Interview with Brita Helleland, UNHCR Representative to Montenegro, in daily newspaper ‘Vijesti’ about work on finding durable solutions for displaced and internally displaced persons.
Which activities has UNHCR been undertaking with regard to ensuring durable solutions for displaced and internally displaced persons?
Durable solutions are complex issue with many components, starting with the acqusition of the new legal status in Montenegro, which is further a pass for access to rights (health care, social protection, education, employment); housing, as well as possibility to return to the country of origin. Through our implementing partner NGO Legal Centre we are supporting displaced and internally displaced people in Montenegro in collecting documentation and initiate the procedure for getting the new legal status. In addition, in 2011 UNHCR and the Government conducted extensive field campaign in all municipalities in Montenegro to inform displaced persons on the new legal status, rights attached to the status, and procedure they should follow to secure the status. In that respect, for us was very important that the Government has extended the deadline for application for the foreigner status – the new deadline is 31 December 2012. At the same time, UNHCR is monitoring how the persons who have acquired the foreigner status, exercise the rights, and draw attention of relevant institutions to eventual problems.
Through our implementing partner, German NGO HELP, we are supporting construction of individual houses for displaced and internally displaced persons. This program is also funded by German Embassy and Council of Europe Development Bank. Housing is significant component of the Strategy for Durable Solutions of Issues Regarding Displaced and Internally Displaced Persons in Montenegro, With Special Emphasis on the Konik Area 2011-2015 that the Government adopted in July 2011 and of the Joint Declaration on Ending Displacement and Ensuring Durable Solutions for Vulnerable Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons that the Montenegrin minister of foreign affairs, together with foreign ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, and Serbia, signed in November 2011. Montenegro will candidate housing projects for displaced and internally displaced persons together with Serbia, BH and Croatia at the donors conference in Sarajevo in April this year. UNHCR is involved in this process in terms of providing expertise and assistance in selection of beneficiaries and monitoring activities - ensuring that the beneficiaries’ rights are respected and that the planned assistance is provided.
What novelties does the 2011 Strategy for Durable Solutions of Issues Regarding DPs and IDPs in Montenegro bring in comparison to previous strategic documents?
In July 2011 the Government adopted a new Strategy for Durable Solutions of Issues Regarding Displaced and Internally Displaced Persons in Montenegro, With Special Emphasis on the Konik Area 2011-2015 (“the Strategy"), with accompanying annual action plans.
The Government's new Strategy was developed in cooperation with UNHCR and EUD and reflects most of UNHCR’s concerns with regard to DPs and IDPs, including challenges they face in acquiring new legal status in Montenegro. The Strategy replaced and expanded upon a 2009 Action Plan for Resolution of the Status of Displaced Persons from the Former Yugoslav Republics and of the Status of Internally Displaced Persons from Kosovo in Montenegro. What makes difference between this Strategy and previous strategic documents is monitoring and reporting mechanism established particularly for this Strategy. The Strategy's Coordination Board, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, has been established to monitor and lead its implementation. Members of the board are all line ministries (assistant minister level) and other Government offices, UNHCR and EUD. UNHCR considers the Strategy as a good base for work with DPs and IDPs and is ready to support the Government to implement all the activities foreseen with the Strategy.
How do you see conclusions of local NGOs that the biggest problem DPs and IDPs have been facing when applying for permanent residence is that they are not able to obtain passports which are necessary for filing applications for this status?
According to the Ministry of Interior, 4,096 displaced and internally displaced persons have now acquired the new status of foreigner with temporary or permanent residence. There are however still 12,397 refugees without this status, 3,418 refugees from ex Yugoslav republics, who still hold a legal status of “displaced person” and 8,979 internally displaced persons from Kosovo. We are aware that many people face numerous obstacles in obtaining the passports of their country of origin. This is a complicated process, as most of the embassies of countries of origin in Montenegro do not issue passports to their citizens as a regular activity, or they do it with administrative taxes which are not affordable to the refugees. Therefore, these people are forced to travel to those countries and many are unable to do so, due to several reasons: they are handicapped, olod, or sick, or cannot afford the trip costs and documents fees; some registry books have been destroyed during the war; some were never registered in civil registries and can not complete procedures of subsequent registration which is not properly defined in the region, etc. UNHCR is particularly concerned that those who applied can be marked as “easy cases” and that the challenge remains to assist those who face problems in obtaining documents. UNHCR is trying to address those problems through our implementing partner, NGO Legal Centre, whom I mentioned before. During 2011 Legal Center provided personal documents for 734 persons from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and 1, 674 persons from Kosovo. On the other hand, the Government showed the good will by reducing high taxes for application for the new status and postponing the deadline for application till 31 December 2012.
