Podgorica, 15 October
A grey, cloudy morning in the Konik I refugee camp on the outskirts of Podgorica did not seem to herald an exciting development. The camp residents had just got up and appeared to be going about their usual business. But the bustle at the entrance to the camp was a sign that this day was a bit different from everyday routine.
Indeed, for six refugee families who found shelter in Montenegro after fleeing the conflict in Kosovo back in 1999, this 15 October will certainly be a day to remember. Their 16-year long life away from home is now over, as these 36 brave people opted to return to their place of origin, Peć.
The long-standing wish of the six families to rebuild their lives in their hometown thus finally became reality. Yet, their decision to do so was not an easy one, nor was the process of facilitating their repatriation. To make this happen, UNHCR had been working together with its partners for months to identify families wishing to return and to ensure that these people were going back to a stable and safe environment. This involved talks with the authorities in Kosovo on land allocation and housing, go-and-see visits for refugees to help them make an informed choice and arranging practical aspects of the return, all within a project funded by the EU and partly by UNHCR.
Upon their arrival in Peć, the families will move into brand new homes and receive assistance packages, as part of another EU project that will help them make a fresh start. These assistance packages consist of household kits, some furniture and various multi-purpose tools. In addition, the families will be provided with income generating grants that will allow them to make steady revenue.
“We are very happy to go back, although it won’t be easy in the beginning. Montenegro treated us well, but we belong to our roots,“ said a father of two before leaving for his hometown.
As returnees were boarding the bus, their neighbours gathered to wish them a safe journey. Some of them got emotional while saying goodbye, but a tear here and there could not overcome the feeling of sheer happiness. Without doubt, the end of displacement is the most joyful moment for every refugee. These six Kosovo families are about to begin a new chapter in their lives back home. Many more might do so in the near future.