NOTES FROM THE FIRST MEETING OF THE
„ COORDINATION FOR STATELESSNESS IN THE REPUBLIC OF CROATIA“
On 14 June 2019 in the premises of the Office of the Ombudsman in Zagreb, Civil Rights Project Sisak (CRP Sisak) organized the first Coordination meeting on the topic of solving statelessness within the project „Prevention of statelessness in the Republic of the Croatia.”
The main objective of the meeting was establishing future cooperation in dealing with solving statelessness, raising awareness, exchange the information about this topic and collecting statistical data between all stakeholders.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the Office of the Ombudsman,Tena Šimonović Einwalter, Igor Lekić and Monika Čavlović, representatives of the UNHCR Croatia, Kristina Benić Belavić, representatives of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) Višnja Stanić Šajatović, representatives of the Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities, Aleksa Đokić and Dženana Kalamujić, Milena Čalić in front of the Serbian National Council, representatives of the associations “Kali Sara”, Ivana Karamarko and Nuša Rosić, representatives of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Dražen Klarić, Petra Lovasić from the Centre for Social Welfare Rijeka, lawyer Ivana Canjuga, Ivan Jakić from the Croatia Employment Service, professor of the Faculty of the Law in Zagreb Mrs. Snježana Vasiljević, and President of the Council of the Roma National Minority in Sisak-Moslavina County, Stanoje Nikolić.
Professor of the Faculty of the Law in Zagreb Mr. Frane Stanišić, Juliette Delescluse, from the Medecins du Monde and Natalija Havelka from the association Center for Peace Osijek informed in advance that they could not come to the meeting.
Milana Kreća, President of CRP Sisak, started the meeting. Tena Šimonović Einwalter held a greeting speech and reminded all participants that in several reports by the Ombudsman, including the last one, they wrote about the problem of acquiring citizenship by the people who lived in Croatia for over 10 years. She said that the Constitutional Court gave its opinion about this issue and stated that the provisions of the Croatian Citizenship Act, which prescribed the conditions for naturalization of foreigners into Croatian citizenship, had to adequately interpret if it was a case of receiving Croatian citizenship of persons who were nationals of the former state, Yugoslavia. This is a legal situation that has transitional elements, as well as when Croatian citizenship is sought by a foreigner in the Republic of Croatia (RoC) due to the collapse of the former state, and who is permanently residing in Croatia with his or her whole family,then the question of citizenship becomes a question of human rights and their protection. Therefore, in the report of the Ombudsman for 2018, the Ministry of the Interior was given recommendations aimed at improving the procedures for acquiring citizenship. The Office will continue to work on this issue and support the initiative seeking to improve the legal framework and practical solutions.
Kristina Benić Belavić greeted the participants and explained the UNHCR’s mandate for statelessness. UNHCR campaign Ibelong from 2014 has a goal to eradicate statelessness till 2024, and UNHCR has proposed 10 points on the basis of which each country can adopt action plans to address this issue.
UNHCR will hold a meeting of the Executive Committee in October this year, during which the issue of statelessness will be highlighted.
Regarding the activities of UNHCR, they emphasize that they have good cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia,
and carry out activities through a smaller project with the CRP within which this Coordination is formed, and thus trying to reduce the problem of statelessness.
Anita Košar Ulemek from CRP Sisak gave a brief overview of the issue of statelessness in Republic of Croatia. She said that the term of statelessness was not mentioned at all in the Act on Free Legal Aid. In the Act on Foreigners, the same term is mentioned only four times while in Act on Compulsory Health Insurance and Health Care of Foreigners in the Republic of Croatia, it is mentioned a few times. Likewise, the Law on International and Temporary Protection mentions the same term only in the context of international protection seekers. In addition, the Croatian Citizenship Act also has very little use of the term of statelessness, so it can be concluded that the procedures around this problem are not clearly and precisely established.
Dragan Milić, CRP Sisak, talked about the procedures of providing legal aid in practice, statelessness cases and cases at risk of loss of citizenship. He said there were more de facto people, who are not enrolled anywhere, and that in 2018 about 100 entries have been made in the citizenship books of Republic of Serbia and BiH.
The problem is with people who do not have any old identification documents, so the consulates of the Republic of Serbia and BiH will not issue a travel document even though they have obtained the citizenship certificate and birth certificate for the same persons.
A major problem has been noted with members of the Roma national minority in Primorsko-Goranska County, who are originally from Kosovo and to whom neither Kosovo nor the Kosovo Coordination Administration in Serbia can issue a travel document, while they have established identity in the Republic of Croatia. Therefore, these people have citizenship but cannot get a travel document and cannot regulate their status in the Republic of Croatia. The Consul of the Republic of Serbia has stated that they expect about 200 negative decisions. The conclusion is that these people should return to their area of origin (Kosovo, Republic of Serbia), which is impossible both financially and because of the interruption of relations with the countries of origin and the loss of their status in the Republic of Croatia. These people live in the Republic of Croatia mainly since 1999 when they left Serbia and Kosovo, while in RoC they have a temporary residence and in order to regulate their permanent residence they need to have a travel document. Similar situation exists with BiH citizens.
