31 December 2013 |

Kosovo: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013

 

There were around 17,300 people internally displaced by conflict in Kosovo as of the end of 2013, according to UNHCR estimates. Around 245,000 people fled their homes in 1999 in fear of reprisals from the majority-Albanian population following NATO air strikes that forced the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops and ended years of oppression of ethnic Albanians. Another 4,200 fled their homes in 2004 as a result of violence against Serbs and Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (RAEs).

Kosovo Serbs fled mainly to Serbia proper and to northern Kosovo, where Serbian authorities retain administrative control. Kosovo Albanians fled south within Kosovo. Authorities in northern Kosovo continue to refuse to accept the full authority of the south. That said, in April 2013 the Kosovo authorities and the Serbian government signed the First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations, which aims to integrate northern security and judicial structures into similar structures in the south among other initiatives.

Around 50 per cent of IDPs are Kosovo Serbs, 40 per cent Kosovo Albanians and 5 per cent RAEs. The majority, mainly Serbs and RAE, live in the Mitrovica region of northern Kosovo. A preliminary assessment for a profiling exercise to clarify the number of IDPs and their progress towards durable solutions was completed in 2013. The full exercise will begin in 2014.

Nearly all IDPs live in private housing in unknown conditions. Around 750 still live in 37 collective centres, where they endure electricity shortages, lack of space and dilapidated infrastructure. RAE IDPs live in appalling conditions in informal settlements. The last displacement camp, Leposavić, was closed in December 2013. Thirty-one families were relocated to furnished homes, and the remaining three are still to be resettled.

Around 550 IDPs returned in 2013, according to UNHCR. Since 2000, more than 4,800 have returned within Kosovo and around 14,500 have returned from Serbia to Kosovo. Serbs returned to majority-Serb municipalities or enclaves, while Albanians went back to their homes in the outskirts of northern Mitrovica and isolated majority-Albanian areas in the municipalities of Zvecan and Leposavić.

There has been no comprehensive monitoring of the sustainability of returns, but some IDPs who returned both to mono-ethnic and mixed villages appear to have reintegrated. Others, however, faced secondary displacement as a result of security threats, property disputes, looting, poor infrastructure and tensions with local communities. Limited access to property and delayed restitution proceedings also continue to hamper returns, mainly for Kosovo Serbs. The Kosovo Property Agency, which is responsible for administering post-conflict property repossession, has adjudicated around 39,500 of the nearly 42,700 claims it received. Many claims remain before the courts, however, and the implementation of orders to evict occupants remains a challenge, particularly in the north.

Municipal elections took place throughout Kosovo in November as per the First Agreement. Kosovo IDPs living in Serbia had the option of a postal vote or taking a bus laid on by the Serbian authorities to polling stations on election day. Voter turnout was low and violence marred the first round in northern Kosovo. This underscored the fragility of the political situation. That said, the elections were a step towards improved relations between Pristina and Belgrade, with legitimately elected local authorities recognised by both sides.

The government took steps to improve its response to internal displacement in 2013. The Ministry of Communities and Returns adopted a new strategy for 2014 to 2018, and drafted a concept note for the development of a law on IDPs, a process that should begin in 2014. An inter-ministerial working group continued its reconciliation work, and Kosovo’s president, Atifete Jahjaga, signed an amnesty to help integrate Kosovo Serbs into the rest of Kosovo.

During a visit in October, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs, Chaloka Beyani, called on Kosovo and Serbia to redouble their efforts to solve IDPs’ problems together. Humanitarian agencies continued to assist those still displaced, mainly through housing, legal assistance, income generation and infrastructure programmes. Longer-term solutions depend on ensuring accountability for human rights violations, the resolution of property disputes and the determination of Kosovo’s political status.