31 December 2013 |

Internal Displacement in Europe the Caucasus and Central Asia

Figures and causes

There were around 2.2 million IDPs in Europe as of the end of 2013. Most fled their homes some 20 years ago to escape armed conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations in the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, Cyprus and Turkey. No new displacement was reported in 2013, and the number of IDPs in the region fell slightly as some returned home in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan. According to UNHCR, all IDPs in Kyrgyzstan had returned by the end of 2013.

Official figures also decreased in Russia as IDPs’ status expired, and in Georgia where the government completed a re-registration exercise. The figure for Georgia, however, was set to increase by around 300 after the Constitutional Court ruled in June that the government should broaden its definition of an IDP. Turkey had the largest number of IDPs in the region, although the figure of around a million dates from 2006. Numbers were more or less unchanged in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, FYR Macedonia, Serbia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Relatively few current figures are available. Armenia, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan do not register IDPs, either because they do not have legislation on internal displacement or because they simply do not acknowledge the phenomenon. All other countries in the region register the displaced, but their definitions of what constitutes an IDP vary. Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Georgia also register IDPs’ children born in displacement, inflating their figures relative to others in the region. The only comprehensive profiling assessment in the region was undertaken in Serbia in 2011.

Some steps were taken to improve data gathering in 2013. The Kosovo authorities, UNHCR and the Joint IDP Profiling Service conducted a preliminary needs assessment in preparation for a full assessment in 2014. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, UNHCR led a survey of communities with specific needs, and in Azerbaijan it conducted its largest assessment of IDPs ever. That said, the socio-economic situation of the vast majority of IDPs who rented, owned or otherwise occupied private accommodation was still poorly understood throughout the region.

Protection issues

All registered IDPs were eligible for similar entitlements, mainly related to housing, employment and financial assistance. Over time this has helped many IDPs access their rights. However, some IDPs have become more vulnerable over time as their specific needs have not been addressed. Today, not all IDPs need the same kind of help. A blanket response based on registration is not appropriate in many contexts, and only by tailoring assistance to IDPs’ current needs will progress towards durable solutions be made. Georgia took such steps during 2013, revising its law on internal displacement to accommodate a needs-based approach.

Lack of access to adequate housing remains the primary protection concern for IDPs in most countries. Some in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo and Serbia received new housing in 2013, but around 285,000 in the same countries and in Russia were still living in the overcrowded and dilapidated collective centres they were housed in when they were first displaced. Some IDPs in Russia, Azerbaijan and Serbia were evicted from collective centres during the year. Others lived in informal settlements with poor tenure security or in makeshift housing with limited access to electricity, heating, water and sanitation.

Internally displaced women and children continued to face particular protection issues. Limited access to livelihoods and the resulting poverty led some IDPs to force girls into early marriage or take their children out of school to help earn an income. The trafficking of displaced women and children, including Roma, increased in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the year. Some displaced children continued to be educated separately from their counterparts in the general population in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and separately from those of different ethnicity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This affects their ability to integrate and hampers reconciliation.

Roma IDPs in the Balkans continue to face widespread discrimination, leading to their social and economic marginalisation. They tend to live in informal settlements, and struggle to register and obtain the documents necessary to access services and benefits. They also suffer double vulnerability as a displaced minority.

Most of the perpetrators of human rights abuses and crimes during the armed conflicts of the 1990s were still at large at the end of 2013. This was the result of corruption, political obstacles, ineffective investigations, biased trials and the failure to implement court rulings, including those of the European Court of Human Rights. A new state programme to offer psychological support for the victims of conflict is in place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but access to it remains difficult.

Reconciliation between ethnic groups did not progress, though an inter-ministerial working group continued its work in Kosovo. In Kyrgyzstan, attacks inside courts on lawyers representing ethnic Uzbeks accused of crimes during violence in 2010 provided just one example of continuing tensions. Progress was made in Cyprus, where 88 missing Greek Cypriots and 52 missing Turkish Cypriots were identified in 2013, more than in any other year.

