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U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Serbia and Montenegro

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2005
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Serbia and Montenegro , 20 June 2005, available at: [accessed 24 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.

Refoulement/Asylum  Serbia and Montenegro, a state union (the Union) of two largely independent republics, deported several refugees for illegal entry. The 1992 Law on Refugees applied exclusively to refugees from the former Yugoslavia, primarily Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted status determinations for asylum seekers from outside the region. Kosovo, which the UN administered, had no provision for granting asylum or refugee status but did recognize "persons with temporary protection." In March 2005, the Union passed a law on asylum seekers from other countries but the two republics did not implement it. Neither Serbian nor Montenegrin refugee legislation prohibited refoulement.

The Union was party to agreements to return asylum seekers to many countries of the EU and the surrounding region, but not all ensured that asylum seekers would have refugee status determinations. The Government did not provide the number of asylum seekers and migrants it returned to such countries. Many asylum seekers transited the country on the way to Western Europe. In practice, the police tolerated the stay of asylum seekers from outside the former Yugoslavia as long as UNHCR provided for them. In July, UNHCR established an office at the Belgrade airport to assist asylum seekers.

According to the Citizenship Law of the former Yugoslavia and a new Law on Citizenship in Serbia, refugees from the former Yugoslavia were eligible for citizenship throughout the Union. Between 1992 and 2004, Serbia granted citizenship to 108,000 such refugees. Montenegro did not apply this law and regarded all refugees from the former Yugoslavia as "displaced" persons.

Detention  The Government routinely imprisoned undocumented asylum seekers from outside the former Yugoslavia up to 30 days, throughout which they had no access to counsel, when it did not summarily deport them. The authorities only referred them to UNHCR after they had served their sentences. While asylum seekers awaited UNHCR's determination or deportation, they remained in a closed shelter for foreigners within the Padinska skela prison that also housed criminals. UNHCR and the Red Cross of Serbia and Montenegro could monitor the prison. Montenegro normally sent asylum seekers to Serbia for detention before UNHCR could hear their claims, but this did not occur in 2004. The police exempted women and children from detention, taking them directly to UNHCR, which housed them separately at a motel 6 miles (10 km) south of Belgrade, pending resolution of their claims.

UNHCR issued identity documents to asylum seekers and refugees from outside the region.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  The Government did not allow asylum seekers or refugees from outside the former Yugoslavia to work, nor could they practice professions, run businesses, obtain licenses, or own property. Many worked in the informal sector, typically in agriculture or construction, without any legal protection. Because of government efforts to curtail the informal sector, they were liable to lose even those jobs. Serbia allowed refugees from the former Yugoslavia to work, but not in restricted government jobs, such as those in education, health, and law enforcement. It did not allow them to own property.

Montenegro restricted the right to work even for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees from the former Yugoslavia. The 2002 Labor Law erased refugees from the register of the Employment Office and a 2003 decree levied a $3.40 (2.5 Euro) per day surcharge on the employment of some 20,000 nonresidents, including refugees and IDPs. The minimum wage was $68 (50 Euros) per month. Refugees could not hold title to property under their own names, denying them the protection of the law. A few individual refugees succeeded in registering businesses in Montenegro.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  Asylum seekers had to have a police permit to travel within the country, but UNHCR cautioned against travel as authorities could suspect and charge them with attempting to leave the country illegally. Their choice of residence, on the other hand, was not regulated by law.

Public Relief and Education  The Serbian Commissariat for Refugees housed some refugees from the former Yugoslavia in collective centers, but closed 50 of them. About 1,800 left for permanent housing in 2004 as compared with 12,500 in 2002-2003. Children of asylum seekers were eligible to attend school with local children under federal law. Asylum seekers received healthcare on par with nationals and the Government allowed UNHCR to refund the cost of treatment in local health facilities at the same rate that locals were charged.

The Serbian Government included the integration of refugees from the former Yugoslavia into its 2003 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper submitted to the World Bank. Numerous projects provided housing alternatives, facilitated small and medium enterprises, and made loans. The Council of Europe Development Bank, the Italian government, and UN-Habitat also offered housing and integration programs for refugees in Serbia. UNHCR's pilot In-kind Assistance Project provided one-time cash payments to refugees leaving the centers. But these programs did not apply to asylum seekers or refugees from other countries. In Montenegro, asylum seekers and refugees, including those from the former Yugoslavia, received considerably less public assistance.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)  In March, rumors that Serbs had drowned three Albanian children sparked the worst inter-ethnic violence and displacement in Kosovo since the 1999 war. Albanian nationalists expelled Serbs from enclaves in the south of the territory. The violence killed 20 (12 Albanians and 8 Serbs), injured over 900, and displaced 4,100 (80 percent Serbs, the rest including Roma and Ashkali). In addition, the fighting damaged over 900 homes and businesses of ethnic minorities and 30 Orthodox religious sites throughout the province, including the bishop's residence and 14thcentury churches and monasteries. French and German NATO peacekeepers (KFOR) troops did not interpret their mandates to "ensur[e] public safety and order" as including the protection of property and some troops took no action to stop the systematic destruction of minority settlements. The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) initiated 100 disciplinary investigations against police for involvement in and failure to act against the violence. In June, authorities arrested 270 in connection with the violence.

