20 February 2008 – The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammerberg, has just released his report on his visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in June last year.

The report contains a detailed description about the situation of Kosovo refugees and recommends the Bosnian authorities to find a durable solution to their situation.

Down below are the relevant parts of the report which is available from the Commissioner’s website.

Treatment of asylum-seekers, refugees and foreigners

136. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a State party to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. The legal framework for the institution of asylum is defined in the Law on Movement and Stay of Aliens and Asylum, which entered into force in October 2003. In general, legislation on asylum is in line with international standards and the minimum standards of the EU acquis. The provisions are in conformity with the international standards, including the principle of non-refoulement.

137. Most of the refugees and asylum seekers in BiH are from Kosovo and neighbouring countries. The temporary protection regime in BiH for persons from Serbia and Montenegro whose place of last permanent residence was Kosovo was established through a decision by the Council of Ministers in accordance with Article 85(1) of the Law on Movement and Stay of Aliens and Asylum. In total 3,057 persons from 921 families have benefited from temporary admission status, which remained in force until 30 June 2007. A total of 447 persons lived in the three reception centres established. The Commissioner commends the BiH authorities for the generosity they have demonstrated in having provided temporary asylum to refugees from Kosovo for many years with the assistance of UNHCR.

138. On 7 June 2007, the Commissioner visited the collective accommodation centre in Sokolovac near Mostar, where mainly refugees of Roma origin from Kosovo were residing. The Commissioner observed that all the children in the Sokolovac centre were attending the local school, although reportedly many Roma refugee children have difficulties in getting access to education. The refugees in Sokolovac informed the Commissioner that their temporary status was going to expire at the end of June 2007. Understandably, they were very concerned about what was going to happen to them after that date and if they would be forced to return to Kosovo.

139. Following his visit, on 18 June 2007, the Commissioner wrote to Prime Minister Nikola Spirić to convey his concerns regarding the situation of refugees coming from Kosovo currently residing in Bosnia and Herzegovina on a temporary admission status. The Commissioner in his letter said that while he could “agree in principle that temporary admission as a measure for protection has to come to an end at some point”, he “did not agree, however, that the situation in Kosovo yet allows for return of all refugees in safety and dignity. In particular, conditions for return for Roma, Serbs and Albanians in a minority situation are not there yet.”

140. The Commissioner proposed that efforts should be turned to identification of durable solutions for the members of this group, particularly for those for whom return to Kosovo is not yet possible. He encouraged the Bosnian authorities to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for those entitled to it and to adopt a liberal attitude towards applications from Roma in this regard. Furthermore, he suggested that those under temporary admission be informed that they have access to the procedure for the assessment of their eligibility for refugees status or granting of other forms of protection in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Commissioner insisted that as a minimum requirement the refugees should be granted a temporary stay.

141. The Prime Minister informed the Commissioner in the end of June 2007 that the temporary admission status had been extended for a further three months until the end of September 2007. The Commissioner has since been informed by UNHCR that most of the refugees from Kosovo have applied for asylum and are waiting for the outcome of the refugee determination process. The Commissioner reiterates his recommendations expressed in the letter of June 2007.

Recommendations

34. Find durable solutions for those refugees, who have been under the temporary protection scheme, particularly those for whom return to Kosovo is not yet possible.

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