Since the end of the war in former Yugoslavia almost a decade ago, hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people have returned to their former homes. Despite the ambitious objectives of the Sarajevo Declaration of January 2005  to find durable solutions for the remaining displaced populations by the end of 2006, there remain a number of unresolved issues that still represent important impediments to return. In mid-2006, a total of approximately 560,000 people remained in need of a durable solution in the former Yugoslavia. In early 2007, 380,000 people were still internally displaced.

The uncertainty around the future status of Kosovo has also had an impact on the process of returns in the region. In a worst case scenario, Kosovo’s new political status could also lead to new displacement with an estimated 85,000 people in Kosovo being at risk.

Western Balkan countries continue to face formidable economic and political challenges. Poverty and unemployment remain key problems. In some areas affected by conflict, basic infrastructure is still lacking. The process of housing reconstruction has yet to be fully completed. With regard to economic reconstruction, there remains a need for investment of a scale that effectively addresses the development challenges facing the region. Investment in building institutional capacity to ensure good governance and the rule of law is also a priority.

The report on “Current Challenges for Returns in the Western Balkans: An NGO Perspective” has been written by four non-governmental organizations from Serbia, (Group 484), Croatia, (Croatian Helsinki Committee), former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Association for Democratic Initiatives), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (Vasa prava) in the context of a partnership with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) under a CARDS-funded project on “Strengthening the regional advocacy voice and policy impact of civil society on behalf of vulnerable groups in the Western Balkans”. Using the four organizations’ direct experiences with refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees as a starting point, the report aims to highlight some of the ongoing barriers to returns in the region and present an agenda for action for EU institutions and national governments. ECRE and its partner organisations consider that the EU has a pivotal role to play in exercising leverage with governments in the region to comply with their obligations under international and regional human rights law and principles, remove barriers to return and put in place the necessary conditions that guarantee long term sustainability and effective reintegration of returnees.”

October 2007

The report is available at:

http://www.ecre.org/files/ECRE_Returns_Report.pdf