On 26 June 2015, a Roundtable on the situation and challenges with undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Macedonia took place in Skopje as part of the Twinning Light Project "Promotion of the Ombudsman competences and enhancement of its capacities". The event was organized by the Ombudsman Office of Macedonia in cooperation with the Austrian Ombudsman Board as well as the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights. It gathered international experts and representatives from both state authorities and civil society and enabled an exchange of knowledge and experiences between Macedonia and the EU.
After a contribution by BIM experts Moritz Birk and Tiphanie Crittin on the fight against torture and ill treatment, the discussion offered a comparative overview of the situation in Macedonia, Austria and Slovenia. Anica Tomsic Stojkovska from the Macedonian National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) for preventing torture brought an analysis of the current situation in Macedonia, while Daniela Grabovac, Austrian NPM, explained the situation of health care and legal aid to migrants and asylum seekers in Austria. Peter Kastner from the Austrian Ombudsman Board and Ivan Selih, Deputy Human Rights Ombudsman in Slovenia, shared their experiences about the national situation and standards for protection in their respective countries. Following this, Ivona Todorovska, member of the CPT, contributed her expertise on the implementation of the standards of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe. The roundtable continued and closed with an analysis of the role played by the Macedonian state authorities (Bratka Dejanoska-Milchevska from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Dejan Ivkovski from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy), non-state actors (Mersiha Smailovic from the NGO Legis) and international actors (Tihomir Nikolovski from UNHCR) in the protection of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers.
This cycle of knowledge exchange that began with the roundtable in June continued from 13-16 July 2015 with a four-day Study Visit of Macedonian representatives to Austria (NPM Counselor Anica Tomsic-Stojkovska, NPM Counselor Merita Aliu-Alili, State Counselor Slavica Dimitrievska and State Counselor Kiril Efremov), in order to share experiences and best practices on the monitoring of detention places for migrants and asylum seekers and on the prevention of torture in places of deprivation of liberty.
On the first day of the visit, after having been welcomed by Peter Fichtenbauer, Chairperson at the Austrian Ombudsman Board, and Hannes Tretter, the Scientific Director of Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights, the participants were introduced to the legal framework of fundamental rights of foreigners and the asylum system in Austria. The second and third day were dedicated to the visit of the police detention centre Roßauer Lände and the Federal Support Facility in Thalham during regular visits of the commissions of the Austrian NPM. The last day focused on the debriefing of the previous visits, insights learned for the work in Macedonia and was completed by contributions on the basic support system and on forced returns of irregular migrants in Austria.
Before leaving Vienna, the Macedonian representatives noted the professionalism of the Austrian NPM team and insisted on the importance of such activities that “contribute to a better and complete accomplishment of the NPM mandate in the domain of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.