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July 2, 2020
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Kefaet and Selami: Deported to Kosovo during 48 hours

Plemetina, Kosovo, 14.5.2011 12:49, (ROMEA)
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Kefaet and Selami Prizreni are brothers. Kefaet was born in 1984 into a Roma family in Prizren, Kosovo. Four years later his family left the country for security reasons and found refuge from the threat of conflict in Essen, Germany. Selami was born there several months later. Both brothers actively devoted themselves to music from an early age and made their first studio recordings as adolescents.

In 2010 things looked good for the brothers. They were waiting to sign a contract with a well-known record company and to go on a hip-hop tour. Then in March of last year they were both deported to Kosovo from one day to the next. They are living there today against their will.

Despite this blow from the German state, the brothers believe there will be a happy ending to their story, and are doing their best to actively contribute to improving the situation of the Roma in Kosovo. They are currently implementing a project they designed with funding from UNICEF. The aim of the project is to encourage young Roma people in two selected Roma localities to express themselves through hip hop and rap and to develop their natural talent.

Prizreni brothers: Rollin hopp

News server interviewed the brothers in Plemetina:

Q: As Roma refugees from Kosovo living in Essen, did you succeed in becoming part of society there?

Kefaet: When we came to Germany, they put us in ordinary social housing and we lived there almost three years. Then we moved into a rented apartment and basically started to do well in Germany. My parents had work, my brother and I went to school, everything was peaceful - but then they double-crossed us. A social worker came and told my parents that we had received a letter saying we had to immediately leave the country. We never actually saw this letter, but we left Germany anyway. That was in about 1993.

Q: So that was before the war in Kosovo?

Kefaet: Yeah, the war had not started yet. We moved to Holland. After 10 days there, we received notification that we had been deceived. We returned to Germany, but we had to request asylum there all over again. Once again we were living in a social apartment, once again it took us several years to find our own rental.

Q: Why had you left Kosovo in 1988?

Kefaet: People in our neighborhood told my parents we should leave Kosovo because the future for Roma people there would be very hard.

Selami: The Albanians were already attacking Roma families directly in their homes. Mom was pregnant with me and she had two other children.

Kefaet: People who knew us told us we should leave immediately. They took up a collection for us to pay for our trip.

Q: How was it for the two of you in Germany?

Selami: Do you mean in school? Good Lord! Let's just say we were wild kids. I went to a 10-year school but I didn't graduate, I made it to 8th grade only. Later I went back to finish. I was 18 when I got a letter from the Essen town hall saying that if I didn't start working and paying taxes they would deport me from Germany, so I had to stop going to school and start working. I started at McDonald’s, then worked at various jobs in Germany, basically just because of that letter.

Q: In the end they deported you from Germany anyway. What was that like?

Kefaet: It happened at 6 AM. I had come home from a concert at about 4 AM and gone to sleep. Two hours later there were suddenly six cops in our apartment yelling at us: "Get dressed immediately, we don't have time! Bring your most important things, we're going to the station! You have to be in court!" So we got dressed and asked what was going on and my mother made a scene: "Who are you? Why have you broken into our place?" They would say nothing more except that they would tell us everything at the station. So they took us to the police and we waited for two hours in a cell to go to court. That was definitely against the rules - usually they give people being returned to Kosovo a minimum of two weeks to prepare for departure, to let those close to them know what has happened, but for us it was different. Everything happened over the course of two days. They locked us up in jail, there was a hearing, they drove us to the airport, and we were suddenly in Prishtina.

Q: How is it possible that they sent you to Kosovo? Did you not fulfill some conditions?

Kefaet: As far as we can tell, they had no right to do it. My brother was working and so was I, but for a lower salary because I was working for a nonprofit, and I was also on my last six months of social benefits. That was probably the reason they sent me to Kosovo. I was constantly looking for work. I had all the necessary stamps from the employers I applied to. Every week I sent the Labor Office a list of the addresses of the businesses where I had sought work, and the stamps, to prove I wasn't a deadbeat.

Q: What was the return to Kosovo like?

