Do not use refugees for political purposes

Do not use refugees for political purposes

The refugee question is one of the many attempts to shift the focus of the Macedonian public from the real political issues.

These days xenophobia and islamophobia aimed at refugees and irregular migrants have been on the rise in Macedonian traditional and social media. Such a thing didn’t happen at the peak of the crises in 2015 when almost refugees were transiting through Macedonia per day.

Everything has started when the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of the Republic of Macedonia drafted the Refugees and Foreigners’ Integration Strategy 2017–2027. The Ministry allowed the civil society and institutions to make remarks before approving the final version in Parliament.

The Strategy itself was drafted together with the UNHCR, tackles all asylum seekers’ real problems, and needs. It covers four significant areas: housing, education, employment and integration, revises previous shortcomings and speeds up the integration process.

Bearing in mind that not even 100 days have passed since the government changed and that local elections have been scheduled for 15 October, the political parties have started their campaigns. One of the ways to divert the public’s focus is the refugee question, or to be more precise, the new Refugees and Foreigners’ Integration Strategy of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.

Fuelling fear

For that purpose, the Commission on Labour and Social Policy was called to review the Strategy. Since it was called upon beforehand, the Rules of Procedure and Rulebook were violated, and NGOs abstained from active participation in the discussion, especially after the remarks were submitted.

Some of them are unfounded, such as the claim that the EU is putting pressure on Macedonia to take in 10.000 refugees, which would result in demographic changes of the country. Another claim is about allocating money from the budget in order to build flats and open job vacancies for refugees, that such a number of refugees represents a security issue because there is no way to determine who of them are terrorists, and that part of them have extreme ideologies. This shows that they do not have serious remarks regarding the Strategy, only that their intention is fueling fear among citizens.

The refugee question is one of the many attempts to shift the focus of the public from the real political issues, such as the Agreement with Bulgaria and the Law on the Use of Languages. This act of politicization has endangered humane and conscientious citizens as well as vulnerable categories.

All political parties should keep in mind that we are all aware of the political situation we are in and that some of them are dealing with the fact that they are no longer in power, whereas the others are in a state of euphoria trying to grab political powers but it’s their own party problem.

The Transit Route

Refugees and irregular migrants have nothing to do with it, so I am asking you kindly not to use refugees in your daily political arguments. Keep the political ethics at a positive level, as before. Do not be a reason for spreading xenophobia among citizens.

As civil society activists, we are part of the sector that cared, cares and will care about these people’s rights and situation; we have made sure that our country deals with the crisis and does its best, collaborating with and helping all institutions. We criticized, and demanded that all international conventions and standards be obeyed, but at the same time, we offered the best solutions to the problems and challenges that the state accepted and didn’t regret.

Macedonia has never been a target destination of the Middle East refugees, only a part of the transit route. It will continue being one as long as our own citizens leave Macedonia and go to the EU because of economic issues. There is no reason for fearing tens of thousands of refugees settling in Macedonia.

No one, not even the EU, has the right to keep someone here and we opposed this when the Balkan Route closed back in March 2016 leaving 1500 refugees stranded in Macedonia’s transit centres without rights and freedom of movement. That is a violation of the basic human rights, especially of people who did not do anything wrong to anyone. After 16 months, only 6 people out of those 1500 refugees, have sought asylum and are waiting for an answer. 

‘Saving your life isn’t terrorism’

As far as the question of allocating money for housing, integration and employment of refugees to the detriment of the citizens, it should be known that the Strategy does not allow for such a thing. In that case, as in previous experiences during the refugee crisis of the beginning and the end of the ‘90s in former Yugoslavia, international organisations and donors cover the majority of costs, just like in this refugee crisis from 2015. Back then and now, the citizens and the state have only profited.

As for the security issue, no one has ever noted a case of a refugee harming a Macedonian citizen. On the contrary, there are over hundreds of cases of robbery, assaults upon refugees and irregular migrants committed by Macedonian criminals. Refugees are victims of terrorism in their countries, not terrorists or extremists. Saving your life is neither terrorism nor extremism.  

Adopting the Strategy and laws, which protect refugees and irregular migrants’ rights, as part of the many reforms that should get Macedonia closer to the Euro Atlantic integration, will only improve Macedonia’s status in international contexts, without harming citizens. Our collaboration and contribution to the state institutions despite the challenges will still be kept at a maximum level, within the collaboration memoranda, and will not threaten the mutual interest of the state, citizens and refugees.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily support the editor’s policy of Al Jazeera.

By: Jasmin Red┼żepi

Source: Al Jazeera