Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Yugoslavia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Yugoslavia , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, Yugoslavia hosted about 484,200 refugees, virtually all ethnic Serbs, of whom 14,400 were in Montenegro and 400 in Kosovo. Of these, the largest number of refugees were from Croatia (289,800) and Bosnia (190,000). The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported an additional 4,400 refugees from Slovenia and Macedonia residing in Yugoslavia during the year.

Almost 480,000 people remained internally displaced in Yugoslavia at year's end, 250,000 in Kosovo, 196,300 in Serbia, and 32,200 in Montenegro. These included some 176,500 ethnic Serbs, 28,500 Roma, 8,600 Muslim Slavs, 1,600 Albanians, and 13,300 with unknown ethnic backgrounds in Serbia and Montenegro. An estimated 210,000 ethnic Albanians remained internally displaced in Kosovo for lack of housing, as did an additional 40,000 persons who fled areas controlled by another ethnic group, including about 10,800 ethnic Albanians who fled southern Serbia to escape fighting between armed ethnic Albanians and Serb police.

In Kosovo, new displacement of minorities continued to outstrip minority returns. Ethnic Serbs, Roma, Ashkaelia, and other minorities continued to leave their homes in Albanian-controlled areas of Kosovo, going to areas of northern Kosovo where Serbs were in the majority and to Serbia. Ethnic Albanians also left Serb-controlled areas of Kosovo during the year.

Some 17,000 ethnic Serb refugees from Croatia repatriated from Serbia and Montenegro during the year. UNHCR also assisted 755 Bosnian refugees to repatriate in 2000.

About 88,500 Kosovars voluntarily repatriated during 2000, most from Germany and Switzerland. Host countries also deported 12,533 Kosovars during the year.

More than 42,000 Yugoslavs sought asylum in other European countries during the year, down from 121,000 in 1999. During 2000, the largest number applied in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Political Developments

After a decade with Slobodan Milosevic in power – widely viewed as bearing primary responsibility for the Balkans wars of the 1990s – voters in Serbia and Montenegro elected opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica as president of what remained of Yugoslavia on September 24. When Milosevic attempted to manipulate the election results, Serbs took to the streets en masse and forced him from office in early October. While these events augured the most dramatic change for citizens of Serbia, they also appeared to have far-reaching ramifications for the Balkans region as a whole, including for the hundreds of thousands who remained displaced from the Yugoslav wars.

In some respects, the ascendancy of the opposition in Belgrade boded well for enhanced regional stability. By year's end, Yugoslavia had established diplomatic relations with all the former Yugoslav republics. With the lifting of most sanctions and resumption of dialogue with key European countries and the United States, Yugoslavia appeared to be well positioned to end its isolation from the international community. Although this fundamental change (along with the new leadership in Croatia and the improved climate for minorities in Bosnia) seemed to improve the prospects for the repatriation of refugees from Bosnia and Croatia, it had not translated into a significant breakthrough in refugee returns by year's end.

On the other hand, the fall of Milosevic ironically resulted in heightened tensions in Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanian majority viewed incoming president Kostunica as a far more serious threat to their aspirations for political independence. Whereas many had viewed independence for Kosovo as likely when Milosevic was in power, Balkans experts reflected that the election of the more moderate Kostunica placed far greater pressure on Kosovo's Albanian leadership to reach a negotiated settlement with Belgrade. By extension, this implied working within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that ended the war, which called for "substantial autonomy and self-government" for Kosovo but recognized Yugoslavia's sovereignty over the province.

Kosovo itself took steps toward self-government in 2000, holding municipal elections in October, which Kosovo's Serbs boycotted. Despite the victory for the moderate party of Ibrahim Rugova in these elections, by year's end, indications were that the political changes in Belgrade had in fact radicalized elements in Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. This, in turn, increasingly politicized and reinforced tensions on the contentious question of the status of the 100,000-plus remaining Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo. It also brought into question the return of more than 225,000 ethnic Serbs and other minorities displaced to Serbia and Montenegro after June 1999, when ethnic Albanian refugees returned en masse to the province.

