EU countries forcibly returning Roma to Kosovo: Amnesty

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European Union countries are forcibly returning Roma and other minorities to Kosovo, where they face possible discrimination and violence, a report from Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Members of the minorities -- including children -- are often returned to Kosovo, a Balkan territory that declared independence from Serbia in 2008, with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, said Amnesty.

The accusations come amid international outrage at France's Roma clampdown, which has seen hundreds of the minority sent back to Romania and Bulgaria since the beginning of August despite EU legislation on the free movement of people.

Romania and Bulgaria are EU members, while Kosovo is not.

"EU countries risk violating international law by sending back people to places where they are at risk of persecution, or other serious harm," said Sian Jones, Amnesty's Kosovo expert.

"The EU should instead continue to provide international protection for Roma and other minorities in Kosovo until they can return there safely.

"The Kosovo authorities must also ensure that Roma and other minorities can return voluntarily and reintegrate fully in society."

Few receive help on their return to Kosovo, meaning many face problems in obtaining access to education, healthcare, housing and social benefits, said the London-based rights group.

Discrimination against Roma in Kosovo is "widespread and systematic compounded by their perceived association with Kosovo Serbs", said Amnesty.

Kosovan authorities had taken some steps to improve conditions for returning Roma but they were ill-equipped to deal with the influx, said Jones.

"Until the Kosovo authorities are capable of ensuring the fundamental human rights of Roma and other minority communities, including Serbs and minority Albanians, they will return to face a climate of violence and discrimination," said Jones.

"Until then, the international community is obliged to provide them with protection."

Roma have fled Kosovo in large numbers on several occasions in recent years as fighting erupted in the territory.

Despite Serbia's fierce opposition, Kosovo is recognised by 70 countries and the majority of EU members.

Earlier this month, Belgrade agreed to hold EU-facilitated talks with Pristina to try to pave the way for both to join the European Union.

© 2010 AFP

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