Serbia: IDPs still seeking housing solutions and documentation to access their rights

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NOTE: In 2008 Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. The United Nations General Assembly subsequently voted to refer the independence declaration to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion. As of December 2009, 64 countries had recognised Kosovo. For the purpose of this overview references to the situation in "Serbia" since 2008 do not include Kosovo.

In 1999, over 245,000 members of local minorities fled from or within Kosovo in fear of reprisals from the majority Albanian population after NATO air strikes forced the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops and ended years of oppression of ethnic Albanians. Kosovo's declaration of independence in February 2008 created new uncertainty for those still displaced, but there have been no major incidents targeting minority communities and no further displacement. Serbia has not recognised the independence of Kosovo, continuing to regard it as a United Nations governed entity within its sovereign territory.

As of August 2009, there were an estimated 230,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Kosovo within Serbia, including an estimated 20,000 displaced Roma people who were never registered as displaced. In addition, 19,000 people are displaced within Kosovo. Few of the people displaced in 1999 have found durable solutions. The rate of return decreased significantly in 2008 from an already low level, as most IDPs waited to evaluate the approach of the Kosovo authorities towards Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanian communities.

Prospects for durable solutions in Kosovo are limited: the political, security and economic situation is not conducive to return, and many IDPs face difficulties in repossessing property and obtaining legal documentation. Those who have returned to Kosovo have struggled to find work, notably because of widespread discrimination against Serbs and Roma people. As a result, efforts by the Serbian government to support return have had limited success, and Serb IDP associations estimate that only 5,000 IDP minority returns out of 15,000 have been sustainable.

The Serbian government's position on local integration has improved. It has implemented projects supporting the development of social housing for IDPs in recent years, notably for the 4,200 displaced people still accommodated in collective centres. However these efforts do not represent a comprehensive strategy.

The most vulnerable IDPs are Roma people who have specific protection needs as they are so marginalised. Their lack of documentation and any official residence, combined with the complexity of procedures and inflexibility of public officials, prevents them from registering as IDPs and limits their access to housing assistance, health care and other social benefits. As a result, many endure extreme poverty and poor health in informal settlements without electricity, water or sewerage.