Violence and Displacement in Mitrovica

Although somewhat diminished from 1999, violence intended to drive out, or prevent the return of, minorities remained a prominent feature of daily life in Kosovo during 2000.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Mitrovica, the ethnically divided city in northern Kosovo in which Serbs dominated the portions of the city north of the Ibar River and Albanians, the neighborhoods to the south. On February 2 and 3, respectively, two grenade attacks targeting Serbs – the first on a UNHCR bus carrying Serbs from Mitrovica and the second on a Serbian café in northern Mitrovica – touched off riots in the ensuing days in northern Mitrovica in which Serb mobs targeted Albanian and other minority residents. By the third week of February, some 1,700 non-Serbs had either been expelled from northern Mitrovica or had fled on their own. The grenade attacks killed four Serbs; the rioting killed eight Albanians and members of other minorities. Albanians also harassed and expelled Serbs from Albanian-controlled southern Mitrovica.

Despite UNHCR warnings that it was not safe, NATO troops assisted several dozen Albanians to return to northern Mitrovica in early March. Stone-throwing crowds of Serbs confronted the returnees as they crossed the Ibar River back into northern Mitrovica. Undeterred by the 24-hour presence of NATO guards, Serb militants targeted the returnees in the days that followed. On March 7, 16 French troops and 24 civilians were wounded in a street fight between returning Albanians and Serbs. On the same day, unknown assailants fired two rockets at the apartment complex to which many of the Albanians had returned. Members of a group of 50 Albanians who fled northern Mitrovica that day reported that Serbs had thrown grenades at their homes.

Mitrovica continued to be a major flashpoint for sporadic violence and displacement in Kosovo throughout the rest of the year. The influx into northern Mitrovica of displaced Serbs from other parts of Kosovo also ratcheted up the pressure on the remaining Albanians to leave.

Nor was violence confined to assaults on Mitrovica's Albanians and Serbs. Riots, which included attacks on staff and property of UNHCR and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), led UNHCR to suspend operations temporarily in northern Mitrovica in June. Few, if any, of the perpetrators of violence were arrested or punished during the year.

Kosovo: A Province Divided

In many respects, Mitrovica was a microcosm for events in the rest of Kosovo during the year. Rather than allow for the return and reintegration of minorities in 2000, militants in both Albanian- and Serb-controlled areas worked to consolidate the ethnic divisions that they had created after the deployment of NATO troops. At the end of 2000, UNHCR estimated that about 40,000 persons remained internally displaced in Kosovo from areas where they would be in the ethnic minority, including ethnic Albanians from Serb-controlled areas of Kosovo and southern Serbia. About 400 ethnic Serb refugees from Croatia remained highly vulnerable in enclaves in Kosovo at year's end.

The estimated 100,000 Serbs and thousands of Roma and other "gypsy" minorities still in Kosovo during 2000 were mostly confined to northern Mitrovica, other parts of northern Kosovo controlled by Serbs (Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan municipalities), and in isolated enclaves in the rest of Kosovo, in most cases preserved only by the 24-hour presence of NATO troops.

During a December 2000 site visit to Kosovo, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) visited two minority enclaves – Gorazedvac, a Serb village in western Kosovo, and Plemetina camp near Pristina where Roma and Ashkalis lived. In both cases, all residents with whom USCR spoke said that they were unable to leave their enclaves unescorted for fear of being attacked because of their minority status. The inability of enclave residents to move freely meant that most were unemployed and unable to gain access to a variety of services, including schooling for their children. Many were fully dependent on outside assistance.

In order to alleviate the strains of confinement, UNHCR ran a bus service for minorities connecting the enclaves with each other and with Serbia. International organizations provided assistance to minority communities during the year, although some reports suggested that such assistance was often inadequate.

Serbs and other minorities continued to leave the remaining mixed communities in Albanian-controlled areas (particularly urban areas) during the year. They left for minority enclaves, parts of northern Kosovo where Serbs formed the majority, and Serbia. Most left to escape violence, or the threat of violence, by Albanian extremists who resorted to murder, forced evictions, arson, grenade attacks, and verbal threats to pressure the remaining members of minorities – particularly Serbs, but also members of gypsy minorities (Roma, Ashkalis, and "Egyptians") – to leave. However, some Roma and Egyptians reportedly managed to maintain good relations with their Albanian neighbors and remain living in their homes around Urosevac and Djakovica.