Milana Kreća adds that in these cases the Zagreb Declaration on Access to Personal Documents and Registration from 2011 should be applied.
The representative of the Social Welfare Center Rijeka after these information stated that they had very few registered cases in their records but she was ready to cooperate and exchange information on recorded cases of statelessness.
Višnja Stanić Šajatović, MOI RoC, Department for Migration and Citizenship, stated that the MOI was also trying to solve such problems. She added that the procedure of such persons was not defined and that the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia came to such persons when one of these persons went to the Ministry of Interior with a request to regulate the status in the Republic of Croatia.
She mentioned that the 1954 and 1961 Convention, as well as the 2011 Zagreb Declaration, should be applied in resolving such cases. She noted that the MOI, upon request of a person, sought information on the same person from the country he/she comes from, and if that person did not belong to that state then he/she could be defined as a stateless person. However, it is very often case that upon the official MOI request, the bodies of other states are silent, do not provide information and show no interest in solving the problem. She added that the Ministry of the Interior in the action plans for the implementation of the National Roma Inclusion Strategy mentioned this issue.
Furthermore, Anita Košar Ulemek mentioned two individual cases F.V. and B.D., for which we have determined that they were stateless persons, but still they could not be solved. Višnja Stanić Šajatović stated that she was familiar with these cases, but that in all such cases we had to observe the private interests of individual cases as well as public interests.
Aleksa Đokic from the Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities stated that their office worked extensively on the Draft Action Plan for the Implementation of the National Roma Inclusion Strategy from 2013 to 2020, whose adoption was expected at a session of the Croatian Government before the summer break.
He says that obviously a wider circle of people needs clarification of what “status issues” imply, as stated in the introduction to the recent UNHCR study and as an example cited a recent survey of the database where there are a higher percentage of persons without documents from the Koprivnica-Križevci County. For the sake of visibility of Coordination’s work, he proposed to present it at the meeting of the Commission for Monitoring the National Roma Inclusion Strategy for the period 2013-2020.
Igor Lekić from the Office of the Ombudsman stated that the Office participated in the drafting of the Action Plan for the Implementation of the National Roma Inclusion Strategy from 2013-2020 for the period 2019-2020. He thinks that through the Act on Foreigners this question may be solved, i.e. the law can regulate these problems. He referred to the problem Dragan Milic pointed out and he thinks that an efficient state administration could make exceptions to such cases because it is about people, who have come to Croatia as refugees and have been in the Republic of Croatia for 20 and more years.
Višnja Stanić Šajatović agreed, although she noted that the existing legal framework had exceptions.
Milana Kreca also believes that the amendment to the Act on Foreigners is a good way.
She said that the work and co-operation with the Ministry of Interior has been good, but noted that the changes so far did not fully cover those persons because they always lacked the fulfillment of some of the conditions of the Act on Foreigners, and yet they have been for many years in the Republic of Croatia. She added that something could be achieved based on co-operation in the region because, for example, the MOI of the Republic of Serbia and the MOI of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by themselves, cannot solve these problems. Dragan Milić suggested that Ombudsman in cooperation with Ombudsman from Republic of Serbia and Ombudsman from Bosnia and Hercegovina could try to find a solution.
At the end, Tena Simonovic Einwalter concludes that from this debate, we can draw three questions; the first is national standardization of the issue of statelessness, the second interpretation of national standardization and the third country cooperation in the region.
Concerning the Zagreb Declaration of 2011, it is very difficult to address the same issues because the same declaration is an expression of political will and can serve to conclude simple operational bilateral agreements, which also seems to be a good solution.
Milana Kreća, in connection with the agreement on further coordination of the Coordination, proposes that the meetings take place quarterly. In addition, CRP will form an email list for sharing information and experiences, and future meetings will be some thematic sessions about major issues.
Višnja Stanić Šajatović proposed to investigate the options, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, on how to enter into bilateral agreements with the Republic of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Office of the Ombudsman proposed that the MOI should give an initiative.
Finally, Milan Kreća thanked to all participants, reminding everyone that further cooperation and exchange of information would take place via a common e-mail list.
- Create a common email list that will include all stakeholders
- The next Coordination meeting will be planned to be held in the second half of September 2019
- The call for participation at the second meeting of the Coordination will be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, and to the Embassies of the Republic of Serbia and BiH
- Submission of request for participation of Coordination representatives at the fourth Working Group of the Commission for Monitoring the National Roma Inclusion Strategy for the period 2013-2020
- Written request of CRP Sisak to the Office of the Ombudsman with the explanation of the problem of identification of Serb and Bosnian citizens in the Republic of Croatia for coordination with the offices of the ombudsmen of these countries
In Zagreb, 14 June 2019