Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Meeting with URA, German Migration Office

In speaking with members of the RAE community in the field, the name URA (in Albanian means bridge) was mentioned numerous times. Those who are returned from Germany, either forcibly or voluntarily, and originate from four specific regions in Germany, are eligible for assistance from the Kosovo Returns Project (URA).

No surprise, the new director of URA here in Pristina was very kind. I haven't meant too many Germans are aren't wonderful people, at least on the surface. What was significant about the meeting was this sense that URA is indeed a helpful assistance organization for those returned, something that I wasn't so sure about after meeting with the struggling and suffering RAE individuals in the towns we went to in June.

Everyone who is returned receives emotional counseling, regardless of the region they originate from in Germany. But only those from four specific regions receive financial assistance, which is a per person budget, not per family, but per person in each family budget that is available until that budget is exhausted. Returnees from the federal states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Niedersachsen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, and Sachsen-Anhalt fall within the financial assistance bucket. Those who return voluntarily receive additional benefits, namely, assistance in starting up a business. Asked why only certain regions, the woman said it is a political decision and not something she can speak to directly.

One question I wanted to have answered was what seemed to be the ruthless way the German civil police approached the RAE at the moment they were deported. Reports of arriving at odd hours, giving the people no time to collect their belongings, etc, had me imagining scenes from world war II movies when the Gestapo yelled at Jews to raus! raus! schnell! when they were being deported. This is not the case apparently, as I was told that the RAE individuals all know what's coming. They are informed of their status in the country ahead of time, have an opportunity to leave before the actual deportation incident occurs, and, I was told that many RAE arrive at the airport in Kosovo with luggage bags, which if true, would indicate that they have some time to pack and bring their belongings with them to some degree.

I am not doubting the stories RAE individuals shared with me, but it is important to gain as many perspectives as possible to build context around the entire situation. For certain, the RAE families are living in extreme poverty with very little hope of improvement.

With regards to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the woman at URA did say that in her experience with them, they seem to believe that everything is moving along swimmingly with the Action Plan, something that she knows is simply not true because she, as well as some of her colleagues, have been out in the field and have seen first hand, like myself, that these people are living in squalor.

Therein lies a major point: the Ministry does not send people out to the field to check on returnees. They do not appear to have their finger on the proverbial pulse, and unfortunately, this is not an area I asked the gentleman about during my short visit with him at the Ministry. That should be an additional recommendation to be made to improve the process of 'reintegrating' RAE, if integration is even possible.

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