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Kosovo: protection needs for minority groups

Briefing notes

Kosovo: protection needs for minority groups

3 May 2002

UNHCR has issued a detailed new position paper on the continued protection needs of asylum-seekers and refugees from Kosovo. The paper is intended to guide states and others involved in processing Kosovo asylum-seekers and making decisions related to the return of Kosovo refugees to their homeland.

In the paper, UNHCR says that, despite a range of improvements in the general situation in Kosovo, the situation of minority groups remains a major concern. In particular, people who are not ethnic Albanians continue to face severe security threats which place their lives and fundamental freedoms at risk, and continue to force some people to leave the province. As a result, UNHCR says its essential position remains that members of the minority groups in Kosovo described in the paper should continue to benefit from international protection in countries of asylum.

The agency also stresses that minority returns should take place on a strictly voluntary basis, and should be based on fully informed decisions by the individuals concerned. The paper notes that although the vast majority of Kosovo refugees who fled the province in the late 1990s have now returned home, no significant spontaneous returns of minorities - either among those still displaced inside Kosovo or living as refugees elsewhere - have taken place in the past year.

The few cases who have gone back, the paper says, "would appear to have been spurred more by push factors, such as increasingly difficult circumstances in exile, or politically-motivated return pressures." The paper then goes on to state emphatically that "Minorities should not be forced, compelled or induced to return to Kosovo."

Around 900,000 refugees have returned to Kosovo since June 1999, when KFOR entered the province. But the huge majority of these are from the Kosovo Albanian majority in the province. Around 231,000 people from Kosovo, mostly Serbs, are in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, many of them living in difficult circumstances, and there are around 22,000 people from minorities still displaced inside Kosovo itself, living a very precarious existence.