Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Family Reunification for Kosovar Albanian Refugees

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Publication Date 1 May 1999
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Family Reunification for Kosovar Albanian Refugees, 1 May 1999, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]


The purpose of this paper is to explore and substantiate the proposition that family reunification must be allowed to take place in accordance with our regular programmes from Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Montenegro, albeit not in a way which interferes with or limits the on-going Humanitarian Evacuation Programme (HEP).

The paper is offered with a view to facilitating discussion on the family reunification issue with government counterparts. It is not a comprehensive position on family reunification, but rather has the more limited goal of clarifying the distinction between HEP as an emergency response and family reunification as an ongoing mandate based responsibility. 

I. Position: The humanitarian evacuation programme (HEP) is not a resettlement programme, neither a family reunification one.


· The HEP is intended to ease pressure on the host country, thereby ensuring that refugees continue to have access to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

· The focus of HEP is to move large numbers of refugees to safety, in an effort to ensure access to safety for new arrivals. In so doing, certain principles, including voluntariness and respect for family unity (not splitting of families during the evacuation) have to be safeguarded. Please refer to updated guidelines for HEP.

· Resettlement, on the other hand, is a response mechanism to address individual protection and durable solution needs of refugees in a country of refuge. It is a tool to respond to protection problems on an individual basis, even when larger numbers of refugees are involved.

· Resettlement programmes feature a specific family reunification component for individual cases, in fulfilment of mandate protection responsibilities.

· The HEP does not -- nor should it -- substitute for the important protection role played by any resettlement programme.

II. Position: Quotas for the HEP should not negatively impact quotas for resettlement and family reunification.


· There continues to be an urgent need rapidly to evacuate large numbers of refugees from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and UNHCR is grateful for the generous response from States in this regard.

· At the same time, resettlement quotas are vital to UNHCR to ensure emergency protection in many refugee situations around the world, including the Balkans.

· Some States maintain separate quotas, additional to their regular resettlement ones, for family reunification purposes. Other States facilitate family reunification through their regular resettlement quotas. Neither of these mechanisms should be compromised as a result of the HEP. Hence there should be no offsetting of numbers taken under the HEP by reductions in regular quotas. Similarly, there should be no merging of the HEP into the resettlement process.

III. Position: UNHCR's criteria for family reunification are long established in the Resettlement Handbook (please refer to Chapter 4.6). They continue to apply, in parallel with the HEP. 


· HEP respects the unity of the family and links to country of destination to ensure both that nuclear families are not split as a result of the evacuation, and that evacuated families have the contact and support of relatives upon evacuation to a new country.

· The closeness of the family link is not a determining factor in this context. Recognized links can even be quite distant, in recognition of the fact that there is an element of temporariness in the stay of such evacuated refugees.

· To the contrary, family reunification resettlement programmes are undertaken to reunite refugees with their close family members and dependents. The reunification of such family members proceeds on the basis that it is for the longer-term.

IV. Position: The term "refugee family" for resettlement/family reunification purposes can include reunification of/with husband, wife, minor or dependent unmarried children, minor siblings, and other dependents (eg. dependent elderly parents) who originally lived with the refugee family, or who would otherwise be left alone or destitute.  In addition and when appropriate, a more flexible approach which meets exceptional humanitarian needs (eg. newly created female headed household in special need of familial support) is promoted in the individual case.


· UNHCR's direct responsibility is to promoted family reunification for close and dependent family members.

· The concept of dependent persons should, however, be understood in its broad sense to include persons who depend for their physical and also emotional existence substantially and directly on the family member with whom reunification is sought.

· The element of "dependency" should also be assessed against other relevant considerations, notably the cultural particularities of a population, as well as social foras including conflict and violence which can create special needs or bonds

V. Position: UNHCR promotes and assists the reunification of family members of concern. This would include not only Convention refugees, but also those who may have been granted long-term stay under a humanitarian/ protection scheme for refugee-related reasons.


· A number of refugees currently granted humanitarian right to remain are, for UNHCR, refugees.

· Many granted humanitarian stay have indistinguishable protection needs, thus should benefit from equivalent rights attached to Convention refugees, notably in this context as regards family reunification.

· UNHCR has regularly expressed concern that a number of States do not allow for family reunification for individuals granted humanitarian right to remain.

VI. Position: Family reunification from Macedonia/Albania/Montenegro should be approached flexibly, respecting the above positions IV and V. Given limited resources on the ground, UNHCR would not be able to actively facilitate all such individual family reunifications.


· Respect for family unity is a right all refugees are entitled to rely upon.

· The initiative is normally with members of dispersed families themselves to pursue reunification, including through setting in train the necessary formalities (obviously whenever this is possible without risk to themselves or other family members).

· Financing of the travel of family members from abroad is, in principle, the responsibility of the refugee family.  Some resettlement countries organize and pay for individual family reunification travel of refugees. (please refer to Chapter 5.7 of the Resettlement Handbook -- Specific Aspects in Family Reunification Cases, including UNHCR activities)

· Given its stretched resources, and the particularities of the emergency, UNHCR is not in a position to undertake an across the board family reunification. It would have to prioritize its direct assistance, for example putting to the fore cases of unaccompanied minors.

· UNHCR assistance with family reunification would be outside the framework of the HEP, and structured in such a way as not to slow down, or jeopardize the HEP arrangements.

· By the same token, it would have to be understood by all concerned, not least the receiving countries, that family reunification of Kosovars should not lead to a situation where resettlement quotas were not available to meet urgent protection needs of non-Kosovars.

VII. Position: Reunited close and dependent family members should not involuntarily be split when the period of protection following evacuation expires.


· Measures must be taken by States to ensure that close and dependent family members are not involuntarily split when return is envisaged.

· For humanitarian reasons, exceptions should apply to existing legal schemes which would not necessarily have allowed for the reunification of such family members in the first place (ie. elderly dependent parents of the refugee).

VIII. Position: The ability to reunite families, when different members have departed to different countries, both in the context of HEP and otherwise, should be promoted and facilitated by States.


· In light of the rapid movements under the HEP, and despite all efforts to ensure that a family unit is kept together, in a number of cases, family members may in fact have been separated.

· States supporting the HEP should exercise the highest degree of flexibility in facilitating laterally the reunification of separated family members split between different HEP destination countries

IX. Position: Internally displaced persons in Montenegro should also benefit from family reunification with close and dependent refugee relatives in other countries.  


· Families often separate during flight, and in the context of the Kosovo crisis, family members have been dispersed between Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

· It is important to recognize that measures on behalf of Kosovar families should extend to Montenegro and include family reunification.  

· Where obstacles to family reunification, including lack of representation from States in the country of origin, exist, UNHCR could extend some assistance (or otherwise engage an NGO partner/ICRC) to facilitate reunification but, as indicated before, given limited resources on the ground, UNHCR would have to prioritize cases with particular vulnerabilities (eg. separated minors).

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