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Around 2.5 million people were internally displaced in Europe as of the end of 2012. The vast majority fled armed conflict, generalised violence and other human rights violations, and some have been living in displacement for up to 20 years.
With more than 954,000, Turkey had the largest number of IDPs. The count in Croatia was put at zero after government and UN assessments showed the country's remaining 2,000 IDPs no longer had needs related to their displacement. The only new displacement reported was in Turkey. Figures for Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Georgia rose slightly as more displaced children were still eligible to register as IDPs, while the figure in Kyrgyzstan
increased due to new information. In addition, sudden-onset disasters newly displaced over 70,000 people in Russia and Azerbaijan.
The collection of data and information on IDPs is not consistent across the region, and does not always adhere to the criteria set out in the Guiding Principles. For example, in Russia people who should qualify as IDPs are excluded, while in Georgia people who should not are included. Meanwhile, the authorities in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan do not acknowledge internal displacement in their countries, which obstructs research and means information is outdated. As displacement has become increasingly protracted in the region, government and donor attention has diminished. One result of this waning attention is that data and information on the situation of IDPs has become increasingly scarce.
Several political developments in the region during 2012 may bode well for IDPs. Serbia gained EU candidate status and the mandate for international supervision of Kosovo ended. The conflict between Serbia and Kosovo is not resolved, but EU-moderated talks resumed in October and had made progress by the end of the year, including on border issues. IDPs stand to benefit as key areas such as freedom of movement, civil registry and property records are discussed. In Georgia, the new government initiated discussions on revising its law on IDPs and a shift towards needs-based assistance. The newly elected de facto authorities in the breakaway region of South Ossetia adopted a new law on housing intended to benefit families whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged during the hostilities in 2008.
Other political developments obstructed the resolution of displacement. Skirmishes continued between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Russia and Turkey continued domestic counter-insurgency operations. Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency in March, and by the end of the year had asked USAID to leave the country. He also signed new laws effectively limiting the activities and foreign funding of NGOs. Whether the change of power in Georgia in October improves humanitarian access to breakaway regions and the possibility of IDP returns remains to be seen. Progress in addressing the conflict in Macedonia was threatened by latent tensions and an upsurge of nationalism and inter-ethnic urban violence.
The majority of the region's IDPs live unseen with relatives or friends, or in housing that they rent, own or occupy informally. Some are at risk of eviction. Their living conditions are largely unknown, but small-scale studies have shown their housing tends to be inadequate in terms of space, cost, tenure security and general livability. Around 310,000 IDPs still live in atrocious conditions in collective centres, the vast majority in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Many IDPs in the Balkans are elderly, traumatised, mentally ill or physically disabled. They are unable to provide for themselves, and their tenure security has become increasingly threatened in recent years as owners decide to sell their buildings or put them to other use. That said, there were fewer reports of evictions from collective centres in 2012. Eviction also continued to be an issue for IDPs living outside collective centres. In Kyrgyzstan some had their reconstructed homes demolished as the city of Osh implemented its urban development plan. In Azerbaijan, the government is building housing for IDPs who have been squatting.
Limited income generation opportunities are a leading concern for internally displaced families throughout the region. IDPs lose jobs, assets, resources and networks when they flee, and a generally weak economic climate and high unemployment has made many of them more vulnerable in all countries except Cyprus. There is no recent comprehensive data on unemployment rates among IDPs except in Serbia, where it was 32 per cent, compared with 19 per cent for the general population. Meagre pensions, social benefits and allowances are often IDPs' main source of income, and many are unable to afford health care. Disrupted schooling means that many young IDPs do not enter the work force fully educated, and in some cases children are taken out of school to work for the family.
IDPs in Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Russia and Serbia continued to face difficulties in obtaining personal and other documents needed to access services and exercise their rights. The problem is most acute for displaced Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian people in Kosovo and Serbia, who continue to be one of the most vulnerable groups of IDPs in the region. Discrimination in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia and Turkey limits IDPs' access to housing, jobs, education and health care. In Turkey it has forced many Kurdish IDPs from rural areas to join the ranks of the urban poor, while in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, hate crimes were a problem in areas where IDPs from minority groups had returned.
Prospects for durable solutions
While some governments in recent years have shifted their approach towards supporting IDPs who have opted to integrate locally or settle elsewhere in their countries, multiple obstacles to durable solutions remain. Some countries, such as Azerbaijan, continue to prioritise returns even if they are physically impossible or unsafe. This is often driven by a fear of losing territory as a result of border disputes or secession movements. In these cases addressing internal displacement issues is tied to conflict resolution talks, and as such there are no mutually agreed mechanisms to restitute IDPs' property or compensate them in Azerbaijan, Cyprus or Georgia. For many IDPs elsewhere, access to such mechanisms is restricted by language, cost and distance either from their property or the relevant institutions, and the mechanisms have not always proven effective. The sustainability of returns is uncertain in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia and Russia, and it was particularly questionable in Kosovo in 2012 amid ongoing inter-ethnic tensions. Despite continuing efforts to establish post-war justice in the region, reconciliation remains incomplete and reparations for IDPs inadequate. Impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations continues, and the fate of IDPs' missing relatives has not been clarified. As a result, the risk of further conflict and displacement remains.
Most governments in the region continued to assist IDPs during 2012. In Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo and Serbia, the authorities improved the housing conditions of some IDPs in collective centres. Bosnia-Herzegovina drafted long overdue legislation as per the revised Annex VII of the Dayton Accords, which after years of focusing on return, expands support to include areas outside of IDPs' places of origin. In Kyrgyzstan, consultations on a new four-year sustainable development plan and national unity concept provided opportunities to improve the rule of law and move towards reconciliation. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia raised around €261 million ($342 million), almost half of the required funds for a regional housing programme for 74,000 refugees and IDPs under the Sarajevo Process. The Council of Europe Development Bank approved a €60 million ($78 million) loan for housing 7,200 IDPs in collective centres in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Overall, however, funding is in decline across the region, the result of waning donor interest.
Criticism of governments' responses to internal displacement during 2012 focused on a lack of transparency in assistance allocation; the exclusion of IDPs from decision-making processes, and as a result, policies not being aligned with their needs, rights and interests; and a lack of adequate resources. As of the end of the year, Serbia was still to develop an action plan to implement the strategy for IDPs and refugees it enacted in 2011, Turkey had still not finalised action plans for 13 south-eastern provinces, and most municipal authorities in Kosovo had not developed coherent policies to guide returns and reintegration.
European institutions continued to express concern about internal displacement. The Council of Europe's new human rights commissioner, Nils Muižnieks, visited Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Turkey and Russia. After meeting IDPs in Macedonia, he concluded that durable solutions were in reach and needed to be implemented urgently. Earlier in 2012, his predecessor Thomas Hammarberg called for “wise vision and determined political leadership” to secure post-war justice and durable peace in the Balkans.
The Council of Europe also adopted a report and resolution on the situation of IDPs and returnees in the North Caucasus, calling on the Russian authorities to improve the humanitarian situation of IDPs. At the end of the year Ukraine, as the incoming chair of OSCE, made resolution of the region's protracted conflicts a priority for 2013. The main donors in the region were the EU, the US, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Turkey also received around $20 million from both Saudi Arabia and the US, and smaller amounts from other governments. The UN Human Rights Committee called on Armenia to improve IDPs' living conditions, and called on Bosnia to provide adequate alternative housing to IDPs in collective centres and ensure their sustainable integration. The UN Committee for the Rights of the Child noted that Azerbaijan had taken significant measures to improve the situation of its displaced population.