Paul Polansky: TO UNHCR, WITH LOVE

Paul Polansky's lastest book To UNHCR With Love is a joint publication of DIVUS and Jejune Ultima. The clear and straightforward poetry of Polansky represents the experiences of the Roma, Ashkalija, and Egyptians (RAE) in a dangerous situation in which they are trapped within the borders of state politics and pseudo problem-solvers UNHCR. In the book there are also illustrations by the Kosovo Romany refugees who spent four months of one summer in a parking lot on the Greek Macedonian border, and reportage by Romany journalists., Polansky lived in Prague and in other parts of the Czech Republic in the 1990s, published six books of poetry and a novel called The Storm, which played an integral role in revealing and publicizing information concerning the Nazi concentration camp for Roma in Lety., , Welcome to Limbo , Kosovo RAE Refugees and their 21st century hell, , , Paul Polansky has spent the last four years listening to the voices of the people in this book. In between compiling reports for various aid agencies, he sometimes transforms the story of the Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptians (RAE) of Kosovo into poems. The voices in these poems are theirs, punctuated by his own interjections; the drawings are theirs as well. This little book contains perhaps the grimmest chapter in a story which makes no sense., In April 1999, NATO bombed Kosovo. In June of 1999 Kosovo Albanian extremists bent on driving all non-Albanians out of the province burned down the homes of the people in this book. After two months in ”Internally Displaced Person” (IDP) camps, these people fled Kosovo for Macedonia in September 1999. They have been living in an officially orchestrated limbo for four years. , The suffering of the Kosovo Albanians at the hands of the Serbs has been well-documented. The media carried images of their suffering and Milosevic sits in the Hague because of those and other crimes. But the same suffering, when visited upon the RAE of Kosovo, has received no such media (or indeed military) response. I have personally spoken to more than one professional in the refugee field who didn’t even know that such a wave of Albanian ”revenge” had taken place. Some would say these matters are incomparable because what happened to the RAE happened on a smaller scale than the Kosovo Albanian exodus. And some are forced to conclude that human rights violations against ”gypsies” matter to almost no one, except to people like Paul Polansky. , Back in 1999, the people speaking in this book camped on the Kosovo-Macedonian border for eight days before the Macedonian government finally agreed to let them enter. Their flight and standoff at the border made the New York Times, to the embarrassment of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which had been charged with keeping the RAE in Kosovo as IDP’s At the time Macedonia did not even have the legislation in place to make it possible for these refugees to apply for asylum there. , When the Kosovo Albanians were fleeing the Serbs, the international community saw to it that at least some of them were brought to the US or other Western European countries. But when these Kosovo RAE escaped to Macedonia for the exact same reasons – houses burned down, relatives killed, threats of murder – they were told their option was to immediately return to the exact same villages they had just been burned out of in Kosovo. UN policy in the Kosovo protectorate states that assistance in rebuilding housing will only be given to those who return to the very same places which they have fled. So, for example, should an RAE family wish to return to Kosovo and live next door to their relatives in some other town than the one they left, the UN will not assist them. This bizarre policy may be an outgrowth of the stated intention of the international community to ”preserve” some semblance of a ”multiethnic society” in Kosovo. For the people speaking in this book, it renders the return to Kosovo impossible. This basic fact has not been grasped by those responsible for the policy for four years., The people in this book have been living in limbo. They have never been recognized as refugees. Their ”temporary leaves to remain” in Macedonia were extended a few months at a time over the years, always with the threat of their being deported back to