Returnees to Kosovo Still Face Obstacles, Says OSCE

A lack of funds, and the failure to resolve both war crimes and missing persons cases, remain obstacles to the return to Kosovo of some 235,000 people displaced by the 1998-1999 war, says OSCE.Despite the fact that the safe return of internally displaced persons, IDPs, to their homes is recognized as a fundamental right by Kosovo law, returnees are still confronted by serious obstacles to their sustainable reintegration, claims the latest report from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

According to the OSCE report presented last week, IDPs still face a limited access to public services, property rights and socio-economic opportunities.

In some areas there are tensions between the local communities and returnees which further obstructs the return process.

“Burglaries, looting and damage to symbolic sites seriously harm the returns process and perceptions of security among returnees and displaced persons,” said the Head of the OSCE Mission’s Human Rights and Communities Department, Eduard Pesendorfer.

“While some municipalities have reacted decisively to such incidents, expressing their support for affected communities through statements of condemnation and regular outreach activities, others have failed to take any action,” Pesendorfer added.

In most cases these frictions are rooted in allegations of unresolved war crimes or missing persons cases, although exacerbating factors such as ongoing property disputes or the overarching political situation also play a role.

“Only 10 municipalities drafted a municipal returns strategy or action plan for 2011/2012, leaving the remaining 24 assessed municipalities without any coherent policy to guide their work on returns and reintegration,” reads the report.

The report notes that the most successful examples of reintegration of returnees where in the areas with the adequate financial resources and firm political commitment from senior political officials, as well as international organizations.

“In municipalities with fewer financial resources and less political will, progress was markedly less significant and efforts to achieve durable solutions for IDPs were undermined,” states the report, noting that the most problematic areas are the towns of Gnjilane, Prizren, Pec and Pristina and the surrounding areas.

“The most serious incident occurred on July 6, 2012, when a Kosovo Serb returnee couple were shot to death in their home in the ethnically mixed village of Muhadzer Talinovac, in the area of the town of Gnjilane,” states the report.

For ten regional NGOs from Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia and Serbia, gathered around the project called “Fostering NGO Human Rights Efforts”, the main obstacle for reintegration of returnees to Kosovo is the lack of cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia.

Their report, issued in October, notes that IDPs in Kosovo still lack an equal access to justice as the Kosovo authorities do not recognise documents issued by Serbia and vice versa which leaves IDPs in a legal gap.

The NGOs also point out the difficulties in obtaining the documents, such as diplomas, birth certificates and pension rights because there is no postal service between the two countries and their institutions.

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