margins of society, with little hope for a better future.

I am seeing several areas where help can be offered based on the interviews granted. First and foremost, because we are meeting with people who were forcibly returned from Germany, and in one case, from Switzerland, I am discovering that the return process is entirely broken. Perhaps it was never whole in the first place. There is a clear opportunity to improve the process from when each returned individual/family gets off the plane in Prishtina. Some people get a little help from URA, but it appears to be inconsistent in terms of what is offered, if anything is offered at all. Plus, it is clear that the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) needs to play a more active role in aiding those who are forcibly returned. Many speak of need for accomodation, food assistance, and of course, employment. My hope is to arrange a meeting with URA and with the MIA to speak more about what each party does for these people once they land in Kosovo. But most importantly, if MIA is seen as the anchor for these returnees, we need to understand why it seems that they are not holding themselves to the 2009-2015 Action Plan put forth by the Kosovar government, if we are to believe what these people who we interview have said.

Another obvious area to improve forced returns is to make clear to them what documents they need to turn in to each Municipal Officer, officials in each municipality who are charged with sending in a request to the MIA to help these individuals make it once they return to Kosovo. I learned that, for example, in Ferizaj, that the Officer cannot submit requests because the person making the request cannot provide all the needed documents.

This is yet another problem, where if someone was born in Kosovo before the '99 conflict, their birth certificate probably no longer exists. If that is the case, then they cannot provide that to the officer, who then cannot submit a request for assistance to the MIA. I also learned that for those families who have a young child who was born in Germany, because the German police do not give more than 10 minutes for the family to leave their homes, nor do they provide a warning letter for fear the family might "escape," these people leave Germany without their children's birth certificates and other important documents.

Putting the difficulty of obtaining one's own documents aside, to mitigate the confusion for what each person must submit to the municipal officer, we believe a one-sheet should be produced and provided to each returnee once they land in Prishtina in the future. Minimally, they will have a document that provides them with some direction in terms of how to ask for help from the Kosovar government.

This all boils down to bureaucracy, of course. But perhaps what is so alarming is how the German civil police approach these people in Germany. They send no warning letter in most cases; they show up at odd hours, such as 4am or 5am, since at these times it is assumed everyone in the household is home; and, they enter the home and give the people 10 minutes to get their stuff and they take them to the airport. Sounds a lot like the Nazis from the Holocaust, where Jews were given no time to grab their belongings. Except, instead of going to the airport to be sent back to wherever they came from, they were sent to a ghetto or a concentration camp or a death camp. It's a shame to hear such things about Germany, a fine country and a fine people; a society that has gone out of its way to accept responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi regime.

There's still more information I would like to collect, first through a meeting with URA, then through a meeting with the MIA, something I'm told might be difficult to get, and, a hopeful meeting with the Roma member of Parliament, another meeting I'm told might be difficult to arrange, but there is no harm in trying. From there, I hope to create a proposal or two and hopefully have something published in a newspaper here. But first things first, I have to schedule the meetings.

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