Kefaet: For me it was a culture shock. When you come from Essen to a small town like Prizren, you feel like you're on a farm. Our entire family is still in Germany and they are terribly concerned. In the beginning they sent us money so we could survive here, but now they are starting to have their own financial problems. Dad is thinking of selling his car to help us, but if he sells the car, he won't be able to drive to work.

Selami Prizreni (FOTO: Lukáš Houdek)

Q: Did you receive any warning that you would be deported?

Kefaet: No, no warning, nothing. They just came to our home, said they had let us know a year and half before that they might be sending us to Kosovo, and said the moment for us to go had now come. We didn't have the opportunity to speak with our lawyers, we didn't have the right to make a single phone call from prison.

Q: What was it like at the airport? Were you the only people deported?

Kefaet: No. After arriving at the airport we saw about 40 vans full of families. Everyone had to sign a document that the laws had been explained to them and that they were banned from returning to Germany. Everyone signed the papers.

Selami: Except my brother and I.

Q: Selami, you were born in Germany. Don't you have German citizenship?

Selami: That's the joke. About three days after we were deported a law was passed that everyone born and raised in Germany has the right to a German passport. However, because I am in Kosovo, I can't pick up the passport in person. I can't go anywhere with a Kosovo passport, only to Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. That's why we traveled on our old Yugoslav passports, the blue ones, to Belgrade to turn them in for Serbian ones, we are doing our best to make money to get out of Kosovo. People are waiting for us to get back. Before they deported us I was supposed to sign a contract with a record company.

Kefaet: Yeah, me too. 2010 was our year. We were just about to sign a contract to start selling our CDs and make professional videos.

Selami: I was about to go on my first tour of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. That all had to be canceled because I'm not there.

Q: What do your parents do?

Kefaet: Mom has a certificate in goldsmithing, she makes art objects out of gold. In her free time she devotes a lot of energy to helping Roma people who came from Kosovo to Germany. She tells them their rights, sends them to the doctor. She's been doing that for almost 30 years. Whenever someone new turns up they come to us and Mom helps them get into the system and settle down.

Q: What was your life like before you were deported? Were you having success with your music?

Selami: We started with music really early. Michael Jackson started it (laughs). I was five years old when I started dancing. At 10 I started break dancing. I traveled all over Germany, I was in battles and stuff. At 15 my brother and I were doing music professionally. At 17 I started collaborating with Gangster Lu, the boss of the company that wants to sign a contract with me. I did my best, as a musician, to get on my own feet and make a living. It was slowly succeeding.

Kefaet: When they threw my brother and I out of Germany we had our own label, we had set up our own studio where less well-known rappers recorded their compositions, we helped them take their first steps. Even though we are in Kosovo, we are continuing our work on our own label through internet and phone, it's still going. I don't want to abandon it, it's mine, I can't abandon it. Before I left, I was starting to have real success, I met important people like Soulja Boy or 50 Cent, I worked as an assistant during his tour. I'm not going to throw that away just because I'm in Kosovo. Moreover, I have two children back in Germany, and I am doing my best to show them I can do something.

Kefaet Prizreni (FOTO: Lukáš Houdek)

Q: How long have you been here in Kosovo?

Kefaet: It was 17 March 2010 when we came here. It's been more than a year now.

Q: Did they take care of you after you came to Prishtina?

Kefaet: No, after we landed they left us at the airport. Some guys from a nonprofit did come to tell us we should call this number or go to this address if we need help. They told us they could pay us some sort of benefit for six months, help us find an apartment and reintegrate into society insofar as that is possible, but I refused their help. My mother's brother was supposed to be waiting for me, she had agreed with him that we would live with him. He wasn't there. Luckily, however, other Roma had flown there with us who knew my mother, so we all took a taxi together to Prizren where her family lives - but overall it was a terrible shock. When you've lived your whole life in a town like Essen and then you make it to Prishtina, where you see nothing but the plains and those gigantic mountains, your jaw drops and you just think: "God, what's happened?!" Then I told myself: "You won't break down, you're a man. Find the warrior within you and go to Prizren!"

Q: What were your first impressions of Prizren, your new home?

