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Belgrade, Pristina and UN sign protocol on return of displaced people

News Stories, 9 June 2006

© UNMIK DPI
Seated from left to right, Dardan Gashi from Pristina, Serbia's Milorad Todorovic and UN Special Representative Søren Jessen-Petersen prepare to sign a protocol on the return of displaced people to Kosovo.

PRISTINA, June 9 (UNHCR) Representatives of the United Nations, Serbia and the provisional self-government authorities in Pristina have signed a protocol aimed at easing the way for the voluntary and sustainable return of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to the province of Kosovo.

Serbian official Milorad Todorvic, the representative from Pristina, Dardan Gashi, and Special Representative Søren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, signed the protocol during a brief ceremony in Pristina on June 6.

"UNHCR considers the signing of the protocol a great step forward in addressing obstacles to return and welcomes the consensus that has been established between Pristina and Belgrade on common principles and on a series of technical issues concerning the return process," said UNHCR official Gottfried Koefner, who chairs a working group that drew up the protocol on returns.

The working group one of only four working groups under the Belgrade-Pristina direct dialogue process met for the first time in May last year. Its task has been to deal with the technical and practical issues of the return process in a bid to facilitate the return of Serb, Roma and other IDPs.

Serbia and Montenegro together still host more than 225,000 internally displaced, mostly Serbs and Roma who fled from Kosovo in 1999. The return of IDPs has been painfully slow and only 14,000 returns have been registered so far.

With the protocol, the parties to the direct dialogue process have given themselves essential tools to make sustainable and voluntary return possible. The protocol provides for the return of IDPs in a manner that respects both their rights and those of the communities to which they are returning.

UNHCR has also stressed the need for increased focus on the reintegration of returnees in Kosovo. For that to become possible, generous and increased support will be required from donors.

Jessen-Petersen expressed his satisfaction with the agreement and stressed that the protocol had broadened the scope of returns. He said the parties concerned must now be fully committed to the return process.

"The new returns policy showed the commitment and seriousness of the Kosovo government towards ensuring the return of displaced persons and allowing them to make a free and informed choice about the return options," he added after the signing ceremony.

Both parties praised UNHCR for its chairmanship of the working group and for its instrumental role in helping the sides reach agreement on the terms of the protocol. The working group will continue to meet, alternating between Pristina and Belgrade, and UNHCR will focus discussions on practical issues related to the implementation of the protocol.

By Myrna Flood in Pristina

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UNHCR country pages

Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Beyond the smiles of homecoming lie the harsh realities of return. With more than 5 million Afghans returning home since 2002, Afghanistan's absorption capacity is reaching saturation point.

Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

Despite the obstacles, their spirit is strong. Returning Afghans – young and old, women and men – seem determined to do their bit for nation building, one brick at a time.

Posted on 31 January 2008

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

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