Slovenia could resolve the problem of the “erased” soon

Monday 26, February 2007 LJUBLJANA, February 26 (UNHCR) – For almost 4,000 people, 26 February marks a sad event. It is the 15th anniversary of their deletion from the register of legal residency in Slovenia. In February 1992, they lost their status and, as a consequence, flats, employment, health insurance, […]

Monday 26, February 2007

LJUBLJANA, February 26 (UNHCR) – For almost 4,000 people, 26 February marks a sad event. It is the 15th anniversary of their deletion from the register of legal residency in Slovenia. In February 1992, they lost their status and, as a consequence, flats, employment, health insurance, pension rights and the chances to higher education.

For many years, UNHCR has encouraged the Slovene Government to find a solution for this group in accordance with Slovene Constitutional Court’s rulings for this group of people who are either stateless or potentially stateless meaning that their citizenship is unresolved.

“Whenever state borders are changed, there are individuals who end up at the wrong side with the wrong kind of documents, says Lloyd Dakin, UNHCR’s Regional Representative in Budapest. “In Slovenia, the problem is faced by a rather small group. There are less than 4,000, they speak Slovene, they have professional qualifications. Many of them grew up in Slovenia. With sufficient political will and the whole issue could be resolved quickly”, says Dakin.

“In 1992 the newly independent Republic of Slovenia deliberately erased some 30,000 legal residents from other parts of the former Yugoslavia from its residency registers,” says Neza Kogovsek, from the Peace Institute in Ljubljana the leading researcher on the “Erased” in Slovenia.

According to Kogovsek, there was a short window of opportunity when non-Slovenian residents could apply for citizenship: “But this was not publicly announced, nor were the concerned persons warned of the consequences.”

“Then, on 26 February 1992 they were erased from the registers and turned into illegal residents. They were not issued a decision, not even a notification,” says Kogovsek.

12,000 persons left immediately, 18,000 chose to stay in Slovenia. Out of these, 14,000 managed to regularize their status, following a number of Constitutional Court decisions, but 4,000 cases remain unresolved to date.

No one can say for sure how many “Erased” still live in Slovenia. Some left, some died. Matevz Krivic, legal representative to several “”Erased”” persons even knows of a few suicides.

Many “Erased” hold no ID documents at all, says Krivic. Ironically, the only paper that Slovenia is prepared to issue to them is the registration as tax payers, says Krivic. Some ended up completely stateless, some hold papers of a country they never lived in.

The public perception of the “Erased” is negative, they are often portrayed as intruders and complete foreigners. Therefore, most just try to blend in as best they can to survive. Only a small number of activists are brave enough to fight for their rights by legal proceedings or public activism.

The Study “The Erased” issued by the Ljubljana Peace Institute tells sad tales of people who ended up arrested and handcuffed, accused of illegal residence after 25 years in Slovenia and of couples who were torn apart because only one of them was a Slovene citizen. There are reports of people whose only home is Slovenia, but they are forced to name non-existent “home addresses” in other countries to obtain residence papers in Slovenia.

With the 15th anniversary approaching, Slovene media started reporting about dramatic cases of the “Erased”. One that made it to the headlines in Slovenia and in a few neighbouring states is that of the Berisha family. Alija Berisha, left his native Kosovo as a child to live Slovenia. After being “Erased”, he was deported to Albania, had to flee to Germany and has since them been moved between Slovenia and Germany several times together with his wife and five small children.

A women’s magazine in Slovenia ran the story of Dragica Lukic, an “Erased” Bosnian woman, who has lived in Slovenia for 22 years. She has two daughters, one has a mental disability. Without health insurance, Lukic has to pay every single examination and prescription for her children. She lives in a humid, mouldy flat, but without a legal status she has no access to social housing schemes.

Krivic knows of other tragic cases. There was a man of Serbian origin who lived in hiding for many years, as he could not regularize his status. In summer he would sleep in a friendly neighbour’s garden hut. He started feeling very sick but could not afford to see a doctor. Only when he collapsed, a Slovene woman took him to the hospital at her own expense. He was diagnosed cancer in the last stage and died only a few days later – at least in a clean hospital bed, says Krivic.

Melita H. Sunjic in Ljubljana, Slovenia