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Kosovo: NRC country programmes

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News and Press Release
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The Norwegian Refugee Council has the following goals for its work in Kosovo
  • Help ensure the rights of returning refugees and internally displaced persons

  • Assist in preventing minority groups (Serbs, Romanis, etc.) being forced to flee

  • Contribute to the return of internally displaced persons to their homes
This is what we are doing:
  • Running free legal aid for refugees, internally displaced persons, returning refugees and for minorities in general in order to ensure return as a long-term solution and prevent new flight. The legal aid provided ranges from information about rights to arguing individual cases to the administration and the courts

  • Performing spokesperson activities vis-à-vis UNMIK and other actors to promote better practice in cases of systematic breaches of civil rights and better legislation with respect for human rights

  • Helping to rehabilitate houses damaged in the war for returning refugees and internally displaced persons within the minority population (mostly build-your-own)

  • Meet returning refugees at the airport, inform UNHCR in cases of danger of insecurity for the returnees
Recent developments in projects

To date, the Norwegian Refugee Council has repaired some 1000 houses damaged in the war in Kosovo since the project started immediately after NATO's bombing in 1999. The Norwegian Refugee Council provides the materials, while the work is usually carried out by the home-owners themselves. In association with UNICEF, the Norwegian Refugee Council has also rehabilitated around 40 schools. The work was carried out by the local population with support from the Norwegian Refugee Council. A building programme for the minority population started up in autumn 2001 and has provided homes for approx. 70 internally displaced Serbs and seven Roma-families. In 2003 NRC is planning a greater return project for internally displaces in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro.

The Norwegian Refugee Council runs free legal aid services in five towns and is expanding its activities with mobile teams that visit minority groups in the enclaves. Each month, between 500 and 700 people seek legal aid through the legal aid project. The project works closely with the equivalent legal aid project in Serbia and is thus capable of helping clients on both sides of the administrative border. I 2003 NRC will have a closer cooperation with local NGO's in Macedonia, working with legal aid.

At present, Kosovo still does not have a functional legal system. However, the UN administration has set up a special property directorate (HPD) with exclusive competence to decide particularly sensitive property disputes, including occupation of private homes, which is extremely common. Dealing with property disputes is an important aspect of the legal aid project, and we work in close collaboration with the Housing and Property Directorate to promote in particular the rights of minorities. The Norwegian Refugee Council also assists HPD with property claims from refugees from Kosovo currently living in western European countries.

An increasing number of refugees are returning to Kosovo from Norway and other countries. At the request of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees, the Norwegian Refugee Council is running a project to register refugees who return to Kosovo - voluntarily or otherwise. The Norwegian Refugee Council's task is to register members of particularly vulnerable groups on arrival and to help them come into contact with the relevant bodies that can help them resolve various different types of problems.

Recent developments - the conflict and the refugee situation

The current situation facing ethnic minorities in Kosovo is extremely sensitive. There is still much work to be done to re-establish the civilian society, the province is still marked by serious ethnic tensions, and criminality is extremely high. This has led to ethnic minorities grouping together in small enclaves where security is slightly better than in society at large. However, the enclaves lack the necessary public services and possibilities to earn a living, etc. There is ongoing work to prevent further fleeing, including the Norwegian Refugee Council's legal aid for the minorities. Some people have returned to a few areas, but the number is almost negligible.

Background

In 1989, Kosovo lost its autonomy as a province, which it had had since 1974. At this time, Slobodan Milosevic was president of Serbia. The Albanian language lost its status as an official language, and although Kosovo-Albanians constituted 90 % of the population, the Serbs had control of the public administration on all levels and control of the military, the police and the legal system. School curricula were changed, resulting in Albanian parents taking their children out of school and starting their own parallel school system. The Albanians boycotted all elections after 1991. Ibrahim Rugova was elected "president" in the unofficial Republic of Kosovo in 1992, and the guerrilla movement KLA appeared in 1996.

Violence increased, and the first international observers came to Kosovo two years later. The Serbian authorities initiated a major attack on the KLA through the spring, summer and autumn of 1998, and fierce fighting drove tens of thousands of people out of their homes. The parties were unable to agree on a peace treaty, and NATO started bombing Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia in March 1999. Most international observers, diplomats and aid workers were evacuated from Yugoslavia, while Serbian forces continued to attack the Albanians, and at least 800 000 people fled out of the province in a few weeks. In addition, the United Nations estimates that some 5-600 000 people were forced to flee within Kosovo.

In June 1999, the Yugoslavian authorities were forced to hand over the military and civilian control of the province to a NATO-led military force (KFOR) and an interim administration run by the United Nations (UNMIK). In the space of a few weeks, most of the Albanian refugees and internally displaced persons returned to their towns and villages. Out of fear of and as a result of reprisals, many of the non-Albanian population (Serbs, Romanis, etc.) now fled from the province to Serbia and Montenegro - a total of some 230 000 people. Recently, certain administrative structures have been established in the province, including provisional autonomous authorities with a limited mandate. However, UNMIK is still responsible for protecting minorities and for the court system. The final status of the province and the time frame for when this will be decided have not yet been determined.