Jovan Ananiev
Associate professor, Faculty of Law, University Goce Delcev- Stip

The Odyssey of the Roma Refugees from Kosovo


All people are equal in enjoying their rights. All people have the right to live in freedom and to create their future independently. A person works, hopes, contemplates how to fill in the following day….and all of a sudden a war breaks, a madness, and the same person becomes a part of the crowd of people running for their lives, leaving behind memories and bearing the feeling of insecurity, of being lost and troubled. Yes – I am talking to you about the refugees, the people that are looked upon by the countries in which they have found shelter with mistrust and humiliation, the people who have overnight become a vulnerable group on the margins of a society.

In the course of 1999 there was the Kosovo crisis, and this was the time when about 350,000 people from the Serbian Province of Kosovo found their temporary protection in the Republic of Macedonia. This was a shock just as much for them as it was for Macedonia, which is an economically and socially weak state. After the situation had been calmed down in the Province of Kosovo and the Kumanovo Agreement had been signed, conditions for their return were created. The development of the political circumstances gave birth to the so-called “Chinese box” phenomenon (a minority into a minority). In other words, the Albanian minority in Kosovo (a minority in the now former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) is intolerant in relation to the present minority. Due to these reasons, even five years later, there are still people from Kosovo looking for temporary protection. We have listed down the latest data about the number of the people that are under the treatment of the Department for Asylum and Migration of the Macedonian Interior Ministry (the source is the same Department):

People temporary receiving humanitarian aid


People asking for asylum

118 in 2002, and 6 in 2003

People from Serbia and Montenegro with refugee status


On the basis of the legal regulations in the Republic of Macedonia, those asking for a refugee status are accommodated in the Transit Center for Foreigners in Skopje, whilst those who are temporary receiving humanitarian aid are accommodated in collective centers in Shuto Orizari and Katlanovo, as well as with families.

The people from Kosovo with temporary protection in the Republic of Macedonia are mostly Romas, Ashkalies and Egyptians. As an illustration about their social characteristics, we will use the results of an opinion poll conducted among 206 persons receiving temporary humanitarian aid, initially men, in collective centers and with families (the opinion poll has been administered and processed by the Center for refugees and forced migrations):

Ethnic Background:









No reply


Mother Tongue:









In conformity with the international agreements signed by the Republic of Macedonia and in conformity with the domestic legal regulations, these persons have the right to social integration and protection. Macedonia is one of the countries with the highest rate of unemployment in Europe, which is an additional problem in finding a job for these people that would provide for their minimum needs, independence and unburden the state costs for their support. An additional problem is the fact that most of them are uneducated (25% of the respondents do not have elementary education, and 60% only have elementary education), and nearly half of them had no working experience in Kosovo before coming to Macedonia. The favorable fact is that 80% of the respondents speak the Serbian language that itself is understood by almost everybody in Macedonia, and 47% of them also speak the Albanian language that is spoken in the western part of Macedonia together with Macedonian. Another factor in favor of their easier integration in the country in which they have temporary protection (Macedonia in this case) is that the majority of them are young and capable of working.

Year of Birth

Before 1940


1941- 1950


1951- 1960


1961- 1970


After 1971


No reply


The Republic of Macedonia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – Skopje Office – make all possible efforts to provide for at least the minimum living conditions for these people in spite of the difficult economic situation in the country.

Crossing and Splitting up of Politics and Law

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Some expected this, others did not, but the people from Kosovo receiving temporary humanitarian aid and accommodated in the Shuto Orizari collective center (a location in the suburbs of Skopje), dissatisfied with the conditions in this center and with their status in general, headed for the Macedonian-Greek border near the Medzitlija border crossing on 19 May this year. Namely, 611 persons went to the border crossing on a bus, including small children, pregnant women, and old people. The situation gradually got worse since it rained every day, they spent their nights in improvised tents and infections developed and spread. They got food from the UNHCR, from the state and from some humanitarian organizations and private donors. What were these people looking for? They wanted to enter the Republic of Greece and get the right to asylum in some of the member countries of the European Union. One of the Kosovo Romas said: We want to go to Europe because it is not safe in Kosovo and they do not want us in Serbia. Greece is just a transit destination for us.Incidentally, nearly all of them had Yugoslav citizenship and the security situation in Serbia and Montenegro was stable. The Ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro in the Republic of Macedonia stated the following for the news agencyTanjug: The situation is dramatic, but we do not support the decision of the representatives of the refugees from Kosovo and Metohija to embark on this unsafe adventure. Greece’s official view is not to allow the people temporary receiving humanitarian aid in Macedonia to enter the country, and they explain this decision with the fact that these people do not have official passports and because no war is waged in Kosovo at the moment. On the other hand, the Head of UNMIK, Michael Steiner, proposed at a meeting with the Macedonian Foreign Minister, Ilinka Mitreva, that Kosovo Romas be accepted by the international community because they would not feel safe if they returned to Kosovo. Great Britain and Germany were mentioned as possible destinations for the refugees.