Kosovo. They are not the only RAE to have fled; over the years other RAE from Kosovo drifted across the border to join them. Incredibly, some of these later refugees, in particular Albanian-speaking Ashkalija, were helped by the UNHCR to reach the US and Canada (rumor among the refugees has it that bribes were involved). None of the original refugees from September 1999 were helped to the West, especially not the Serbian- and Romanes-speaking Roma, whose chances of survival in Albanian-dominated Kosovo are the slimmest of all. But perhaps it is for this very reason that the UNHCR tells them to return, so they can be living proof of the policy that ”multiethnicity” is alive and well in Kosovo, everyone happily returned to where they fled from, problem solved., In May 2003 the RAE’s temporary leave to remain in Macedonia was finally cancelled and the barracks in the Roma ghetto town of Shuto Orizari where the refugees had been living were closed by the Macedonian government. The UNHCR cut off electricity and water to the facility and told the refugees it was time for them to move into ”private housing” in the ghetto. The refugees refused since they knew what ”private housing” meant – windowless cellars with no toilets and landlords who raise the rent from one day to the next., On May 19th the RAE packed up, pooled their resources, and hired buses to take them to Greece. They were stopped in the customs parking lot and prevented from entering Euroland. From May 19th until August 8th they lived outdoors under a broiling sun in that parking lot. UNHCR brought them only the barest minimum of water and food, only enough to prevent deaths, while insisting that the refugees either return to the ghetto town or to Kosovo; the UNHCR also refused to allow hygiene supplies to be delivered to them., The poems in this book are from those 12 weeks at the border, as are the drawings. But they really have been four years in the making, and the latest twist in the story, occurring at the time of printing of this book, does not bode well for the Kosovo RAE., After doing the bare minimum to make sure no one died, UNHCR issued an ultimatum: either be moved to the ”private housing,” or be left at the mercy of the Macedonian police. The refugees were told they would first be taken to a ”processing center” for 48 hours before being assigned to their private housing. They had been living in the parking lot for 12 weeks. Metaphorically speaking, they had been left out to dry for four years. Afraid that someone would soon die from the conditions in their border camp, they accepted., The ”processing center” is an abandoned factory in Kumanovo. People are expected to sleep on mattresses on the concrete floor, one right next to another. No privacy. Conditions are ripe for the spread of disease. It is impossible for the refugees to practice their necessary cultural restrictions with regard to the separation of genders under these conditions. The promise of 48 hours was an outright lie. Those who ”welcomed” them for processing told them they could expect to stay there at least a month., Victims of crimes for which they can expect no justice, the Kosovo RAE are being pushed into the arms of underworld traffickers by this inhumane treatment. Why are the UN restrictions on assisting returns to Kosovo so counter-productively rigid? What is wrong with the UNHCR in Macedonia? Why can’t it help these people move on to lives with dignity? , , , Gwendolyn Albert, Prague, Czech Republic, August 2003, ,
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english
Paul Polansky's lastest book To UNHCR With Love is a joint publication of DIVUS and Jejune Ultima. The clear and straightforward poetry of Polansky represents the experiences of the Roma, Ashkalija, and Egyptians (RAE) in a dangerous situation in which they are trapped within the borders of state politics and pseudo problem-solvers UNHCR. In the book there are also illustrations by the Kosovo Romany refugees who spent four months of one summer in a parking lot on the Greek Macedonian border, and reportage by Romany journalists.
Polansky lived in Prague and in other parts of the Czech Republic in the 1990s, published six books of poetry and a novel called The Storm, which played an integral role in revealing and publicizing information concerning the Nazi concentration camp for Roma in Lety.

