Rights of returnees on International Refugee Day: Paramount but an unresolved issue

Today is International Refugee Day. According to statistics of the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees, there are over 200,000 displaced persons from Kosovo. Almost two decades after the conflict there are still eight collective centres in Kosovo. Although a paramount issue, the return of refugees does not even come close to a quality solution. Since 2000, UNHCR has registered 27,792 voluntary returnees to Kosovo amongst non-majority community members. The Serbian Government Office for Kosovo registers just 1.9% sustainable, or long-term returnees – this equates to 4,000 returnees. The return of refugees is only viable in rural areas and is hampered by numerous problems – lack of security and economic sustainability, occupied property and poor living conditions, claimed the Office.

The State Department in last year’s Human Rights Report for Kosovo also warned of these problems, while confirming that violence against displaced persons is an essential human rights violation.

The return in some parts of Kosovo were burdened by security incidents or the reluctance of the local community to accept returnees from the minority community, claimed the report.

UNHCR also reported „significant delays“ in assisting the reintegration of spontaneous returnees.

The Office for Kosovo today also claimed Suncana Dolina (Sunny Valley) as one of their most significant returnee projects that will accommodate up to 300 families.

Acknowledging that „the implementation of the Sunny Valley (Sunčana dolina) project, which will ensure the conditions for the sustainable return of approximately 300 families,“ they, however, reported no other details on the either deadline or the current project phase.

The planned returnee site is located in Mali Zvecan, in the municipality of Zvecan The project was announced in 2016, and reported to be completed within a year and a half, or „in about two years“, as the Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Djuric later confirmed for KoSSev.

„Despite official calls for the return of displaced persons, the government did not take steps to eliminate obstacles to housing repossession or assistance. Such obstacles included land allocation for housing construction, security problems in some areas, and overall lack of socio-economic prospects for returnees,“ the UNHCR said.

The Minister for Communities and Returns in the Kosovo Government, Dalibor Jevtic, warns of Kosovo cities with no Serb returnees. They had lived in cities in large numbers, reminds Jevtic, emphasizing:

„There are forbidden cities for displaced people, such are Musutiste and Djakovica, even for a one-day visit, which is very sad.“

„On World Refugee Day, June 20th, the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia reminds us of all those guiltless people who have been left homeless, without loved ones, jobs and property, forced to search for a safe country and a new home somewhere else, most often, somewhere far away. It is an opportunity to remember that 618,000 people came to Serbia in the 1990s due to the war in the former Yugoslavia. There are still 27,802 persons with a refugee status (19,038 from the Republic of Croatia and 8,764 from Bosnia and Herzegovina). The number of refugees and ex-refugees in need is much higher, and more than 201,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija share their fate,“ the Commissariat for Refugees of Serbia cited.

Apart from the denial of access to their place of origin, often coming under the attack even if they want to pay visits to their cemeteries and churches, another issue for a number of sheltered IDPs are poor living conditions.

On the other hand, IDPs face occupied property. A large number of cases are still pending in the courts.

„My biggest worry is, still that after so many years, the mutual trust, which should be the key to a successful return remains broken,“ he added.

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