Despite “safe country of origin”: roma persecution recognized

The Oldenburg Administrative Court has granted refugee status to a Romni from Macedonia. She was politically persecuted as an activist.

Commitment against the living conditions of Roma can result in persecution in Macedonia. Photo: Allegra Schneider

The case, which was decided by the Oldenburg Administrative Court at the end of September, could have become another of the many thousands of cases in which the asylum application of a Rom or Romni from the Western Balkans is rejected. It could have been another of the many thousands of cases in which the asylum application of a Roma or Romni from the Western Balkans was rejected, an application that was deemed "manifestly unfounded" and then included in the statistics of the other 99 percent of rejected cases, with the political justification that Macedonia, for example, was also "safe" for Roma. But this time things turned out differently.

The Oldenburg Administrative Court granted refugee status to a Romni from Macedonia. In Macedonia, she is threatened with "political persecution" due to her activities for a Roma organization, the ruling states (AZ: 6 A 32/15). And: "The acts of persecution emanate from the police." Accordingly, the decision of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which rejected the woman’s asylum application in 2013 and threatened her with deportation, was to be overturned.

Macedonia, along with Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been on that list of "safe countries of origin" since the end of 2014, which is to be expanded by the Bundestag and Bundesrat at the end of this week to include Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Organizations such as Pro Asyl criticize this as an undermining of the individual right to asylum.

The verdict from Oldenburg is not yet legally binding, but the court’s statements about what the woman experienced give an idea that Macedonia is not safe for Roma – and confirm assessments made by non-governmental organizations, but also by the European Commission in its progress report: The woman had campaigned for the rights of Roma in Macedonia with an association and documented state violence.

Maltreated and beaten

For years, she had been maltreated by the police, among other things, the office of the association had been broken open and her husband had been beaten. The police even prevented her from getting a job through the employment office by making an illegal entry in her file. "She had been told that she did not deserve to find a job," the court said.

At the end of this week, the Bundestag and Bundesrat will decide whether Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro should be considered "safe".

The list of "safe countries of origin" came into being with the 1993 asylum compromise.

This provides a blanket definition, that "neither political persecution nor inhumane punishment" takes place in these states.

Since November 2014 Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been considered "safe," and Senegal and Ghana since 1993.

Asylum applications from these countries are rejected across the board as "manifestly unfounded."

This means that they are obliged to leave the country within one week. The time limit for an appeal is also reduced to one week and has no suspensive effect.

In 2011, the woman was beaten so severely by police officers that she lost her unborn child. The police had asked her to "collect" votes from the Roma community for the party of head of government Nikola Gruevski in the parliamentary elections, which she refused to do. It is the account of a suspected election fraud that has been causing a political crisis in the country for months.

The Oldenburg Administrative Court found the woman’s descriptions "conclusive and credible." The court’s spokesman said the regulation on "safe countries of origin" leaves open the question of whether persecution is imminent "in deviation from the general political situation." "The plaintiff’s argument is an argument in an individual case."

Not an isolated case, lawyer says

The woman’s lawyer, Henning Bahr, sees it differently: "If the courts grant protection in supposedly safe countries of origin like Macedonia, the legislature’s assessment that it is not dangerous there is very doubtful," he explained. "In these states, too, there is always asylum-related persecution."

Marc Millies of the Bremen Refugee Council, who conducted his own research in Macedonia in the spring of 2015, agrees: "The ruling proves what I documented myself with a research group: that there are attacks against Roma and protection is necessary." Millies points to the difficulties many Roma have in being able to prove assaults and discrimination. "Often the police urge Roma to withdraw complaints – if they come at all or are not even the problem themselves."

At the same time, he said, the decision shows that the right to asylum must be examined on an individual basis. Superficial examinations for certain countries of origin should not exist, he said.

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