Kefaet: It was about 10 PM. We had never seen a Roma settlement before. Never in our lives. We had just heard romantic stories about the unforgettable experiences of our parents, of people we knew from celebrations and weddings. Suddenly you're going into the settlement and what you have before you is basically a slum. You see the houses, destroyed by the war, with people still living in them. When you open the door to one of those houses, you can hear the wind rush inside. You can heat a house like that all you want, you don't have a chance of keeping it warm.

Q: How did your uncle welcome you? Was he glad to see you after all those years?Kefaet: The last time I saw him I was four years old, he put my parents and I on the train. I didn't remember what he looked like. Now he's living in the house that belonged to my parents, so it's essentially my house, but he told us we could only stay there a maximum of two or three days, then we would have to find our own accommodation.

Selami: Well, what he basically told us was: "Your mother may be my sister, but I don't know you. You're nobody to me. I can't let you stay here. Boys, I'm terribly sorry, I love my sister, but I can't love you."

Kefaet: That was like a slap in the face. I wasn't able to speak. If I had opened my mouth I would have argued with him. I kept quiet and in three days we managed to find accommodation elsewhere in the settlement.

Q: Now you are living in the capital. How did you get to Prishtina?

Kefaet: Thanks to my mother. After six months she decided she couldn't take it anymore, she got on a plane and came to see us for five months. She really helped us and just like in Germany, she helped many Roma people here get their Serbian passports so they would have more options.

Q: In Prishtina you have started to actively work for the community, you have started your own project teaching break dancing and hip hop. How did that all start?

Kefaet: We were helped with that mainly by Charlotte Bohl and Sami Mustafa, a Roma filmmaker, who is making a documentary about us from the moment we landed in Prishtina. He told us there was an opportunity to apply for a grant for our own project, so we took advantage of that.

Selami: First we had a general discussion about hip hop. Then they asked us what we thought about hip hop in Kosovo. So we gave them our opinion. When you turn on the television here, you see people doing their best to play at being gangsters with big, souped-up cars, but they don't know what hip hop is about. They don't know it's a culture. They just know the music. Sami Mustafa and the others suggested we bring this to the youth, tell them what hip hop really is. Our whole project was born in two days.

Kefaet: It's brilliant to see the children from the Roma communities showing their talent. They take it terribly seriously. We are really looking forward to this process of helping them to develop their skills. However, we're also doing our best to turn this project into a money-maker so we can all get out of Kosovo for good. It's not possible to live here.

The Deportation of Roma from Germany to Kosovo

In April 2010 Germany and Kosovo signed an agreement to repatriate 14 000 refugees. Kosovo undertook to receive back those who had traveled to Germany during the war in the 1990s and who had not yet managed to acquire residence permits there. The vast majority of refugees who were to be deported or displaced from Germany are Roma people (10 000 of them).

This agreement allegedly fulfills all international standards for the handling of refugees and takes into account all humanitarian aspects. Despite such claims, international organizations involved in the issue of human rights, migration and refugees (including the Council of Europe) have labeled the situation unbearable. These organizations base their conclusions on the personal testimonies of deportees, whether they be cases of the German authorities committing brutality against refugees during deportation or case of the living standard of the refugees after their return to Kosovo. The country is absolutely unprepared to receive and subsequently integrate the returnees, as it lacks both financial and organizational capacity. The majority of deported Roma do not enjoy basic rights in Kosovo such as access to educat on, employment or health care.

Seven months after these agreements were concluded with Kosovo, the Conference of State-Level Interior Ministers in Germany issued a recommendation that the repatriations be restricted to a minimum number of deportees and approved the option for providing these families with residence permits for humanitarian reasons. However, it is up to state-level authorities and local authorities to decide to take advantage of this option. In reality, only a negligible percentage of Roma refugees have succeeded in acquiring residency.

An estimated one-third of the Roma people who were deported from various countries back to Kosovo were returned on a basis of violent, forced deportation. International organizations recommend supporting only voluntary returns. You will learn more about the deportations of Roma people in our future articles.

"Roma Luck" on the outskirts of Tirana to report from postwar Kosovo

Gwendolyn Albert, Lukáš Houdek, Lukáš Houdek, Zdenka Kainarová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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