Skopje’s official stance was that the Kosovo Romas could not cross the border into Greece because they did not have passports and if they were let through without these documents bilateral agreements would be violated. The Macedonian Government held a session on 26 May and decided, in coordination with the OSCE and EU that the people receiving temporary humanitarian aid should fill in requests asking for refugee status that should be then sent to the Ministry in charge. At its session of 1 March the Government decided that the population from Kosovo be granted temporary protection until 28 September 2003. Article 1 paragraph 2 of the Convention for the refugee status gives the following definition for a refugee:

“…a person who is outside the country of his citizenship because of justified fear from persecution due to racial, religious, national, or any other social background, or because of political convictions, and does not want to be under the protection of this country because of fear or, if the person does not have the citizenship and is outside the country of his permanent whereabouts cannot, or out of fear, does not want to go back to that country because of these events.”

In its conclusions, the Government assesses that the security situation in Kosovo has improved and that the international community should work on the further improvement of the security conditions for these people to go back to their homes. The Macedonian Government’s spokesman commented for the mass media that, “if any of the 611 Kosovo Romas refuses to sign the request for refugee status, the Law on movement and residence of foreigners will be applied, that is to say this person will be driven back to his homeland.” In conformity with its decision not to accept construction of illegal refugee camps out of fear from potential hotbeds of infections, the Government will provide the persons who filled in the requests for temporary protection until 28 September 2003 in the collective center in Katlanovo (near Skopje), including all the necessary living conditions.

Contrary to the Government stance on the impossibility of crossing the border, the representative of the Roma National Congress in Hamburg, Germany, Rutko Kavchinski, stated that according to the European Convention on Human Rights, everybody has the right to enter and exit every state. On the other hand, states must abide by the bilateral agreements on the visa-passport regime. The President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republic of Macedonia, Prof. Mirjana Najchevska, stated the following for the Skopje daily “Dnevnik”, “I believe that the conventions on human and minority rights in this case should have priority over the bilateral agreements on the visa-passport regime because we are under pressure. The Macedonian authorities should let the Kosovo Romas leave the country. Then we shall see how our neighbour is going to act, but this is now a question of a country that is a member of the Union.” The “Roma Times” newspaper released information that the Roma National Congress had presented this case to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg via its lawyers.

The suffering of these people continues. They went to the border crossing of the only neighbour that is a member of the European Union to make the same Union aware about the problems that they have been faced with after being expelled from their homes, to show that nationalism has not ended in Kosovo, and that there is still the “them” and “us” division. Since the beginning of the ethnic conflicts in the territory of former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia up until today, Macedonia has given temporary protection to around 500,000 persons. Now, it defined September as the deadline for the status of people receiving temporary humanitarian aid. Europe is not interested in accepting them on its territory. Kosovo is a risky region for them, and even the official representatives of UNMIK indicate this. Serbia and Montenegro are filled with internally displaced people, mostly Serbs and Romas from Kosovo, and they are not showing any interest in accepting them on their territory.

So, the Kosovo Romas are on the crossroads of these political views and different interpretations of the international documents on human rights, as well as of the different evaluations of the bilateral agreements. With its passive attitude, the European Union demonstrated during the resolution of the problems of the Kosovo Romas that its member counties are not fulfilling the commitments that they have taken in conformity with international documents on human rights’ protection.

The Center for Refugees and Forced Migrations at the Institute for Sociological and Political-Legal Researches in Skopje, financially supported by the UNHCR, is making an analysis of the refugee and migration processes, as well as about the ethnic conflicts that are responsible for the situation in the Balkans. All contacts and cooperation with similar centers is welcome.