International observers reported a pattern in which ethnic Serbs were coerced into selling their properties, often after long periods of intimidation. The influx of displaced ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia and the return of tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians from asylum countries during the year also added to the pressures on Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo to abandon their homes and leave. Kosovo Albanians also continued to leave the northern part of Kosovo controlled by Serbs.

Minority Returns in Kosovo

While violence and the threat of violence continued to compel members of minorities to flee their homes in Kosovo during 2000, so too did security concerns prevent the return of most displaced Serbs, Roma, Ashkalis, and other minorities to their homes. UNHCR and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) estimated that fewer than 2,000 Serbs had spontaneously returned to their places of origin during the year, mostly to enclaves. UNHCR and OSCE reported that the situation in Kosovo was too volatile to say whether these returns represented durable solutions.

UNHCR did not promote the return of minorities to, and within, Kosovo during the year, citing poor security conditions – particularly for Serbs, but also for Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians, and other minority groups. UNHCR resisted considerable pressure from the leadership in Belgrade, the Kosovo Serb community, and some NATO members, including the United States, to promote minority returns. UNHCR did, however, assist members of minorities who returned on their own. It also participated in several initiatives to facilitate dialogue between Kosovo's estranged communities and provide information on conditions for minority groups in various localities in Kosovo. UNHCR intended these initiatives as confidence-building measures to pave the way for eventual minority return.

In May, Bernard Kouchner, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, announced the creation of the Joint Committee on Returns, a body comprised of UNHCR, OSCE, NATO, and the Kosovo Serb leadership, to explore possibilities for the return of displaced Serbs in Kosovo. Although the committee provided a forum to communicate, performed assessments on return prospects, and arranged for "go-and-see visits" for perspective returnees, its work yielded few actual Serb returns during the year.

Throughout 2000, Kosovo's Serb community, backed by Belgrade, protested the inability of Kosovo's displaced Serbs to return to their homes, demanding that NATO and the international community do more to enable such returns. The issue of Serb returns was highly politicized, sparking Serb protests in Mitrovica and Albanian counter demonstrations.

The issue also divided the international community. While the United States and other NATO members backed Kosovo Serb plans to begin organizing returns of displaced Serbs, UNHCR repeatedly discouraged efforts to promote large-scale Serb returns, arguing that it would provoke a violent backlash against the returnees and remaining minorities.

Although less politically charged than Serb minority returns, efforts to lay the groundwork for the return of Kosovo's other minorities also yielded few actual returns. In April 2000, Kosovo's Albanian leadership and members of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities signed onto a "Platform for Joint Action" that articulated steps to improve the situation of these minorities and enable the displaced to return to their homes. On several occasions after the signing of the Platform for Joint Action, Kosovo Albanian leaders Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci visited minority gypsy communities in efforts to promote tolerance.

Despite these efforts, attacks on gypsy minorities, including the execution-style murder of four Ashkali returnees in Srbica/Skenderaj in November, prevented most displaced members of these communities from returning during the year. Only 125 displaced Roma and Ashkali were known to have returned to their homes during the year.

Kosovar Return and Reconstruction

After NATO troops deployed to Kosovo in June 1999, a majority of ethnic Albanians who had fled abroad returned to their places of origin within weeks. By the end of 1999, as many as 780,000 Kosovo Albanians had repatriated. During 2000, another 101,000 Kosovars repatriated from third countries, bringing the total number of returnees to more than 881,000 by year's end. Of those who repatriated in 2000, some 88,500 returned voluntarily and another 12,533 were deported.

Because some 120,000 homes were damaged during the war – 49,000 beyond repair – an estimated 350,000 returnees remained internally displaced as 2000 began. Between the fall of 1999 and March 2000, UNHCR, the UN's lead agency for humanitarian relief in Kosovo, concentrated its efforts on providing emergency shelter to vulnerable returnees. UNHCR distributed 60,000 shelter kits that were designed to make at least one room of damaged homes habitable through the winter and provided other assistance on a massive scale, including tents, stoves, and firewood. The World Food Program distributed food aid to about 900,000 people in early 2000.

