• According to UNHCR statistics, 1622 minorities voluntarily returned to Kosovo in 2006 with the highest number of returns in the regions of Pejë/Pec and Pristina. As of 31 March 2007, the total number of minority returnees since 1999 is estimated at 16,458.
• Building on the existing mechanism for returns developed during the last few years, the comprehensive policy framework for voluntary returns is in place, which put Kosovo institutions and the displaced persons at the centre of the returns process. Thus, the updated returns policies were promulgated by the Government of Kosovo on 24 May 2006, which was followed by the signing of a protocol of cooperation on returns between Pristina and Belgrade on 6 June, and subsequent revision of the Manual for Sustainable Return. The three documents, which came out in a short span of about six weeks, significantly altered the returns landscape in Kosovo, leading to the recognition of IDPs right to free and informed choice of residence, along with greater prospects for assistance.
• Programme activities oversaw, in close cooperation with UNDP and PISG, the completion of several return projects funded from Kosovo budget of over € 40.7 million as well as donors money in 47 locations, which include Babushka I Serbëve/Srpski Babuš, Surcine/Svrcina, Talinovc/Talinovac (Ferizaj/Uroševac), Klinafc/Klinavac (Klinë/Klina), Lug/Ljug and Blagaca -Gjuarakoc/Gjurakovac (Istog/k), Cige/Siga, Brestovik & Levoshe/Ljevosa (Pejë/Pec), Drajčići, Sredska, Bogoševce and Lokvice villages in Zhupa Valley for return of K/Serbs and K/Bosniak families (Prizren), Koshutovë/Košutovo, Bistricë/Bistrica, Ceranja/Ceraje, Leposavic/ Leposaviq for return of Kosovo Albanians (Mitrovice/Mitrovica Region), Magure, Medvec/ Medvec, Hallaq I Vogel/ Mali Alas, Mostina for return of Kosovo RAE (Prishtinë/Priština region).
• While more returns projects are being developed by municipalities, lack of funding remains the single most important obstacle to returns. A funding shortfall of €15.8 million affects 16 approved return projects.
• The allocation from Kosovo budget for the year 2007 to support returns is € 5.2 million. The Ministry of Communities and Returns (MCR) has indicated that it will focus on individual returns – a more cost-effective and economically viable approach to displacement, and has taken the lead in the implementation of the Community Development and Stabilisation projects and two organised returns projects in Prizren and Vushtrri/Vučitrn, in addition to other return projects funded by MCR and implemented by partners.
• The European Agency for Reconstruction kicked off its capacity building project to support the Ministry of Communities and Returns with the objectives of enhancing the capacity of the Ministry by focusing on individual staff, the organization, and systems.
• A dual reporting line to the Ministry of the Local Government Administration (MLGA) and Ministry of Communities and Returns (MCR) was established for the Municipal Return Officers (MROs) and Municipal Community Officers (MCOs) with signing of the Letter of Intent in September 2006 by the two ministries. While MROs and MCOs are within the municipal structures, and thus under the MLGA chain of command, their work mostly relates to the MCR. The dual reporting line has strengthened the cooperation and coordination on returns and minority related matters.
Transfer of competencies
• In line with the policy of transferring competencies to local institutions, last year UNMIK transferred the chair and operations of the Central Review Mechanism (CRM) as well as the Communities Outreach and Communication Group (COCG) to the Government of Kosovo. CRM reviews voluntary return projects and other initiatives endorsed by the municipalities, whereas COCG coordinates the outreach and communication strategy on returns related issues.
• Full operational and financial competency to provide humanitarian transportation (minority bus and railroad operations) for minority communities was also handed over to the Government. With this transfer, the PISG has taken an important step in fulfilling one of the priorities for Standards implementation set forth by the Contact Group, which is to identify and provide public transport for minority communities.
• As of 31 March 2007, the total number of those involuntarily repatriated to Kosovo from host countries stands at 47,738, including 3598 persons who were repatriated last year.
• Based on international human rights standards and the recommendations in the most recent UNHCR position paper, the current UNMIK policy on repatriation has been updated. Accordingly, UNMIK will not accept the repatriation of Kosovo Serbs, Roma and K/Albanians in a minority situation, and continue to conduct individual screenings of members of the Ashkali and Egyptian communities. In addition, UNMIK urges that the repatriation of the elderly, ill and separated children for whom relatives and care-givers have been identified should only take place after advance notification and arrangements have been made by the repatriating state, so that there is no gap in care and protection provided to the person.
• A Repatriation Working Group has been set up to provide support and advise to the PISG on future migration policies and practices in line with the EU and neighbouring States. A Steering Group has also been formed to draft Kosovo Strategy for Reintegration of Repatriated Persons. Both groups, co-chaired by UNMIK and the PISG, have made steady progress, and a comprehensive migration operational framework comprising of readmission and reintegration policies/procedures is shortly expected to be ready for review and discussion. Operational responsibilities of readmission of those repatriated are expected to be transferred to the Government in the near future.
Source: UNMIK: Kosovo in April 2007