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Children victimised when families are forced to return to Kosovo

Human Rights Comment
Strasbourg 09/07/2010
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Several thousand persons have been forcibly returned to Kosovo by west European states in the last few years, mainly from Austria, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Among the returnees have been persons belonging to minorities, and in particular Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians. For them these deportations have not had a happy ending.

The UN agency for children, UNICEF, has now published a report on what happened to those sent back from Germany. This document is particularly relevant in view of the plans to return almost 12 000 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, including more than 5 000 children, to Kosovo from Germany alone.

The report, which is based on interviews with a large number of families, documents the harsh reality of these forced returns to Kosovo. One of the many cases concerns the Haziri family (the name was changed in the report for reasons of privacy).

One morning at 3 o’clock German police officers knocked on the family’s door. At that time the Haziris had been living in Germany for 17 years. The family was allowed half an hour to pack. They were all to be forcibly deported to Kosovo. Three of the five children were born in Germany – all of them wanted to stay there. In the afternoon of that same day they landed in Kosovo.

Two years earlier the family had undergone a similar ordeal – awakened in the middle of the night, and sent away. However, that time they had not been allowed to enter Kosovo and had come back to Germany. Now, this time, it was all prepared so that they were allowed into Kosovo – what does their future hold?

Forty percent of returnees are children

Children are the ones most affected by these forced returns. Many families have lived in Germany for almost two decades, the children have grown up there, and many were also born there. They are suddenly taken away from their schools, friends and surroundings, and are sent to a place they do not know and whose language they do not speak.

“I have nothing to do with Kosovo. I feel terrible here. I miss my school friends in Germany”, explains Remzije Haziri, the youngest daughter.

Three out of four drop out of school due to language barriers and extreme poverty. In addition, as they were sent away without warning they lack school documents from Germany. Many are unregistered, have no civil documents, and are rendered de facto stateless.

Not yet able to receive returnees

Kosovo is not yet able to offer humane living conditions to returnees, nor is it able to guarantee to its inhabitants respect for their basic human rights, such as access to adequate housing, health care or education. The unemployment rate is still around 50 per cent.

Some of the forcibly returned families end up in secondary displacement and some of them have even turned up in the lead contaminated camps in North Mitrovica, where the conditions represent a deadly health danger, not least for growing children.

The policy of forcible returns to Kosovo must be re-evaluated. It is ineffective, causes human suffering and wastes resources. No less than 70-75 % of those forcibly returned move to secondary displacement or go back to the deporting countries through illegal channels – after having lost their homes, jobs, years of schooling and a considerable amount of money.

The UNICEF report is an invaluable contribution to the debate on the current repatriation practices. The interviews give insights into the lives of these children and present the voices of the victims of toughening migration policies. Voices that should be heard – and listened to.

Thomas Hammarberg