Cooperation that Government of Montenegro established with countries of origin through regional initiatives is another positive step and UNHCR hopes to see continuation of this cooperation until the process end. In addition, at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 the Government organized few bus visits for Roma IDPs to Kosovo for gathering of documents. As per the Government some 200 persons participated at those visits and UNHCR sees them as concrete assistance to these people.
The Montenegrin authorities have offered two possible solutions for DPs and IDPs in Montenegro through national legislation – to return to their country of origin or to integrate into the Montenegrin society. However, the resolution of the situation of internally displaced Roma from Kosovo is developing slowly. Why is it the case?
UNHCR insists on sustainable return of displaced persons, and sustainable return must meet clearly defined criteria. First, we must be sure that place of return is now safe and that displaced person or family can normally live, work, go to school there, etc. Also, sustainable return means that those persons have decent accommodation there; place where they can live. The big problem is the fact that many Roma did not owe a house before the flight from Kosovo, while those who had a house lost it during the war. Despite all these serious problems, UNHCR, Government and the members of international community, continue seeking for the best solution for every particular case of displaced person or a family in Montenegro.
With regard to integration possibility, Roma and Egyptians are mostly affected with lack of documentation compounded with overall poorness of this population, and in all our activities UNHCR pay special attention to support Roma and Egyptians as the most vulnerable group.
How do you estimate the initiative put forward by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and Directorate for Care of Refugees, which have been organizing visits for IDPs to Kosovo in order to obtain identity documents in their municipalities of origin?
As I mentioned before, obtaining documents can be long and rather complicated process and people definitely need support. Finding durable solutions for displaced and internally displaced persons is one of the conditions for Montenegro to join the EU. The Government entrusted the Directorate for Care of Refugees to organize bus visit for internally displaced persons from the Konik camps, during which these people apply and collect their personal documents which they use for completing applications for the status of foreigners, as required by the Law on Foreigners. This initiative is certainly a step forward in enabling the internally displaced persons to obtain their civil status documents and thus acquire the foreigner status in Montenegro. Nevertheless, required funds and personal capacity for this activity are enormous, especially if all needy persons are assisted in this way. We should also not forget that the majority of Kosovo IDPs opt for Serbian documents, so similar activity is needed for transporting these people to dislocated administrations in Central Serbia.
It is worth mentioning that the Government and UNHCR, through the working group under the Sarajevo process for ensuring durable solutions for refugees, succeeded to draw attention of countries of origin of displaced and internally displaced persons on their problems in obtaining the documents needed for the new status, which resulted in some special measures to help these persons to obtain easier the required documents.
We will continue to support this and every similar action in future, making sure that no one is left behind.
The removal of the Camp 2 in Konik, which hosts Roma from Kosovo, has been announced. Mr. Miomir Mugosa, Mayor of Podgorica, said more than a year ago that two buildings and a school for Roma will be constructed in the place of the existing camp, which a part of the civil sector considers as a move leading to segregation. How do you see this initiative of the local government?
According to the urban plan for Konik area, the municipality of Podgorica foresees construction of apartment buildings for the residents of the two camps in Konik. At the same time, this urban plan includes construction of apartment buildings for tenants of the refugee settlement Vrela Ribnicka, most of them non-Roma. While it would, for sure, be better not to have so many families of the same ethnicity concentrated in one area, we have to work within the possibilities of the municipalities to provide land. This solution will be offered to families who have no land in Montenegro where they can build their own house, or cannot afford buying the land to apply for the program of individual housing. Over the years the Government with support of international donors has constructed some 940 housing units (apartments) for refugees, in different municipalities. Through the regional housing program construction of apartment buildings and individual houses for displaced and internally displaced persons is planned in 13 municipalities in Montenegro.