Kumanovo: A city with racial profiling and a home of victims of draconian penalties

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The article was taken from www.novatv.mk

 

By: Slavica Filipovska, NOVA

 

This street leads to Kumanovo’s neighbourhood Sredorek located near the city centre. The young people who live here say that Sredorek looks like a “prison” which they cannot leave even if they want to. Faced with discrimination, unemployment, poverty and state borders that do not give them a chance for a brighter future abroad, or to at least see the life in the European countries, these people say that they are left on the society’s margins.
– There is a lot of poverty; you can’t go abroad even if you want to, you are returned from the border, we are forced to live as slaves in this country, says a young resident from Sredorek.

The official report of the Council of Europe from 2009 to 2012 noted that about seven thousand Macedonian citizens, members of the Roma community, have been returned from the border crossings or have their travel documents seized by the Macedonian police services. The decision whether a person can leave the country is made by a police officer, and the main explanation for the return of the citizens is the suspicion of possible asylum seekers in the European Union.

Hundreds of these people are citizens of Kumanovo. This year most of them asked for a free legal advice from the National Roma Centrum from Kumanovo. Sixty per cent of the requests are from people who are ethnically declared as Roma, and most of the cases are related to the returns from the border.
– It’s not that this has become a dominant occurrence in Kumanovo, the thing is that the problem of the citizens is actually a problem at a political level. You can’t return citizens from the border and label them as asocial, as our customs do with Roma, it doesn’t exist in the paragraphs of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, said Asmet Elezovski from the National Roma Centrum for NOVA.

The network for protection against discrimination that has been working for four years in coordination with the Helsinki Committee of Human Rights, also notes that the Roma, for a longer period of time, face racial profiling when they want to travel outside of the borders of the Republic of Macedonia and restriction of the right of movement in cases when they want to leave the country.

The last case of restricting the right to a free movement – the case of the actress Emra Kurtishova who was not allowed to leave the airport in Skopje and to travel to visit her sister in Germany proves that neither the status of the employee, or the reason why they are leaving the state, or possession of the required documents are enough for the Roma to exercise their right of free movement and leave the country. We want to emphasize that this case is neither isolated nor unique, but it is only a confirmation of the already established discriminatory practices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which restrict the right of free movement and leaving of the country for Roma, under the pretext that these people are potential asylum seekers. This discriminatory practice towards the Roma ethnic community has been applied for a longer period, and therefore we urge and encourage the Roma citizens to report such cases, said the statement of the Network for protection against discrimination.

 

Draconian penalties put the citizens of Kumanovo on the margins of society

Case: Gjulten Zekiroska

Gjulten Zekiroska lives with her family in a rented place in Sredorek. Both she and her husband are unemployed, but she says that she tries to work honestly every day.

– My husband and I are unemployed, but in order to support our children we work wherever someone calls us. Our children are raised to know that they shouldn’t practice begging and I believe that my children shouldn’t beg on the streets, says Gjulten.

But, after a report to the Centre for Social Work that her two children beg on the streets of Kumanovo, the police came to her house and arrested her on suspicion of harassment and abuse of children.

After 20 days of detention in Idrizovo, Gjulten is sentenced in absence to 10 years in prison because her child was seen in the streets with other children.

Because of informal evidence, The Primary Court Kumanovo withdrew the lawsuit and Zekiroska got two years of probation, but the stress which she endured from the inhuman attitude of the police will be remembered for life. She also announced a lawsuit.
– Without any formal evidence I was detained and asked whether I know the type of drugs used by the young people in the settlement, do I recognize herbs and similar questions which had nothing to do with the accusations against me. Even today when I see the police I feel stressed because of the inhumanely way in which they treated me. I will sue for this injustice, because I didn’t send my children to beg, and they don’t have any evidence that I’ve ever even thought of that, said Zekiroska angrily.

Her lawyer Veroljub Ilioski considers this express verdict to be shocking.

– I am surprised to see a person convicted to 10 years without any coordination. There is no real evidence and this is an omission of the representative from the Centre for Social Work and the Public Prosecutor’s Office which led the police to act brutally, and afterwards they justify the situation by quoting articles from the Criminal Code. It is really absurd, said the lawyer Ilioski.

The Centre for Social Work from Kumanovo refused to comment on the case and referred us to the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. In the meantime this family reminds the authorities that they should also react this quickly when people ask for social aid and that the bureaucracy in the institutions further oppresses the human rights of the people whose only fault is being poor.
– We’ve been knocking on doors for years in order to provide an aid for our children and for our living conditions, but it is all futile. Some say that our IDs are not valid, others give us some other conditions, I don’t know what to say, we started looking for a solution on the media, commented Gjulten’s husband Elvis.

The two concerned parents of the young children said that apart from NGOs and the Centre for Social Work they are not informed who else could help them out of poverty and violation of their rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.

