About 3,000 Roma from the ex-Yugoslavian republics of Serbia and Kosovo have applied for asylum in Sweden so far this year.
But the majority of cases have been rejected, despite claims by human rights groups that it’s unsafe to send them back due to widespread discrimination and the threat of violence.
Since France began clearing Roma campsites and deporting more than 1,000 refugees in July, the media spotlight has fallen on other EU countries, including Sweden, which has also been deporting Roma back to other EU countries, such as Romania and Bulgaria and to the former Yugoslavia.
But Dan Eliasson, director of the Swedish Board of Migration says that the authorities here are just following migration rules which say that refugees must in danger of persecution, torture and death to qualify for asylum. He does not share the view of NGOs such as the Swedish Human Rights Defenders or Amnesty International that the humanitarian situation in Kosovo is grounds enough for an end to forced repatriation.
“The Roma do live in terrible conditions in Kosovo but we don’t have the remit to give people residence permits here because of difficult socio-economic circumstances at home. Protection from persecution, torture and death – that’s our remit,” he said.
After the 1999 war of independence in Kosovo, tens of thousands of Roma fled to neighbouring Serbia and to EU countries. And there had been an upturn this year in the numbers of Roma seeking asylum in the EU since visa restrictions were lifted for Serbia, which has applied for EU-membership.
Sweden has also seen an upturn yet only about five percent of those applying asylum have been successful.
“It’s true that among those that come from Kosovo, some have been persecuted and subject to threats and are eligible for aslylum. But the vast majority of cases are about poverty or discrimination and that’s something else. We can only act in cases of persecution.”
Eliasson says that Roma asylum seekers are in a unique situation due to the fact that most come from Europe.
“In general it’s very difficult to get asylum if you come from a European country, because the authorities in European countries should see to it that their own citizens are protected.”