Geneva, 10 December 2007 – The risk of renewed displacement in Kosovo is increasing as the deadline for the resolution of the province’s future status is likely to expire today without a decision, warns a report released by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“In case Kosovo declares independence unilaterally and without effective international safeguards in place, many of the remaining Serbs may decide to leave their homes and seek safety and better livelihood prospects in Serbia”, said Thomas Colin Archer, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Some 250,000 people – mostly ethnic Serbs and Roma – fled their homes in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO bombardment and ethnic violence, and most of them have been unable to return to the province or fully integrate in their current places of residence. Their future, too, hangs on the resolution of the status question, the report says.

Serbia currently hosts 206,000 IDPs from Kosovo. Violence, isolation and discrimination faced by the remaining Serbs in Kosovo have kept return figures down. Yet the Serbian government encourages their return rather than support their integration. This strategy maintains the visibility of the displaced population in support of negotiations over Kosovo, but leaves the displaced themselves without adequate assistance, and with limited access to social and economic rights.

Minority communities in Kosovo, including displaced people and returnees, are largely segregated from the majority Albanian population. Kosovo’s Serbs and Roma suffer from widespread discrimination, restricted freedom of movement and access to property, justice, education, healthcare and employment. If problems relating to their personal documentation and civil registration remain unaddressed, many risk becoming stateless in an independent Kosovo.

“The Serbian and Kosovar authorities must stop using the displaced as pawns in their negotiations and instead take effective steps to assist their return or local integration”, said Mr. Archer. “The international community must continue to support them in this endeavour to avoid the risk of new violence and further displacement.”

An overview is available at:

http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004BE3B1/(httpInfoFiles)/4826BE4AE040C44AC12573AD00534FF7/$file/serbia%20overview%20dec07.pdf

For the full report see:

http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004BE3B1/(httpInfoFiles)/4D4B0FE223D54F6FC12573AD00579737/$file/Serbia+-December+2007.pdf