With emergency assistance needs diminishing and the reconstruction of homes proceeding at a rapid pace by early summer, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) disbanded its Pillar for Humanitarian Affairs on July 14. Although UNMIK continued to provide humanitarian relief to many throughout the rest of the year, the dissolution of the office signaled a shift in focus to reconstruction and development.

By the end of 2000, Kosovars had repaired or rebuilt about 60,000 homes, of which international donors funded 24,000. At year's end, however, UNMIK estimated that about 35,000 families still lacked their own housing, 15,000 to 20,000 of whom were particularly vulnerable. Based on these numbers and given the average Kosovar family size of six, USCR estimates that some 210,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovars remained internally displaced for lack of housing at year's end.

The destruction of homes and poor employment prospects in rural areas induced large numbers of the rural displaced to move to towns and cities, such as Kosovo's capital, Pristina, which reportedly had doubled in size to more than half a million residents by July 2000. In some cases, single apartments accommodated as many as 30 people. Several thousand displaced persons lived in communal shelters during the year. Others occupied the homes of members of minorities who had fled their homes, and yet others lived in tents.

The repatriation of tens of thousands of refugees from abroad exacerbated the housing situation. Western European countries – particularly Germany and Switzerland, both hosting large numbers of Kosovars – exerted considerable pressure on Kosovars to repatriate "voluntarily" and deported those who did not leave on their own. On several occasions during the year, UNMIK criticized sending countries for not sufficiently considering the pressure that the large number of returnees placed on housing and services in Kosovo. With winter looming and the housing situation still acute for many, UNMIK in October appealed to sending countries to suspend forced and induced returns until the following spring.

Not heeding the appeal, Germany, and on a lesser scale Switzerland, continued to deport vulnerable Kosovars during the rest of the year, including members of persecuted minorities (in violation of the nonrefoulement provision of the UN Refugee Convention), those without housing in Kosovo, single mothers with children, and Kosovars with medical conditions not treatable in Kosovo.

Of the 12,533 persons forcibly repatriated to Kosovo during the year, Germany deported 6,841 and Switzerland 5,430. Germany also deported to Kosovo rejected asylum seekers from other parts of the former Yugoslavia whom it could not send anywhere else and criminals – some convicted of violent crimes – who had not completed their prison terms.

Southern Serbia

During 2000, fighting between Serb police and the so-called Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), an offshoot of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, resulted in the displacement of thousands of ethnic Albanians in areas of southern Serbia bordering Kosovo and Macedonia. While many returned to their homes during lulls in the violence, an estimated 10,800 ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia remained displaced in Kosovo at year's end. Although some fled to Macedonia, most reportedly did not register as refugees.

During 2000, displacement from southern Serbia occurred in two waves – the first between the end of January and March when the UCPMB first surfaced, and the second in late November and early December when the UCPMB stepped up its attacks against Serb police. Ethnic Albanians displaced from southern Serbia cited either the fighting itself, or Serb police crackdowns coming in the wake of UCPMB attacks, as their reasons for fleeing.

The reported goal of the UCPMB is to join with Kosovo southern Serbia's districts of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac, where as many as 70,000 ethnic Albanians live.

Displaced Serbs from Kosovo

Some 183,000 ethnic Serbs who fled Kosovo to escape retaliatory violence remained internally displaced in Serbia and Montenegro at year's end. These included about 176,000 Serbs counted in a new registration of the internally displaced completed in April and an estimated 7,000 ethnic Serbs who registered after April. The majority of the displaced resided in municipalities in central and southern Serbia. Some 30,000 internally displaced Serbs lived in former municipal and "socially owned" buildings transformed into collective centers.

In an April 2000 report entitled Reversal of Fortune: Yugoslavia's Refugee Crisis Since the Ethnic Albanian Return to Kosovo, USCR reported that the conditions for displaced Serbs depended most on their own resources; those with relatives in Serbia or Montenegro who were willing and able to help fared the best. In general, USCR found that those living in collective centers were worse off than those living in private accommodations. Collective center residents were more likely to be poor and unemployed, and often were elderly or those who lacked skills in an economy where jobs are scarce.

