Manual for Sustainable Return
Part II - Operational Guidelines - Summary Procedures
Indicating the wish to return
The returns process relies fundamentally on recognising and responding to the expressed wish of IDPs/refugees to return. The ability to respond to the expression of interest to return is the essence of the "bottom-up" approach. The identification of the desire to return arises from a variety of sources. One common way for displaced persons to learn about the process for return and conditions in their pre-conflict home and surrounding community is through remainees and IDPs who are displaced close to their original home.
These IDPs, or at times the remainees, start the return process by approaching the international community, by spontaneously entering into dialogue with their former neighbours, visiting their homes and eventually involving members of their community who are displaced further away. Many IDPs and refugees learn through "Go and Inform Visits" (GIV) and "Go and See Visits" (GSV). Potential returnees also gather information through other channels, including the media and informal networks of word-of-mouth exchanges, as well as through the joint regional Information Framework Project. Exchange of information during GIVs and GSVs provides an indication of displaced persons wishes and returns needs. IDPs/Refugees' associations and organisations engage with international organisations to indicate the returns needs of particular communities or individuals. Non-governmental organisations working within displaced communities, whether inside or outside Kosovo, also play an important role by engaging with those interested in returning, supporting efforts in gathering information to allow potential returnees to make an informed choice and identifying needs upon return.
The return thus begins with the identification of a genuine, informed, and voluntary wish to return by the IDPs/Refugees.
Linking IDPs/Refugees with their community of origin
Links between the IDPs/Refugees and their community of origin can be established in parallel with dialogue initiatives with their municipality of origin. This again also can be achieved in a variety of ways, ranging from the GSVs, which includes dialogue with Municipal authorities and local village leaders, visits to the neighbourhoods of origin and meetings with former neighbours. These mechanisms help open dialogue between the IDPs/Refugees and the receiving communities, and provide a basis for receiving communities to begin to take part in preparations for return of IDPs/Refugees. Dialogue is fundamental to building confidence for both the potential returning community and the receiving community. The GSVs and GIVs are to be understood as opportunities for initiating returns processes but are not ends in themselves. Rather, they should be viewed as tools to establish communication between the communities. Strategies to initiate low-key talks are further described in the first part of the Components of Returns Process section called Inter-ethnic dialogue and community integration.
Linking IDPs/Refugees with their municipality of origin
The first contact should be channelled through the municipal administration in the municipality of origin. This can be achieved through the participation of IDPs/Refugees representatives in the Municipal Working Groups (MWGs), through visits of municipal officials to IDPs/Refugees, organised by UNHCR or NGOs providing cross-boundary/cross-border links between displaced persons and their place of origin. In practice, this initial contact is often facilitated by remaining members of the minority community who approach the international community on behalf of their more distant neighbours. Locally based IDPs speaking on behalf of their larger group, or members of the same ethnic community, who are involved in the municipal administration exchange of information between the municipality of origin and the IDPs/Refugees, through MWGs. Obtaining official active support for entering into contact with IDPs/Refugees can ease future contacts made at the local level, in their community of origin.
Identifying material and situational challenges for returns
Analysis of conditions for the return of IDPs/Refugees to a given location are most effective when undertaken by all major partners engaged in the returns process (both national and international). In identifying returns needs and obstacles, IDPs/Refugees, NGOs, and all those involved in the returns process draw on profiles or assessments of villages or neighbourhoods of origin of the displaced. UNHCR village profiles are an important tool, where available. Municipal Working Groups can pull together additional profiles to supplement existing information. KFOR's security assessments regarding pre-conflict minority inhabited villages and neighbourhoods are key elements of this process.
The environment changes over time, therefore flexibility in analysis is needed. Two broad types of obstacles to returns can arise:
- Material obstacles, such as lack of or poor infrastructure, housing reconstruction or rehabilitation needs, unresolved property issues, unemployment and poor opportunities for economic livelihood
- Situational challenges, such as security, freedom of movement and/or possible lack of access to agricultural land, need for confidence building both for the receiving and returning communities, lack of access to public services due to a discriminating environment, among others.
The identification of obstacles at this stage in a Return Process helps devise the best strategy for a sustainable return. Municipal Working Groups provide an opportunity for all those involved in the returns process to share information regarding returns needs. Strategies should be sought within this forum in order to develop the best means for a returns process to be sustainable.
Existing tools to overcome material and situational obstacles
The appropriate tools to remove obstacles to returns depend on the type of challenges identified. Material obstacles require a different type of action than challenges related to the specific circumstances or situation facing a particular community. Situational challenges require a thorough confidence building process both within the community returning and with the receiving community. They require engaging both communities simultaneously, through dialogue. In addition to dialogue and clarification of understandings and interests, opportunities for rapprochement might be found by identifying common needs and mutual interests among both returning and receiving communities. For instance, discussion of needs might reveal a mutual interest in improvement of the water network, which services the existing community and returnees. Material obstacles require the development of different types of projects that are addressing the needs identified. Addressing material obstacles in the return process can also be an opportunity for overcoming situational challenges.
An approach that addresses material needs while also stimulating inter-ethnic dialogue and joint community (returning and receiving) activities can yield fruitful results. Obstacles may themselves provide opportunities to build confidence for the sustainable return of IDPs/Refugees, for their engagement and integration into their community of origin.
The collaborative efforts of all relevant actors in the return process (IDPs/Refugees, receiving communities,international and local actors), in the identification of challenges and of the opportunities to overcome these are a pre-requisite for the success and sustainability of the returns process.
Once returns needs are identified, the next step in the Return Projects Process is the development of concept papers that outline return projects to meet the identified returns needs. Municipal Working Groups should encourage all interested implementing partners NGOs/Agencies) to develop concept papers for identified return needs. In requesting concept papers, Municipal Working Groups will identify the broad needs to be met by the project (including those of the receiving community) within the following possible project "sectors": 1) housing reconstruction/repossession assistance; 2) infrastructure; 3) employment and income generation; 4) access to public and community services (e.g. health, social services, education); and 5) inter-ethnic dialogue and community integration. The full project proposals will be prepared once funding is identified for a specific project through the submission of the concept papers to donors.
The implementing partner (NGO/Agency) has primary responsibility for the implementation of the returns project. The Municipal Working Group will provide support for the project implementation process, including facilitating coordination among the parties involved in the returns process. While the donor is primarily responsible for oversight of the project, the Municipal Working Group will monitor project implementation, and support the implementing partner to address unforeseen obstacles in project implementation if necessary. Implementing partners are responsible for keeping the Municipal Working Group informed of their work through periodic reporting and participation in Municipal Working Group meetings. Post-return socio-economic integration The Municipal Administrations will ensure the administrative integration of the returnees into the municipality.
Once displaced persons return to their municipality, they should be treated as permanent residents of the community and afforded the same rights as everyone else in the municipality, regardless of their ethnicity. Accordingly, the Municipality must ensure full implementation and enforcement of existing UNMIK legislation protecting minority rights and equal access to public and social services, as well as civil service employment opportunities.