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Manual for Sustainable Return

Part I - Context - Guiding Principles

UNMIK has articulated its policy towards returns in a concept paper on The Right to Sustainable Returns" 3 dated May 2002. This concept paper lays out the basic principles that guide UNMIK's approach to the returns process. Below is a summary of the key principles guiding the returns process.

Ensuring social and economic sustainability of returns is crucial. IDPs/Refugees' wish to return and physical ability to do so is achieved only if they are able to live peacefully and participate actively in their community. Four basic conditions are required to ensure sustainability of the returns: (1) security and freedom of movement, (2) access to public services (public utilities, social services, education and health care), (3) access to shelter (i.e. through effective property repossession or housing reconstruction assistance where appropriate) and (4) economic viability through fair and equal access to employment opportunities.

Events in the Balkans have shown that a rightsbased approach to returns remains the most likely to ensuring voluntary and sustainable returns. This approach de-politicises the returns issue and reduces the propensity for either governmentmotivated returns or conditionalities placed on the realisation of that right. This right applies to all ethnic communities and all places of displacement, be it within Kosovo, within Serbia and Montenegro, or in other countries. Return to place of origin The international community gives priority to assist returns to place of origin (return to preconflict home,) over return to displacement (return within pre-conflict boundary or municipality but not to pre-conflict home). This approach is essential for both practical and principled reasons. Prioritising return to place of origin is practical, since many may return to displacement, but justifiably maintain their hope of eventually moving again to their pre-conflict home, where they can re-establish their links with the community, and re-integrate. In an environment of limited resources, the most cost-effective and viable option should be emphasised, which is return directly to the pre-conflict home. This point also makes clear why emphasis on return to place of origin is also the best way to ensure respect for the right to return. Once returns to places of displacement are supported, the momentum to ensure that people are given a real choice to return to their own homes is lessened, and it becomes more likely that the secondary displacement will become permanent. In addition to these arguments, the internal flight alternative has been rejected in the discussion on forced return from abroad.

Bottom-up and IDP-driven
Returns needs are identified and supported based on an expression of interest by the displaced. This approach is both principled and practical. It reflects a rights-based approach in which individuals are able to be involved in the decisions that affect their future, and to have the information necessary to make real choices. Most importantly, returns plans without a strong commitment from the IDPs will not materialise. It also reflects a pragmatic calculation that processes involving local communities, including locally based IDPs, are most likely to be sustainable. The reverse is equally true: a top-down approach to returns in the Kosovo context is likely to put political aims before individual rights and is also, for many reasons, inherently instable.

Engaging the entire community
Inter-community dialogue and community activities are key to sustainable returns. Successful returns projects include specific activities aimed at promoting inter-ethnic dialogue and encouraging tolerance and understanding. It is important to note that such initiatives take time to develop and implement, but that the effort at the early stages in the returns process can forestall difficulties later on. Returns projects that provide some level of benefit for the community as a whole are more likely to succeed.


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