Kosovo: New position paper on protection and return

Briefing Notes, 16 June 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 June 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has just released a new position paper aimed at guiding states and others making decisions about whether individuals from Kosovo should continue to receive international protection in an asylum country or can be returned to Kosovo. We have periodically issued such position papers since the 1999 Kosovo crisis.

The major change from the previous paper of March 2005 is that members of two specific Roma communities in Kosovo the Ashkaelia and Egyptian are no longer considered to be among those at risk. This is mainly due to positive developments within the inter-ethnic environment. The paper says the return of individuals belonging to these two groups should, nevertheless, be approached in a phased manner due to the limited absorption capacity of Kosovo.

The report says UNHCR remains concerned about Kosovo Serbs, Roma and Albanians in situations where these groups constitute a minority. The fragile security environment and serious limitations these people face in exercising their fundamental human rights shows they should continue to be considered at risk of persecution and should continue to benefit from international protection in countries of asylum. Return of these minorities should be strictly voluntary, based on fully informed individual decisions. UNHCR also opposes their forceful return to other parts of Serbia. Other groups at risk are persons in ethnically mixed marriages, persons of mixed ethnicity, persons perceived to have been associated with the Serbian-Montenegro authorities after 1990, and victims of trafficking.

The report notes that although the overall security situation in Kosovo has progressively improved since March 2005, it remains fragile and unpredictable. Minorities continue to suffer from ethnically motivated or criminal incidents. Many incidents remain unreported as the victims often fear reprisals from perpetrators. Confidence in the rule of law remains weak. The cumulative effect of these factors also reinforces perceptions of insecurity in the Serb and to a lesser extent Roma communities. Whether real or perceived, insecurity is still felt by minorities in the province and it consequently limits their freedom of movement.

Serbs and Roma continue to face serious obstacles in accessing essential services in health, education, justice and public administration. Discrimination as well as low representation of minorities in the administrative structures further discourages minorities from exercising their basic rights. With regard to housing, land and property issues, the current repossession rate of illegally occupied properties remains limited. There is still no effective mechanism for property restitution and compensation.

As the outcome of the status negotiations may significantly affect the position of minorities from Kosovo UNHCR shared this position paper with the office of Martti Ahtisaari, the UN Special Envoy for the Kosovo future status process.

There are still more than 200,000 refugees and persons of concern to UNHCR from Kosovo in western European and other countries, with an equal number of IDPs in Serbia and some 18,000 persons of concern in neighbouring Montenegro.