Public Policy Document: Improvement of Access to Rights and Protection of Refugees and Migrants with Focus on Vulnerable Groups

The Republic of Macedonia found itself on the map as a transit country along the so-called migration routes through the Mediterranean Sea and Southeast Europe, due to its important location, bordering Greece, which played a crucial role managing the humanitarian crisis as an EU member state. The number of people transiting through Macedonia marked a slight increase in October 2014, followed by a more significant increase at the beginning of 2015 i.e. when people were forced to cross the territory on foot along unsafe roads, woods and railways or transiting by bicycles. In the period between October 2014 and August 2015, the Government of the Republic of Macedonia left the humanitarian response to local and international governmental and non-governmental organisations, groups of citizens who were volunteering along unsafe roads and railways. The epilogue of the Government’s lack of participation meant arbitrary detention i.e. the deprivation of freedom of around 300 foreigners at the Detention Centre of Foreigners of Gazi Baba, Skopje. Local NGOs such as Legis and the Obmudsman’s Office as a state body, lobbied for and put pressure to get those people transferred to the Centre for Asylum Seekers in Vizbegovo, Skopje. Some of these people were witnesses in criminal offence procedures, e.g. human trafficking, and were accommodated in the Centre for Foreigners in Gazi Baba, with other foreigners who were suspected of criminal offences and where reports of potential human rights violations were submitted. These findings were published in the Human Rights Watch report.

Several factors contributed to the Government taking control of the situation in the field, including the increased presence of citizens delivering aid at the railway stations along the rail line from Gevgelija to Tabanovce; the tragic death of 14 people run over by a train; and the pressure of people waiting at the southern border. These events prompted the Government to open additional check-up points along the southern and northern borders. This practice lasted for about three months, and then, on 19 August 2015 the Government, in accordance with the Law on Crisis Management, declared a 30-day crisis at the southern and northern borders. This state of crisis has been extended until 31 December 2017. This declaration created the possibility to build temporary camps i.e. transit centres which would be controlled by state institutions, unlike the aid coordinated by citizens. Several amendments were made to the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection at the same time, without the Government consulting experts. Instead of aligning the legislation with the European and international standards for human rights protection and the Convention related to the status of refugees of 1951, the amendments resulted in an increase of legal uncertainty for potential asylum seekers. The Government did not take the recommendations of CSOs and the Ombudsman’s Office which requested the removal of some of the amendments.

For the reasons mentioned above, it became necessary to develop a comprehensive understanding of the legal and political environment that asylum seekers face. Legis has carried out field and legal research on the access to rights and the protection of people recognized as refugees or migrants with emphasis on vulnerable categories such as women and children. The research was carried out in collaboration with the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture and the Department of the Rights of the Child within the Ombudsman’s Office with the aim of determining systematic and legal shortcomings, as well as suggesting solutions for improving the legal framework and the political approach to questions related to asylum/temporary protection seekers in the Republic of Macedonia.

For downloading the report, please click here.