FECL 35 (June 1995):

SWEDISH POLICE TEST YUGOSLAVIAN BORDER CONTROLS

Since the end of last year, the authorities of the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Serbia and Montenegro) have been denying entry to their own nationals whom western European states attempt to return after the rejection of their asylum applications. The new practice is based on a government ordinance of 16 November 1994.

The measure was bad news for Sweden, which is trying to get rid of thousands of FRY nationals - most of them ethnic Albanians - who are not considered to be eligible for refugee status.

This is why, at the turn of the year, Swedish authorities decided to test whether it is possible to circumvent the FRY ordinance. In February, two police officers were sent out to test the border control of the FRY. They were "escorting" a Kosovo-Albanian deportee, who served as an involuntary guinea pig. A police memorandum shows how Swedish police, using fairly unconventional methods, are trying to smuggle deportees into the FRY, while at the same time hunting smugglers bringing boat-people to Sweden.

 

Denied residence in spite of Swedish spouse

Sabedin Lekiqi is an ethnic Albanian from the FRY province of Kosovo. He came to Sweden as an asylum seeker and has been married to a Swede for more than a year. Yet, both his application for asylum and for residence permit on family grounds were rejected.

It is not clear which of the authorities ordered the "test deportation" of Lekiqi. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Police are each blaming the other. What is clear, is that the Police of Karlstad were ordered to carry out the deportation, according to instructions and with logistic support from "Stockholm". This arises from a detailed memorandum on the deportation attempt written by the two Karlstad police escorting Lekiqi. The following quotations are literally translated from the memorandum.

 

The beginning of a troublesome journey

The two police flew to Vienna with Lekiqi via Copenhagen, but their plane was late, so they missed the connecting flight to Sofia and were forced to stay in Vienna overnight:

"The next problem was that the Austrian police did not agree to us staying in Vienna, because they had not been informed that we were coming to Vienna with a depo [deportee]. We were running the risk of being sent back to Copenhagen. An Austrian Airlines employee promised his best to help us. A little later, he came back and he had the following solution to our problem. We could stay in Vienna, but we were not allowed to leave the transit zone [of Vienna airport] and we were responsible for guarding Lekiqi. We managed to get two sleeping rooms in the transit halls where we were able to rest".

 

Testing the Bulgarians

On the following day, the three men arrived at Sofia:

"We were able to pass the Bulgarian passport control without any problem. We said that we had a depo with us and that we were going to the Serbian border. The depo was not asked to pay a visa fee. We announced our arrival at the airport because we wanted to test whether the Bulgarians would say anything. Before travelling we had agreed not to announce our arrival in advance by fax, in order to give no chance to the Bulgarians to deny us entry. Should they have any objections, once we were actually standing in front of them, we would expect to wriggle out of difficulty by saying that it was not our fault that no announcement had been made in advance. Furthermore, for the same reason, we did not mention our contact at the airport police".

 

Helpful Bulgarian taxi drivers

The further journey by taxi to the border of the FRY was well organised, it seems:

"The taxi drivers contacted from Sweden awaited us outside the airport . . . "

"Lekiqi refused to follow us to the border, but was asked to sit down in the car and be quiet. He did this with some protest".

"We drove to the border in two taxis because one car was to pass the border and head for Dimitrograd . . . We need to keep the other taxi at the Bulgarian side, in case something happened - the border zone is known as a so-called unsafe area due to the mafia and other criminal elements".

"We arrived at the border crossing-point of Kalotina/Gardiena . . . and jumped the car queue with the help of the taxi drivers' contacts. We thereby saved an estimate two hours of queuing and reached the Bulgarian exit control. The Bulgarian border police approved Lekiqi's passport and let him through. At earlier executions [of deportation orders] possible difficulties have arisen at that stage. In such situations Swedish escorts have sometimes tried to get to the Serbian side with the help of the Bulgarian police in order to alert the Serbs to receive the deportees. This measure is not without some risk. On some occasions the Serbs have broken off negotiations by threat of arms and Norwegian colleagues narrowly escaped being arrested and taken to Belgrade. We had already decided that we would leave this border crossing-point at once and go to another one, if the Bulgarians showed any hesitation. We had settled on an alternative crossing-point 70 km to the south".

Once we were at the last Bulgarian control, there remained no risk that Lekiqi would back out, since the whole situation in the border zone with all the armed police and militia men does not encourage anyone to try to be too clever".

 

Failed border crossing

As planned by the two diligent Karlstad officers, one of the Bulgarian taxi drivers took Lekiqi to the "Serbian side". But after more than an hour, the taxi returned to the Bulgarian crossing-point with Lekiqi. The Serbian border police had let through Lekiqi, but the Customs had cancelled his entry visa and sent him back.

According to Lekiqi, the Serbian Customs officers denied him entry because they found out that he was a Kosovo-Albanian. He further claimed that Serbian police verbally and physically abused him and that they had threatened with sending the police to his family. When he told them that he was married to a Swede, they stamped his passport and told him to return to Sweden.

 

Home, sweet home

After this failed adventurous attempt to get rid of their deportee, the two brave Karlstad police apparently decided it was safer to refrain from a second try at another crossing-point and brought Lekiqi back to Sweden, via Sofia:

"We obtained air tickets for all three of us for Friday and left Sofia on 16.20 hours local time. Lekiqi's 30 hours visa [for Bulgaria] was arranged for by a contact of ours at the airport".

It does not say in the memorandum whether or how this "contact of ours" was compensated for his services.

 

Sources: Ahasveros (a FARR-newsletter on Yugoslavia) No.2/95; Pro memoria of the Karlstad Police authorities, 11.2.95.