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Refugees and asylum seekers remain a challenge for Montenegro

"Putting an end to the two-decade long displacement of refugees from the former Yugoslavia and helping all those who have not been able to apply for the status of foreigner are the key challenges for Montenegro."
Dnevne novine: Interview with Mustafa Server Caylan, UNHCR Representative in Montenegro, on the occasion of the World Refugee Day
“The world is currently witnessing the worst refugee crisis ever. At the end of 2014, there were almost 59.5 million people who were forced to leave their homes due to conflict and fear from persecution, pushing the overall number of refugees around the globe to a record high,” said UNHCR Representative in Montenegro Mustafa Server Caylan in an interview with daily Dnevne novine on the occasion of the World Refugee Day.
“Syria is the biggest refugee-producing country with some 3.9 million people who were forced to seek protection outside the national borders, followed by Afghanistan with 2.59 million refugees and Somalia with 1.1 million,” Mr. Caylan says, adding that a record-breaking 38 million people were forcibly displaced within their own country at the end of last year.
Refugee situation in Montenegro
The refugee population in Montenegro, Mr. Caylan explains, consists mostly of those displaced from the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
“UNHCR relies on the Government’s data on the number of refugees in Montenegro. According to these figures, since the early 1990s Montenegro has received more than 100,000 refugees, most of whom arrived to the country due to conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. The last re-registration exercise, conducted in 2009, shows that number of those who are still in Montenegro is 16,500.”
Mr. Caylan notes that most important challenge for Montenegro in the coming period is ending the two-decade long displacement of refugees from the former Yugoslavia and ensuring durable housing solutions for this population either through voluntary return or local integration.
“Also, since several thousand people have not been able to submit applications for the status of foreigner due to problems in obtaining documents in their municipalities of origin, particularly in Kosovo, these persons need further assistance in collecting documentation in order have them resolve their legal status. In addition, Roma and Egyptian refugees from Kosovo, especially those living in the camps in Konik, still face difficulties in their everyday lives and remain the most marginalized group of the society,” he adds.
Stateless persons or people at risk of becoming stateless pose another challenge to Montenegro, says UNHCR’s Representative.
“These people are practically invisible and lack basic rights, such as the right to health care, employment and education. UNHCR continuously supports the work of the Government in identifying and assisting those who declared themselves stateless,” he explains.
Another challenge facing Montenegro is the growing number of asylum seekers, Mr. Caylan says.
“UNHCR’s figures suggest that Montenegro is one of the top countries in terms of the number of asylum seekers per capita, considering that the country recently received thousands of asylum seekers from refugee-producing countries, such as Syria, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.”
Montenegro saw a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers over the past five years, due to conflicts in Middle East and Africa, he adds. In 2013, Montenegro received some 3,500 people seeking asylum, while in 2014 their number was some 2,300 persons.
“These people in most cases do not stay for too long in Montenegro, but they rather continue their journey to EU member countries in hope of getting asylum there. If we look at the ongoing crises in the Middle East and Africa, it is unlikely to expect that the number of refugees approaching the Montenegrin borders will drop in the near future. This is going to be a serious challenge for Montenegro's asylum system, which may require further adjustments to this new situation”.
Government to protect refugees
As regards the problem of refugees, Mr. Caylan points out that the Government of Montenegro should continue to protect refugees with its current enthusiasm and support them in exercising their rights. At the same time, the Government should facilitate their local integration or voluntary return to their place of origin.
UNHCR, he says, remains available to assist the Government in further harmonizing its legislation on refugee, asylum and statelessness issues with European and international standards, so as to remove the remaining legal obstacles facing these people.
“This entails amending the Law on Asylum by the end of 2017 and addressing new provisions of the Law on Foreigners. UNHCR has been advocating that the refugees are given full access to local integration through effective access to all basic rights. Finally, the Government should continue to strengthen measures aimed at preventing statelessness, as UNHCR is advocating globally that no person remains without a nationality within the next ten years,” he explains.
  • UNHCR agreed with the government in 2009 to open the possibility for some 16,500 from the former Yugoslavia refugees to apply for the foreigner status
  • By the end of 2014, around 10,500 persons have been granted the status of foreigner, while the more than 2,500 applications are still pending
  • The Government has shown readiness to reduce obstacles for applying for the foreigner status, particularly by extending the deadline several times and by simplifying the procedure for submitting applications
  • The Government is implementing the Regional Housing Programme, which is aimed at providing durable housing solutions for some 6,000 most vulnerable refugees from the former Yugoslavia
Orignal interview in daily Dnevne novine (Montenegrin):