GENEVA (23 September 2016) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday called on the authorities of theformer Yugoslav Republic of Macedoniato end their systematic policy of expulsion and detention of migrants, following a visit to the country by his staff earlier this month.
Zeid said he was particularly concerned at the situation of some 180 migrants, including around 80 children, who have been living in limbo since March in two transit centres located in Tabanovce and Vinojug. They became stranded in the country after the closure of its borders on 8 March and were later transferred to the two centres.
“Since their arrival, there has been no individual assessment of the necessity or proportionality of their de facto detention,” the High Commissioner said. “This is simply unacceptable, in particular when it comes to children.”
An Afghan woman at Vinojug told the visiting UN human rights officers she was thankful for the food and the shelter provided to her and her family.
“But the uncertainty about our fate and the lack of prospects, with no end in sight, is killing us slowly, and creating huge tensions,” she said. “I feel like I’m losing my humanity here. I don’t even know the date or day of the week anymore. When I left my country, I had a good job. I am an educated woman. The only reason I left was fear that my kids could die at any moment. They desperately need to go to school and we, the parents, need to rebuild a dignified and normal life.”
Zeid called for urgent measures to help stranded migrants return to a normal life, including by creating avenues for gainful employment, and he stressed the importance of offering displaced children proper education opportunities.
The High Commissioner said he was also deeply concerned at reports of pushbacks into neighbouring countries and collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants, in breach of theformer Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s international human rights obligations.
“I urge the Government to put an end to these practices, which are in breach of international law,” Zeid said. “It is duty of the authorities to ensure that all migrants are properly and systematically screened so that vulnerable people are identified and adequate protection measures taken.”
The UN human rights chief also expressed serious concerns about some very restrictive provisions of the Asylum Law, including its recently amended article 10a, which offers almost no possibility for the vast majority of the people who have arrived irregularly to legalize their stay, even when they have requested asylum.
Zeid called for asylum procedures to be strengthened, noting that of the some 600 people who have applied for asylum since 2015, only five have been granted refugee status at first instance. He deplored the fact that possibilities for family reunification have also become extremely restrictive.
The High Commissioner also urged the authorities to review the situation of migrants at a centre in Gazi Baba, in the capital Skopje. “Their administrative detention is being carried out in the absence of procedural safeguards or judicial oversight, and they are being kept in profoundly inadequate conditions,” he said.
The UN human rights team that visited the site found most migrants were showing signs of considerable stress and were unaware of the reasons for their detention. The majority had not seen a lawyer or a prosecutor and none had been given a chance to challenge the legality or necessity of their detention. Serious concerns were also raised in terms of the regularity and privacy of contact with family members.
“It is important to recognize that these types of problems are not confined to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but also exist, sometimes to a greater degree, in neighbouring countries,” Zeid said. “The succession of border closures across the Central European region has led to a significant increase in human suffering, and appears to be boosting the abusive smuggling and trafficking industries, leaving migrants – especially women and children – in a deplorably vulnerable situation. We have received reports of terrible abuses taking place, including rapes, extortion and kidnapping.”
The High Commissioner urged the authorities to pay particular attention to the situation prevailing in Lojane and Vaksince, two villages on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that seem to have become smuggling hubs, and where widespread abuses have been reported.
“Many of these migrants have already had terrible experiences in their home countries, as well as during their journeys to Europe, and they deserve – and are legally entitled to – better treatment than this in countries that can afford to provide them with a measure of security and compassion,” Zeid said. “It is not enough just to provide the minimum in terms of food and shelter, while simultaneously sending out such a stark message that nobody is welcome any more, no matter who they are or what they have been through.”
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