Manual for Sustainable Return
Part I - Context - Returns Environment
An environment conducive for returns is one which allows for returns in safety and dignity, reflecting a fundamental change in the situation that originally caused the flight. For returns to occur, improvements are most important in security and minority rights, along with legal guarantees for their implementation. UNSCR's 1244 (1999) tasks the international security presence (KFOR) to provide a secure environment "in which refugees and displaced persons can return home in safety, the international civil presence can operate, a transitional administration can be established", until the international civilian presence can take responsibility to ensure "public safety and order". The international civilian presence (UNMIK) is not only responsible for "assuring the safe and unimpeded return of all refugees and displaced to their homes in Kosovo" but also,in more general terms, to "maintain civil law and order" and to establish a local police. Both KFOR and UNMIK therefore have key responsibilities and decisive roles to play in the context of protection of minorities in Kosovo and the safe and unimpeded return of refugees and IDPs.
The creation and maintenance of a secure environment in the context of difficult inter-ethnic relations requires responses that go beyond the provision of sufficient police and military protection. Mere containment of security threats without addressing the root causes of instability and intolerance ultimately impedes substantial returns, since such returns would challenge the precarious stability achieved. Therefore, a comprehensive and proactive approach is increasingly being applied. Improvement of inter-ethnic relations is the central part of this strategy that aims at a fundamental change in the security situation. This in turn should allow for greater numbers of minority returns.
The return of ethnic minorities is equally the responsibility of the PISG as it is of the international community, as outlined in the Constitutional Framework - "All refugees and displaced persons from Kosovo shall have the right to return to their homes, and to recover their property and personal possessions.
The competent institutions and organs of Kosovo shall take all measures necessary to facilitate the safe return of refugees and displaced persons to Kosovo, and shall cooperate fully with all efforts by the UNHCR and other international and non-governmental organisations concerning the return of refugees and displaced persons."
Minority returns are also a key benchmark against which progress in Kosovo is being measured. This is recognised by the signature of the Prime Minister on the Strategy of Joint Principles on Return 1 and the adoption by the Kosovo Assembly of the Resolution on Rights of Communities and their members and on the Conditions for return of IDPs and Refugees 2. These documents have been followed by numerous public statements of high-ranking politicians in support of returns and integration of minority communities; however, much remains to be done to translate such statements into the assumption of responsibilities and genuine acceptance of minority returns at the municipal and grassroots levels. Kosovo Albanian officials still have a clear tendency to view return as the responsibility of the international community, without assuming ownership. The involvement of Kosovo Albanian officials requires first and foremost a recognition that IDPs/Refugees are a central part of their constituency, with whom they have an obligation to communicate. The quality and the regularity of this involvement varies widely across the regions, ranging from productive co-operation at best, to boycott and obstruction at worst. In most areas, Kosovo Albanian involvement in the returns process began only in early or mid-2002.
Accordingly, engagement with majority-community authorities in returns structures is, in most places, at an early stage. Equally important is the willingness of minorities to participate in the PISG structure and events. While Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians and Bosniaks have come forward to join the new Kosovo administration, Kosovo Serb participation has been sporadic at best. Kosovo Serbs have little confidence in the current Kosovo administration to protect their rights. Although the security situation and efficiency of administration in protecting minority rights have improved considerably since 1999, this has only allowed for the return of a small number of displaced persons.
Precarious inter-ethnic relations, insecurity and restricted freedom of movement, lack of confidence in the rule of law and in the enforcement of property rights, and lack of material and economic opportunities in the place of return continue to affect the returns process adversely. Substantial further improvements are necessary to enable return of displaced persons, irrespective of their place of origin and their ethnicity.
The prospects for returns vary considerably according to region, even within each region, and among different ethnic groups. In some locations IDPs/Refugees with a strong desire to return did do so through establishing contacts with the Municipalities and receiving communities. In other locations, such re-establishment of dialogue and obtaining support of receiving communities requires greater efforts and time.
While some Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) populations have experienced advances in relations with the majority population, security remains a major concern, especially for Roma who are often grouped by Kosovo Albanians with Kosovo Serbs. In some cases though, opposition to return is motivated by material interests, such as the occupation of houses or land usurpation.
Opposition towards returns of Kosovo Serbs is particularly widespread and deep-seated, and is expressed in a variety of ways, ranging from demonstrations and outright hostility towards attempts to re-establish inter-ethnic relations, to simple reluctance and footdragging. In general, interaction at the grassroots level between different communities has sharply increased during 2002. Although this has helped to build up inter-ethnic tolerance, it does not necessarily mature into a reconciliation process and acceptance of returns without assistance and effort.
An addition to security, minority rights and interethnic relations, housing is a fundamental aspect of the return and integration process. Uninhabitable or illegally occupied housing and damaged or destroyed social infrastructure undermine the ability of IDPs/Refugees to exercise their right to return, as there are important factors facilitating self-sufficiency. Until recently, the issue of housing and reconstruction has often been secondary to IDPs/Refugees' decisions to return since the main obstacle remains security.
However, the issue of reconstruction, whether housing, social infrastructure or both, is becoming an increasingly important determinant to the sustainability of return. Moreover, a great number of accommodation belonging to displaced persons is illegally occupied. Lack of housing reconstruction forces IDPs/Refugees to return to situations of internal displacement, usually to overcrowded and unsustainable host family situations. Some returnees may even go back to their place of displacement if they are unable to access assistance on their return. By the same token, fragile and unstable local communities effectively prohibit return opportunities for a larger number of IDPs/Refugees if attention is not paid to the rehabilitation or reconstruction of social infrastructure and public utilities in the return communities, in addition to housing.
While efforts must also be engaged in improving the environment to which IDPs/Refugees will potentially be returning, this manual seeks to describe how IDPs/Refugees can access return assistance and take an active part in the return process. The 2003 Return Strategy places greater emphasis on engaging all communities in the facilitation of returns rather than the existing process which is largely internationally-driven. In this context, the facilitation of returns process warrants a situational, multi-faceted approach, taking into account the particularities of the local environment and the problems posed in each instance to ensure that the right to return of each person is respected.