Durable solutions

Internal displacement in the region is protracted and most IDPs are still to achieve durable solutions. Over the years a number of governments, such as those in Croatia, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, have declared internal displacement resolved. More than a million IDPs have returned to their homes in the region as a whole, but the sustainability of their return has not been properly assessed. There were also no figures in any country for the number of IDPs who have made progress towards local integration or settlement elsewhere.

The fact that some returnees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Russia have been displaced again suggests that solutions have not always been durable. All those displaced in Kyrgyzstan had reportedly returned by 2013, but according to UNHCR around 172,000 IDPs and refugees still had needs related to their displacement. Monitoring of their situation began in 2013 after Kyrgyzstan was chosen as a pilot country for implementation of the UN Secretary General’s framework on ending displacement in the aftermath of conflict.

Fewer than 500 IDPs were recorded as having gone back to the homes in 2013. In the absence of peace agreements, return remained impossible for most of those displaced in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Cyprus, and peace negotiations made no progress during the year. Obstacles to return in other countries include insecurity, ethnic discrimination, limited government support, a lack of infrastructure, poor social services, and difficulties in reclaiming and repairing property, earning an income and obtaining documentation to access public services.

A possibility to improve conditions for return in Kosovo emerged in 2013 after Pristina and Belgrade signed the First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations. The corresponding municipal and mayoral elections, the first ever under Kosovo law, reportedly resulted in a more positive approach to minority returns in some municipalities.

As in previous years, governments continued to prioritise return, but some also offered support for local integration and settlement elsewhere. In Azerbaijan, IDPs’ local integration has still not been properly achieved, because displacement is viewed as temporary, and in Georgia IDPs were still settled as a group in areas and buildings segregated from their surrounding communities.

National and international response

A number of governments continued to implement projects for IDPs in 2013, including Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Russia and Serbia, most of them related to improved housing. In Kosovo, the last displacement camp, Leposavic, was closed in December and the 34 Roma families living there were relocated to furnished homes. In Azerbaijan more than 28,000 IDPs were relocated from collective centres to new apartments. In January, Bosnia and Herzegovina secured a loan from the Council of Europe Development Bank for social housing for IDPs in collective centres, and some had moved into newly built accommodation by September.

Some governments revised or drafted laws and policies on internal displacement during the year. Kosovo adopted its Strategy for Communities and Returns for 2014 to 2018 and prepared to draft a law on IDPs, while Georgia revised its law on displacement. Other countries, however, are still to adopt policies. Serbia is still to formulate an action plan to implement its National Strategy for Resolving Problems of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, and Turkey had still not finalised its national strategy on displacement and return plans for 13 provinces. Nor has Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted its amended law on refugees, IDPs and returnees, which envisages support for local integration and compensation for IDPs’ destroyed property.

Humanitarian aid for the region in 2013 was at its lowest level since 2006, as governments assumed greater financial responsibility for IDPs and donors focused on new crises. UNHCR

funding for IDPs in the region fell from $47 million in 2012 to $33 million in 2013. That said, humanitarian organisations such as UNHCR, IOM, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), ICRC and others; and development organisations such as the UNDP and the World Bank continued to assist IDPs, mainly with housing, legal support, income generation and training. IDPs’ needs are no longer humanitarian as they mainly relate to housing and jobs. The development sector should step up its engagement in these areas.

The UN’s special rapporteur on IDPs’ human rights, Chaloka Beyani, visited Georgia, Serbia and Kosovo during the year. In all cases, he focused on the need for durable solutions and called on governments to redouble their efforts to resolve IDPs’ problems with housing, livelihoods, jobs, services and property, and to ensure they could participate in elections. UN human rights bodies also raised concerns about the treatment and living conditions of IDPs in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia and Serbia. They urged governments to ensure equality and participation, to monitor displaced women and returnees, and to combat poverty among IDPs. European institutions also pressed governments on similar issues.

Despite numerous such entreaties over the years, many IDPs still live in inadequate housing and have no jobs. Considering the protracted nature of displacement in the region, the most important aim must be to facilitate durable solutions. To do so, the authorities must implement these recommendations without delay.