Montenegro: Fledgling nation faces legacy refugee and IDP problems
On Saturday, the Parliament of Montenegro declared formal independence following a popular referendum that narrowly voted to split with Serbia. But the fledgling nation is still saddled with the problem of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons - victims of various Balkan conflicts in the 1990s.
Today, there are more than 8,000 refugees - mainly from Bosnia and Croatia - and nearly 18,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kosovo in Montenegro. Many need continuing assistance and protection, especially those displaced from neighbouring Kosovo. These IDPs are mainly ethnic Serbian or members of the Roma community and are unable to return to their homes.
Udo Janz, deputy director of the UNHCR's Europe Bureau, discussed the issue with senior Montenegrin officials during a visit to the country last week and pledged our continuing help in providing protection and assistance to these refugees and IDPs.
Mr Janz, who was in Montenegro as part of a week-long swing through the area, also pledged to help the new government find durable solutions for these groups and to design and establish a national asylum system. The Montenegrin government endorsed a draft Asylum Law in May and it must now be tabled before Parliament for approval. The UNHCR is encouraged by this development.
In the mid-1990s, Montenegro hosted nearly 30,000 refugees from Bosnia and Croatia. In 1999, during the Kosovo crisis, a further 28,000 IDPs fled to Montenegro, which has a population of just 650,000 people.
The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords gave UNHCR an important role in finding durable solutions for more than 2 million refugees and IDPs in the Balkans. Hundreds of thousands have since been repatriated or found new homes in the host countries they fled to.
The governments of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro agreed in January last year to try and solve their refugee problems by the end of 2006 - either through voluntary repatriation or local integration in the countries of asylum. We hope this deadline will be met.
At the same time, we believe continuing talks under UN auspices on the final status of Kosovo should also seek a solution for the tens of thousands of IDPs from that province.