Doc. 8942

23 January 2001

Situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – recent developments


Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteur: Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Poland, Socialist Group

I.       General overview

1. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia2 (FRY) has been the scene of several major crises of internal and external displacement over the last decade.

2. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) amounts to 188 000 in Serbia and 31 000 in Montenegro.3 The overwhelming majority of them are Serbs from Kosovo who left their homes during and after the NATO military campaign in June 1999.

3. The number of refugees in Serbia is estimated at 508 000 (in particular from the western Slavonia and Krajina regions following the Croatian military operations "Flash" and "Storm" in Summer 1995) of them having been there since 1991. The majority (nearly 300 000) come from Croatia, the others originate from Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is worth noting that Serbia has one of the largest population of refugees in Europe.

4. The above numbers may be even higher, in particular for IDPs, as some of them have not registered as a result of deliberate policy to push them back to Kosovo, or the fear of forced returns to Kosovo or forced recruitment. On the other hand movements of the displaced population (for example between Republika Srbska and Serbia) may have produced cases of double registration.

5. In terms of ethnic composition, the overwhelming majority of IDPs and refugees in Serbia and Montenegro are Serbs. Approximately 10% are Roma. 50 % of displaced population are women and girls; 35 % are under 18 years of age.

2.       Living conditions

6. Shelter remains a key concern for both refugee and IDP groups in Serbia and Montenegro.

7. The overwhelming majority (about 90 %) of refugees and IDPs stay with host families and only 10 % are housed in collective shelters which are usually former municipal and public buildings.

8. In some collective centres conditions are literally shocking with extremely poor sanitary facilities, inadequate water supply and lack of privacy. In others living conditions are not much better.

9. The majority of those who are housed in «private accommodation» (with host families or in self-built accommodation) suffer from marginalisation, miss out on aid, and live under threat of eviction for economic reasons. Sanitary facilities increase the danger of public health risks. Despite the difficult conditions in many of the collective shelters, humanitarian agencies have reported that some internally displaced living in private accommodation have been forced to move as a result of the decreasing support capacity of the local population.

10. Red Cross surveys shows that up to 40 % of IDPs in Serbia and Montenegro have changed accommodation at least twice.

11. Food needs among the displaced living in collective centres in Serbia and Montenegro are met by international humanitarian aid, mainly through ICRC in Serbia and WFP in Montenegro. However, people living with host families are not covered by any food or assistance schemes and are totally dependent on their own resources or goodwill of their hosts.

12. An estimated 20 % of displaced children within the FRY do not attend classes. A number of schools were damaged during the war or turned into collective centres, however with UNICEF’s support catch-up classes are being carried out in schools, collective centres and community rooms for an estimated 20 000 displaced children. Alternative non-formal education for Roma and other IDP children with low educational levels has also been initiated. However, the integration of Roma IDP children into the school system is constrained by the fact that they often have an insufficient knowledge of the Serbian language.

13. IDPs and refugees in the FRY have right to health if they are registered. However, the capacity of the health system to deal with the increased numbers is questionable. Supplementary assistance is provided by specialised humanitarian organisations on a case-by-case basis.

14. IDPs and refugees are often improperly informed about their rights and the services available to them. Moreover, sometimes it is difficult to obtain registration necessary to receive access to the services. The problems tend to occur where refugees or IDPs initially registered in the area where they have fled to in the first instance wish to relocate their registration. It has already been mentioned that some municipalities are reluctant to issue documents to IDPs from Kosovo.

15. The Roma IDPs and refugees live in the most precarious conditions. They are the most marginalized group in terms of national and international attention to their plight. Although they are included in international aid distribution schemes but their marginalisation affects their access to other services like healthcare, education or legal advice. Moreover, local municipalities often object to the settlement of Roma displaced in their areas.

3.       International response

16. Coordination for the international response within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (excluding Kosovo) is assured by the UNICEF Special Representative for the Balkans. With the exception of food aid, UNHCR is the main agency specifically dealing with refugees. UNHCR programmes include educational and health assistance, rehabilitation and maintenance of collective shelters, self-reliance activities and legal counselling. ICRC, UNICEF and WHO also implement significant programmes benefiting the IDPs and refugees.

17. Legislation and administrative practices in Serbia and Montenegro have compounded the work of humanitarian agencies who have encountered day-to-day operational and bureaucratic difficulties. The lack of legislation relating to registration of NGOs, standard procedures for the issuance of visas and temporary residence, import of humanitarian aid, taxation, financial and banking, employment of national staff and registration of vehicles have hampered the humanitarian action in a significant way and sometimes have made it more costly. The undergoing developments in the country will hopefully result in the improvement of this highly unsatisfactory situation.

18. The political changes in the FRY have paved the way for an increased contribution of the international community for the improvement of the humanitarian situation in the country. The decisions of the European Union to lift the economic sanctions and the admission of the FRY to full membership of the Stability Pact for South-East Europe constitute important steps for the future cooperation.

4.       Prospects for the future

19. Conditions for the integration of refugees and IDPs in Yugoslavia are not favourable. The Yugoslav economy has endured a major economic crisis resulting from various conflicts in the region. The crisis has affected all sectors of economy. Unemployment is estimated at 30 % of the active population and at 60 % among the displaced and refugee population.

20. National authorities are reluctant to opt for a durable resettlement. This is particularly true for the displaced from Kosovo who often face problems when seeking registration to places of temporary residence.

21. As already mentioned, the prospects for the return of the Serb IDPs to Kosovo will be examined closely in a separate report. The conditions should be created to allow for voluntary returns in security and dignity.

22. Concerning long-term refugees, climate for return to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia has improved significantly in recent times. The implementation of the relevant legislation, cooperative attitude of national authorities have favoured returns in both countries. Accordingly, UNHCR has stepped up efforts in the FRY to promote returns. The dialogue among the national authorities in all countries concerned has been established and UNHCR has been working with local authorities in FRY to identify people wishing to participate in voluntary return programmes. Over 10 000 so far have applied for return from FRY.

23. Dialogue, in cooperation with UNHCR, among the countries concerned on access to property and simplified procedures for returns should be promoted.

24. The increased level of returns should be matched with appropriate funding for the reconstruction effort, A series of projects to support reconstruction, socio-economic development and job creation in return areas should be elaborated in the framework of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.

25. The Council of Europe seems particularly well placed to contribute in its field of competence to international action designed to foster a democratic and multi-ethnic society in FRY. Specific projects should be further elaborated upon by the relevant services.

5.       Concluding remarks

26. The results of the presidential elections in the FRY on 24 September 2000 have paved the way for a transition to democracy and the future long-term solution of population displacement problems in the Balkans.

27. The Committee fully supports the draft Resolution and Recommendation of the Political Affairs Committee, and in particular agrees that the country should be provided with immediate and massive aid.

28. The Committee shares the opinion that the Federal Parliament should be granted special guest status with the Assembly, and welcomes the decision to open a Council of Europe mission in the FRY.

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 8928).

Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Reference to committee: Bureau's decision of 29.09.2000, Reference No. 2542.

Draft opinion approved by the committee on 23 January 2001.

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo, Mr Adelsbach.

1 See Doc. 8928.

2 This opinion deals exclusively with Serbia and Montenegro as the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography is preparing a specific report on the humanitarian situation of returnees to Kosovo (Rapporteur: Mr Connor, Ireland, EPP/CD).

3 The figures relating to the displacement of the population come from UNHCR, and are based on a registration exercise carried out in Serbia (March/April 2000), and in Montenegro (November/December 1999).