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Discrimination of Albanians in Serbia reaches US Secretary of State

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American Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been sent a letter by two US senators over the situation for ethnic Albanians in the Presevo Valley, where researchers and human rights groups have sounded the alarm about their “administrative ethnic cleansing” from the civil registry.

Ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovic, and Medvegja have been illegally and systemically removed from the Serbian civil registry to over 6,000 citizens over the last few years. This has removed the right of Albanians to vote, access healthcare and education, buy and sell property and benefit from state services.

On Tuesday, the news of the letter was made public by the political advisor to the Prime Minister for Presheve, Medvegje and Bujanoc and former mayor of Presheve, Ardita Sinani.

“In the letter addressed to the Secretary of State of the United States, Mr Blinken, for the Presevo Valley, Senators ask the Secretary of State that the issue of Albanians of the Valley be dealt with in every communication or meeting with Serbian authorities,” she wrote on Facebook.

“The facts of state discrimination by Serbia towards Albanians in the Valley are enhanced there, with special emphasis on the passivisation of addresses as an administrative method of ethnic cleansing. It is also required to implement the Seven Point Plan approved by the Serbian government on June 4, 2013.,” she continued.

Sinanai added that according to the Senators, this plan is the diplomatic path, the right resolution of legitimate demands of ethnic Albanians in the Presevo Valley and the key to stability and lasting and long-term peace in the region.

She continued that Albanians in Serbia must be treated with the same rights as Serbs enjoy in Kosovo, adding that the Serbian minority in Kosovo has “more advanced rights than any minority in Europe.”

Over almost a decade of research found that over 6,000 Albanians were removed from state records in what the Helsinki Committee called “administrative ethnic cleansing”. Research conducted by academic Flora Ferati Sachesenmaier included the testimonies of many residents and former residents, analysis of historical voter lists, and reams of official documents.

The data shows that according to state statistics, Albanians have decreased by up to 71% in some areas, although they still physically live there.

Residents say Serbian authorities sent state officials to verify their addresses, but these individuals would not actually visit the address and would instead report back that the property was empty. Entire families would then be removed from the civil registry, with no route for appeal.

The letter, sent to Blinken, noted that the discrimination of ethnic Albanians in this part of southern Serbia has been documented by local authorities, international institutions, and the US State Department. It also noted that on 10 May 2023, the European Parliament adopted its resolution on the Commission’s Country Report for Serbia, in which it calls on Serbia to “cease all discriminatory practices and targeting especially the passivisation of the residential addresses of citizens of Albanian ethnicity.”

It continues that while the seven-point plan was created to resolve the issue, there has been “almost no progress”. The letter was signed by Senator Gary C. Peters and Joni K. Ernst.

Albanians living in the region have asked that the issue of their removal from the region be included in the EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

Chairman of the Albanian National Council Ragmi Mustafi said in 2022, that there must be a solution for the systematic discrimination they face at the hands of Serbian authorities.

“What is important for us, within the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, is to address the issue of the Presevo Valley. We hope that the other steps in a programmatic and systematic approach will find a comprehensive solution, which means including the political-legal issue of the Albanians of the Presevo Valley.

Reciprocity is important to us. Reciprocity means equality, and it means treating the rights of minorities symmetrically,” he said.

The European Commission, while enforcing sanctions on Kosovo for the situation with ethnic Serbs in north Kosovo, said it is merely monitoring the situation in southern Serbia.

“We are monitoring the situation in light of the commitments taken in the framework of the accession negotiations, particularly those related to the rights of persons belonging to national minorities,” a Commission spokesperson said last year.

The Serbian government denies the accusations of administrative ethnic cleansing and does not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

(Alice Taylor

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