UNHCR reported that dwindling resources and the lack of economic opportunities during 2000 forced more of the displaced to seek shelter in collective centers, many of which could not adequately accommodate existing residents. Poor conditions in collective centers reportedly led small numbers of ethnic Serbs to return to their homes in Albanian-controlled areas of Kosovo, despite the uncertain security environment to which they acknowledged they were returning. In October 2000, UNHCR issued an urgent appeal for increased humanitarian assistance for its operations in Yugoslavia, citing the difficult circumstances of the displaced generally and the particular predicament of those living in overcrowded collective centers.

Displaced Roma

UNHCR registered about 28,500 displaced Roma living in Serbia and Montenegro in 2000 who, along with the Serbs, fled Kosovo after June 1999. Although the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo may have perceived the Roma to be aligned with the Serbs, that did not make them welcome to local communities in Serbia and Montenegro, where pre-existing Roma communities occupied the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Many worked in jobs such as street cleaners and lived in squalid slums in industrial sectors or in makeshift encampments under bridges or in abandoned buildings. Roma from Kosovo tended to gravitate to local Roma settlements, making it difficult to distinguish the displaced from the general, and also destitute, Roma communities.

Local municipalities often refused to assist or provide shelter to the Roma, hoping that they would simply move on. While local officials in Montenegro were no more welcoming than in Serbia, displaced Roma in Montenegro at least benefited from the presence of international NGOs that provided assistance.

Refugees from Croatia and Bosnia

Yugoslavia continued to host 289,800 refugees from Croatia at year's end, including up to 200,000 who arrived from the Krajina Region in 1995, and another 45,000 who left eastern Slavonia in 1998. Some 285,600 refugees from Croatia lived in Serbia, 3,800 in Montenegro, and 400 in Kosovo, where they faced the same precarious security conditions as Kosovo Serbs and other minorities.

During the year, 17,000 Croatian Serbs repatriated, up from 9,000 in 1999. Despite this increase and the greater openness of the central Croatian government to refugee return, both returnees and would-be returnees continued to face formidable obstacles to return at the local level, including: flawed property repossession and reconstruction procedures; citizenship regulations that discriminated against ethnic Serbs; blocked access to pension and welfare benefits; an ambiguous amnesty law that did not prevent local trials of returnees for war crimes; the lack of economic prospects (unemployment rates were as high as 85 percent in some return areas of Croatia); and, to a lesser degree, concerns for security. The majority of returnees reportedly were elderly Serbs whose homes remained habitable and unoccupied.

Yugoslavia also hosted about 190,000 ethnic Serb refugees from Bosnia in 2000, many of whom had arrived in the country as early as 1992. Of these, 179,400 resided in Serbia and 10,600 in Montenegro. Since the December 1995 Dayton Agreement, more than 30,000 refugees have repatriated to Bosnia – the great majority relocating to Republika Srpska. UNHCR assisted 755 Bosnian refugees to repatriate in 2000.

Some 35,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Croatia and Bosnia lived in collective centers, sometimes together with internally displaced persons. Although most had been in Serbia and Montenegro considerably longer, conditions for refugees in collective centers were no better than for the internally displaced.

The continued deterioration of the economy in Yugoslavia had a particularly devastating impact on both refugees and the internally displaced. Estimates placed unemployment in Serbia at more than 30 percent during 2000, and the joblessness among refugees and displaced people was likely to be at least twice that percentage.

More than 90 percent of the refugees lived in private accommodations – with relatives, in rented accommodations, or sometimes in their own homes. Many experienced increased difficulties in making ends meet. As with the internally displaced, the deteriorating economic circumstances of refugees, and of the families hosting them, placed pressure on some refugees to move into already overcrowded collective centers.

After coming to a standstill for much of 1999, the Yugoslav government resumed processing citizenship applications during 2000. Between January 1997 and the end of 2000, the government approved the citizenship applications of 75,000 refugees, and 60,000 citizenship applications remained pending at year's end.

However, observers noted that many of those approved for citizenship appeared not to have taken the final step of filing for citizenship after receiving approval. UNHCR surmised that refugees hesitated to do so to avoid relinquishing their refugee status, in order to hedge their bets to remain eligible for refugee assistance or resettlement. During 2000, UNHCR was in the process of conducting a re-registration of refugees to sort out, among other things, who should, and should not, remain on the refugee rolls.

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