About half of the displaced returned to ethnic enclaves in Kosovo, but many not to their homes. Between 1,900 and 2,300 remained displaced at year's end. UNMIK attempted to temporarily re-house Serb IDPs in their original localities until authorities could rebuild their houses, and denied assistance to those who chose to relocate to Serb enclaves, viewing such relocation as vindicating ethnic cleansing. The IDPs themselves, however, did not consider the original localities safe and UNMIK relented in June.

After KFOR evacuated all 270 Ashkali from Vushtrri, the displaced went on a hunger strike for thirdcountry resettlement, as this was the second time since 1999 that assailants had burned down their homes. No state, however, was willing to accept them. Germany and Belgium rationalized refusal on the ground that resettlement would legitimize ethnic cleansing. Amnesty International, however, held that pressing them to return to areas of displacement, even under UNMIK protection, would amount to detention because of limits on freedom of movement and employment.

Kosovo legally remained a province of Serbia, but the UN authorized KFOR to occupy the territory and UNMIK to govern it. The UN implemented an extensive scheme of preferences for ethnic minorities. UNMIK prohibited wholesale purchase of Serb property, but some municipalities obtained exemptions. There were about 1,200 ethnically motivated crimes during the year, including 20 killings, stonings, assaults, and harassment of Serbs and other minorities. The vast majority occurred in March, but even during the rest of the year the rate of such crimes was up about a quarter over the previous year's 138 incidents. Arson and vandalism occurred on almost a daily basis throughout the territory.

European Union countries forced Roma to return to Kosovo and the Union. Many lived in squatter settlements that lacked schools, medical care, water, and sewage facilities. Roma IDPs suffered from forced eviction, discrimination in healthcare, employment, and state social assistance, and lacked personal documents.

Complicated, lengthy, and expensive procedures required IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro seeking identity and other personal documents to file applications to dislocated registry offices covering their original municipalities and, in some areas, authorities did not cooperate with one another. This made it difficult for IDPs to register their residence, secure rights to property, move freely (especially within Kosovo), and obtain housing, employment, pensions, healthcare, and education. Elderly IDPs in Serbia had not received full pensions for years. About 9,000 IDPs lived in collective centers that foreign observers found to be inadequate for long-term shelter.

Since 2003, Serbian authorities had permitted IDPs from Kosovo to de-register as residents of Kosovo and obtain official residence in Serbia. Despite this, Serbian authorities were reluctant to integrate IDPs in their territory and did not help them leave the collective centers as it had refugees from the former Yugoslavia. When authorities closed unofficial collective center Cluster 28 in New Belgrade, they offered the 25 Roma families (170 persons) housing in another center in Bor, far from places of work. ICRC stopped aiding IDPs in Serbia because the Government was not screening them or assisting those in need as agreed.

Serbia allowed IDPs to work but many lost or left their work history documentation (necessary to register with the Labour Market Institute and to apply for pensions) in Kosovo. IDPs living in illegal settlements or unofficial collective centers could not register their residences.

Montenegro imposed large taxes on employers hiring workers without permanent residence, causing 65 to 90 percent of IDPs to work in the informal sector without legal protection, despite the common citizenship clause of the federal Constitutional Charter. About 1,300 Roma IDPs lived in collective centers with limited healthcare and education, although the Government took steps to move them to more permanent, private quarters. Local authorities often ignored or condoned private ill-treatment of Roma IDPs, who often lacked identity documents and were subject to eviction from illegal settlements and sometimes from legal residences in Montenegro.

In Kosovo, Roma and Ashkali IDPs were particularly unable to move about to obtain services or work as day laborers. UNMIK's curtailment of its humanitarian bus services led to greater isolation of minority communities than at any other time in the past three years. UNMIK's Housing and Property Directorate resolved about 11,000 property claims relating to displacement from the 1999 war – completing about four-fifths of the roughly 29,000 claims registered by the 2003 deadline – and carried out about 440 evictions. In Mitrovica, however, Serbs in the northern part of the city and Albanians in the southern part continued to deny each other access to their properties. According to UNHCR, 2,300 IDPs returned to Kosovo during the year, down from 3,800 the year before.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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