GENEVA, January 21, 2015 – Nadine Walicki, senior regional analyst at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) on internal displacement in the Balkans and Southeast Europe, states to the news agency Presheva Jone that Serbia and Kosovo need to address a range of issues to improve inter-ethnic relations among Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.
The senior regional analyst believes it is crucial to address matters related to internally displaced persons (IDP) to create a safer climate for returnees.
“The normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is important for creating a safer climate, not only for the displaced who wish to return, but also for the displaced who wish to settle at their current location or elsewhere in Kosovo.”
The European Union (EU) brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo are seen as a key opportunity to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
Kosovo declared independence February 17, 2008, and has currently been recognized by up to 108 UN member-states, the latest being the Solomon Islands.
Serbia continues to reject Kosovo’s independence, 6 years after the former province declared independence.
The senior regional analyst outlines key issues both Serbia and Kosovo needs to take into account during the bilateral talks to improve inter-ethnic relations.
Following the end of the 1998-99 Kosovo War, Serbs were expelled from Southern Kosovo, south of the Ibar River, whereas the Albanians of Northern Kosovo experienced a similar fate
Other ethnic groups such as the Roma, Egyptians, Ashkali, Montenegrins, Croats and Bosniaks were also displaced during and as a result of the hostilities.
“There are several issues that should be placed on the agenda of the Belgrade-Pristina talks to resolve the remaining issues surrounding internal displacement. These include ensuring the resolution of all outstanding property restitution/compensation claims, return of the old-age pension amounts to normal levels in line with number of years worked, mutual recognition of personal identification and other documents needed to access rights, and addressing the specific needs of remaining IDPs that remain obstacles to resolution of their displacement.
“The upcoming IDP profiling exercise will provide data on IDPs in Kosovo that could be used as the basis for these discussions,” senior regional expert Walicki said to Presheva Jone.
Lack of clarity on whether IDP figure reported by Serbian government includes Albanians
According to the latest figure from the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees in 2014, around 200,000 persons are registered as IDPs in Serbia following the end of the 1998-99 Kosovo War.
IDMC’s regional expert confirms the figure “is based on an IDP registration exercise undertaken in 2000, and includes IDPs who have returned or moved elsewhere, and does not take into account whether they still have needs related to their displacement.”
It remains unclear whether the Serbian government includes the figure of displaced ethnic Albanians from the municipalities of Northern Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic.
Mrs. Walicki says the “IDP data disaggregated according to ethnicity and place of origin is unavailable. Therefore, we have no confirmation that the IDP figure reported by the Serbian government includes or excludes the group of Albanians.”
Following the end of the 1998-99 Kosovo War, more than 20,000 IDPs have currently returned to Kosovo.
The former Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaqi, has stated Kosovo is entitled to facilitate the safe return of refugees to Kosovo.
After Kosovo’s independence, Kosovo established a Ministry for Community and Return to accelerate the return of internally displaced persons.
Aleksandar Jablanovic currently heads the Ministry after political parties in Kosovo formed a new coalition government last year ending the six-month political blockade. A coalition of Serbian political parties is also part of the coalition government.
IDMC’s regional expert stresses “returnees wishing to return to Kosovo may perceive Kosovo as more safe following the declaration of independence in 2008 and the subsequent Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice and recognition of independence by up to 108 countries.”
Kosovo has also taken further measures to improve the political climate and ease inter-ethnic tensions among Serbs and Albanians.
In 2009, Kosovo implemented a decentralization process allowing the creation of ethnic Serb-municipalities in Albanian dominated areas such as Partesh, Ranillug, Kllokot and Gracanica in line with Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, also referred to as the “Ahtisaari Plan”, and Chapter X of Kosovo’s Constitution.
Mrs. Walicki points out the decentralization process has the potential to improve inter-ethnic relations among Serbs and Albanians, but also highlights that other factors will play a role influencing whether IDPs will return to Kosovo.
“The process of creating ethnic Serb municipalities in Kosovo has the potential to increase the confidence among some displaced who wish to settle in those areas.
“However, we are not aware of any reports that this process has spurred return. This process is likely only one factor among many considered in the complex decision IDPs make about whether and when to return to their place of origin,” Mrs. Walicki said to Presheva Jone./ Blerim Mustafa
* This article was written by the author in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the view of Leidar
Link to original article (Presheva Jone, also available below): http://www.preshevajone.com/idmc-serbia-kosovo-dialogue-a-key-opportunity-to-discuss-resettlement-of-idps/