Welcome to Limbo
Kosovo RAE Refugees and their 21st century hell


Paul Polansky has spent the last four years listening to the voices of the people in this book. In between compiling reports for various aid agencies, he sometimes transforms the story of the Roma, Ashkalija and Egyptians (RAE) of Kosovo into poems. The voices in these poems are theirs, punctuated by his own interjections; the drawings are theirs as well. This little book contains perhaps the grimmest chapter in a story which makes no sense.
In April 1999, NATO bombed Kosovo. In June of 1999 Kosovo Albanian extremists bent on driving all non-Albanians out of the province burned down the homes of the people in this book. After two months in ”Internally Displaced Person” (IDP) camps, these people fled Kosovo for Macedonia in September 1999. They have been living in an officially orchestrated limbo for four years.
The suffering of the Kosovo Albanians at the hands of the Serbs has been well-documented. The media carried images of their suffering and Milosevic sits in the Hague because of those and other crimes. But the same suffering, when visited upon the RAE of Kosovo, has received no such media (or indeed military) response. I have personally spoken to more than one professional in the refugee field who didn’t even know that such a wave of Albanian ”revenge” had taken place. Some would say these matters are incomparable because what happened to the RAE happened on a smaller scale than the Kosovo Albanian exodus. And some are forced to conclude that human rights violations against ”gypsies” matter to almost no one, except to people like Paul Polansky.
Back in 1999, the people speaking in this book camped on the Kosovo-Macedonian border for eight days before the Macedonian government finally agreed to let them enter. Their flight and standoff at the border made the New York Times, to the embarrassment of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which had been charged with keeping the RAE in Kosovo as IDP’s At the time Macedonia did not even have the legislation in place to make it possible for these refugees to apply for asylum there.
When the Kosovo Albanians were fleeing the Serbs, the international community saw to it that at least some of them were brought to the US or other Western European countries. But when these Kosovo RAE escaped to Macedonia for the exact same reasons – houses burned down, relatives killed, threats of murder – they were told their option was to immediately return to the exact same villages they had just been burned out of in Kosovo. UN policy in the Kosovo protectorate states that assistance in rebuilding housing will only be given to those who return to the very same places which they have fled. So, for example, should an RAE family wish to return to Kosovo and live next door to their relatives in some other town than the one they left, the UN will not assist them. This bizarre policy may be an outgrowth of the stated intention of the international community to ”preserve” some semblance of a ”multiethnic society” in Kosovo. For the people speaking in this book, it renders the return to Kosovo impossible. This basic fact has not been grasped by those responsible for the policy for four years.
The people in this book have been living in limbo. They have never been recognized as refugees. Their ”temporary leaves to remain” in Macedonia were extended a few months at a time over the years, always with the threat of their being deported back to Kosovo. They are not the only RAE to have fled; over the years other RAE from Kosovo drifted across the border to join them. Incredibly, some of these later refugees, in particular Albanian-speaking Ashkalija, were helped by the UNHCR to reach the US and Canada (rumor among the refugees has it that bribes were involved). None of the original refugees from September 1999 were helped to the West, especially not the Serbian- and Romanes-speaking Roma, whose chances of survival in Albanian-dominated Kosovo are the slimmest of all. But perhaps it is for this very reason that the UNHCR tells them to return, so they can be living proof of the policy that ”multiethnicity” is alive and well in Kosovo, everyone happily returned to where they fled from, problem solved.
In May 2003 the RAE’s temporary leave to remain in Macedonia was finally cancelled and the barracks in the Roma ghetto town of Shuto Orizari where the refugees had been living were closed by the Macedonian government. The UNHCR cut off electricity and water to the facility and told the refugees it was time for them to move into ”private housing” in the ghetto. The refugees refused since they knew what ”private housing” meant – windowless cellars with no toilets and landlords who raise the rent from one day to the next.
On May 19th the RAE packed up, pooled their resources, and hired buses to take them to Greece. They were stopped in the customs parking lot and prevented from entering Euroland. From May 19th until August 8th they lived outdoors under a broiling sun in that parking lot. UNHCR brought them only the barest minimum of water and food, only enough to prevent deaths, while insisting that the refugees either return to the ghetto town or to Kosovo; the UNHCR also refused to allow hygiene supplies to be delivered to them.
The poems in this book are from those 12 weeks at the border, as are the drawings. But they really have been four years in the making, and the latest twist in the story, occurring at the time of printing of this book, does not bode well for the Kosovo RAE.
After doing the bare minimum to make sure no one died, UNHCR issued an ultimatum: either be moved to the ”private housing,” or be left at the mercy of the Macedonian police. The refugees were told they would first be taken to a ”processing center” for 48 hours before being assigned to their private housing. They had been living in the parking lot for 12 weeks. Metaphorically speaking, they had been left out to dry for four years. Afraid that someone would soon die from the conditions in their border camp, they accepted.
The ”processing center” is an abandoned factory in Kumanovo. People are expected to sleep on mattresses on the concrete floor, one right next to another. No privacy. Conditions are ripe for the spread of disease. It is impossible for the refugees to practice their necessary cultural restrictions with regard to the separation of genders under these conditions. The promise of 48 hours was an outright lie. Those who ”welcomed” them for processing told them they could expect to stay there at least a month.
Victims of crimes for which they can expect no justice, the Kosovo RAE are being pushed into the arms of underworld traffickers by this inhumane treatment. Why are the UN restrictions on assisting returns to Kosovo so counter-productively rigid? What is wrong with the UNHCR in Macedonia? Why can’t it help these people move on to lives with dignity?


Gwendolyn Albert
Prague, Czech Republic
August 2003


The Negotiators


After several weeks the UNHCR
sent someone to negotiate
with the Gypsies
to find a solution.

Caroline and Blase showed up.
They were the ones who had run
the camp in Shutka,
the ones who had turned off
the water and electricity
and had stopped all aid.

Neither were in a mood to negotiate.
Only dictate.

They told the Roma
to pack up and behave
or they would be deported back to Kosovo.

Musa, the Gabeli leader, who never
lost his cool or raised his voice
tried to explain his people’s plight.

Caroline called him a politician
called herself an humanitarian.
She told him there was only one solution
and to stop procrastinating
like Milosevic.

While many Gypsies waved empty water bottles
Musa tried to convince her to bring more aid
or to let other NGOs bring more aid to them.

Caroline was quite unmoved by the demonstration.
She told Musa if he wanted more water
to take his people back to Skopje.

She said they were
illegally
occupying
Macedonian government property
and the police
would forcibly
remove them.

Someone shouted out
they wanted to go to
America
to be free.

Caroline yelled back
that Gypsies
did not meet the criteria
for America
or any country

not even their own.


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