An end to two decades of uncertainty for the Elsani family and over 1,000 others in Montenegro

BUDVA, Montenegro – Bujar Elsani, his wife Sabaheta and their six children proudly show their identity documents. Obtaining these documents marks an end to the uncertainty that kept the family deprived of basic human rights for almost two decades. Thanks to the cooperation between Montenegro, Kosovo[1], UNHCR and partner NGOs, the Elsanis are part of a group of over 1,000 people who were assisted by the Kosovo Ministry of Interior between 2014 and 2015 in obtaining personal identity documentation.

Bujar, Sabaheta and their eldest daughter came to Montenegro fleeing the conflict in Kosovo at the end of the 90s. The only documentation that the family had with them was their daughter’s birth certificate. Over the following years, their other five children were born in a local hospital where they received birth certificates. But the parents were unable to obtain any other form of documentation for themselves or for their six children. Obtaining documents would have required them to return to their place of origin, which was impossible due to their lack of documentation. ‘Without proper identity documents we could not manage anything in our lives’, Bujar confessed. His wife Sabaheta adds: ‘without documents, how could I prove to anyone that these were indeed my children and not someone else’s?!’

In 2011 Montenegro and Kosovo signed an agreement for late registration of birth in Kosovo civil registries of displaced persons from Kosovo in Montenegro. UNHCR and its partners facilitate this cooperation and support the deployment of mobile teams from Kosovo to help identify people that are at risk of statelessness as a result of lack of birth registration and identity documentation due to displacement. UNHCR protection staff Slobodan Rascanin met the Elsanis during the first visit of the Kosovo mobile team in May 2014. He recalls “life without identity documents was very hard for the family. Their determination and the work of the Kosovo mobile team made it possible for them to have a chance to a better life. Hopefully we can do the same for many others in the same situation.”

The Kosovo mobile team has visited eleven out of twenty-three municipalities in Montenegro. Completing birth registration and issuing documentation for one person is a laborious process and can take as many as four visits. Births outside of health care facilities in both Kosovo and Montenegro as well as the lack of documents required for birth registration complicate matters even more. “The lack of adequate birth data and any related evidence makes our work especially challenging”, says Erdon Arifaj, co-ordinator of the Kosovo mobile team, “we do our best to identify a solution for each case. Every registration through this agreement is a success both for the persons concerned and the partners involved.”

After a year of being part of this process, Bujar and Sabaheta finally have birth certificates and all family members also have personal identification documents which allow them to integrate in Montenegro and enjoy their human rights. With these documents, and the support of UNHCR and its NGO partner ‘Legal Centre’, almost all have now obtained the status of foreigner with permanent residence in Montenegro. The regularization of their stay has helped the family to access health care, education, legal employment, among other basic rights. ‘Getting identity documents made a huge difference in our lives. We can now move freely.  I am now able to work legally’, said Bujar.

There are still over 300 persons in urgent need of support. Montenegro and Kosovo, in close cooperation with UNHCR, continue their efforts in 2016 towards finding solutions to the situation of persons at risk of statelessness in Montenegro to make sure each and every one of them can say: ‘#IBelong’.

[1] All references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

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