– When they don’t help, they shouldn’t send police to torture us, added the husband Elvis.
Case: Bajram Bajramovski

Another example is the 21 year old Birsan Sejfula from Kumanovo who received a sentence of 13 years in prison for participating in a group attack on three Afghan immigrants who had 100 EUR stolen.
The incident happened in March this year, when the Afghans were trying to illegally cross the border, near the sports airport Adzhitepe in Kumanovo. Birsan, along with his underage brother and two others were found to be guilty on the grounds that the immigrants recognized their faces.
Besides the 21-year-old from Kumanovo who is in custody, his younger brother got an alternative measure “enhanced supervision from a parent,” and the police are still searching for the other two.

 

Birsan’s father said for NOVA that the verdict against his son was the same as for a murderer.
– My son will be imprisoned for 13 years as if he killed someone. This verdict is very sad and a shame for the Macedonian judiciary. This is defamation. At that point my son was in a sports hall, there was a witness, but he wasn’t accepted, I do not know how they can judge like that. Now the situation is bad, he has epilepsy, but nobody asks him. I want to say that we will not stop, we will appeal to the Appellate Court, said Ismet Shainovski, Birsan’s father.

According to the lawyer Marjan Vitanovski who handles Birsan’s case, this verdict, although not issued in writing, represents a precedent for the judiciary. He said for NOVA that Birsan was offered to admit his guilt and have his sentence reduced for 3 years.
– My client was offered to plead guilty and to have his sentence reduced from 13 to 10 years, which of course he did not accept because he is innocent. There are many unclear legal moments, which will be disclosed to the public after the publication of the appeal to the Appellate Court, and we will do it next Sunday. The authorities should ask themselves how it is possible that immigrants walk freely and are not in the Reception Centre, and how can they be trusted instead of Birsan, says Vitanovski.

Sejfula is currently in custody in Shutka. His case is also monitored by the Helsinki Committee which said that they found the detainee in bad health.

– We found the young Birsan in poor health, and we immediately submitted a request that he be examined by a specialist. I am sure that there hasn’t been a similar case in Kumanovo for a very long time. If he is given this sentence, it will mean that another young life will fade. The Helsinki Committee provides maximum support and legal aid for Birsan Sejfula and I hope that the appeal which will be submitted to the Court of Appeal will be seriously considered, said the director of the Helsinki Committee, Uranija Pirovska, for NOVA.

The family Shainovski said that if there isn’t a “reasonable verdict” for their son, they, along with the Roma community, will organize a mass protest in front of the Primary Court in Kumanovo and announced a lawsuit against the responsible institutions.

The deputy Ombudsman from Kumanovo hasn’t received any complaints for violation of human rights, the NGOs have registered hundreds of cases

No complaints for violation of human rights have been submitted to the Ombudsman in Kumanovo this year, the deputy Ombudsman Naser Veseli informed us.

– I’m not aware if we have such a case or victims of discrimination, it would be the best if you contact our office in Skopje, said Veseli on the phone for NOVA.

 

Veseli added that the cases of discrimination, torture and child protection are under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman’s office in Skopje for a more efficient systematisation, and he intervenes only when requested by the office in Skopje.
NOVA contacted the office of the Ombudsman in Skopje. They informed us that this year they have registered 36 complaints from citizens for protection against discrimination and appropriate legal representation. None of these complaints are from Kumanovo.

On the other hand, the National Roma Centrum from Kumanovo has received 115 cases for discrimination this year, because of which the citizens have requested free legal aid.
– The requests are different, we have discrimination in granting licenses to travel, we have cases of violation of rights when requesting health care, social aid, right up to school enrolment. The applications are from people from different nationalities. You know, Kumanovo is a dead city in terms of institutional coordination; there are citizens who do not know that there is an Ombudsman who can handle their cases. Unfortunately, so far we have managed   to solve only 2 out of 115 cases, says Asmet Elezovski from the National Roma Centrum.
The sessions of the Council of the Municipality of Kumanovo on the topic of human rights turn into a slaughterhouse

The Council of the Municipality of Kumanovo, as a body of the local government, often discusses the issues related to violation of the human rights of the citizens in Kumanovo. Instead of bringing mutual ideas and recommendations, the councillors from different political parties have turned such sessions into a slaughterhouse.

– We certainly discuss these issues, but unfortunately at the end of the session it turns out that the discussion was futile. The councillors from VMRO – DPMNE behave like lawyers of the central government and don’t protect the interests of the locals, said the president of the Council of the Municipality of Kumanovo, Maxim Dimitrevski for NOVA.

Dimitrievski especially stresses the selective filing of misdemeanour charges that the Sector for Internal Affairs from Kumanovo issues to the citizens.
– There is a selection on the residents of Kumanovo which was seen during the election process. In the first three months of the year there were 900 misdemeanour charges from SIA Kumanovo to the citizens and during the elections in April, when the Minister Gordana Jankulovska was carrier of the election in District 2, which includes Kumanovo, the SIA issued only 200 charges. The difference is huge, added Dimitrievski.
The councillor Dragan Petkovski, who is a member of VMRO-DPMNE, said that he needed time to contemplate how such a meeting takes place when the topic is human rights and discrimination. Although he received the question by e-mail and promised to respond, we are still awaiting his answer.
And while the institutional ball is thrown from one department to another, the councillors glorify the party ideals rather than the real problems of the people; after all it seems that Kumanovo will keep its epithet as a city with racial profiling, in which those who suffer get stuck in the institutional system.

 

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