Extracts (Refugees and IDPs)

During the armed conflicts in the region, Montenegro has proven to be a generous host for many refugees and displaced persons. However, more than a decade later, many of them still do not have their status in the country regularised. Some, like the Roma refugees from Kosovo, are in double jeopardy as they lack both status and documentation. This issue needs to be addressed urgently.

The Commissioner paid an on-site visit to the Konik area on the outskirts of Podgorica, where ca. 2,200 Roma are living in appalling conditions in two camps. The two camps Konik 1 and 2 mainly host Roma who fled from the war in Kosovo. Roma in the Konik shanty town outside of these camps comprise both displaced and domicile Roma. Roma residing within and surrounding the Konik official camps often lack access to water, electricity, heating and adequate sanitation facilities.

The majority of Roma either do not hold official Montenegrin civil registration ID documents or are in an unregularised position owing to their status of “internally displaced” from Kosovo. Such persons may find themselves forced into informal or seasonal forms of employment, which fall outside the protection of the relevant labour standards and employment laws. Lack of formal education is cited as an important obstacle in their integration into the regular work force. In addition, disincentives exist for employing “displaced” Roma from Kosovo and all non-residents in unregularised position16: special work permits are required and additional fees are imposed on the employers.

Legal assistance is provided in the Konik camps (I and II), to assist the Roma in obtaining civic documentation and help them with issues regarding their legal status in Montenegro The Ministry of Minorities and Human Rights, the Bureau for the Care of Refugees together with UNHCR and NGOs are trying to address this issue with the neighbouring states.

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Montenegro hosts 8,529 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and 16,195 from Kosovo. Persons from Kosovo are still officially accounted for as “displaced persons” despite Montenegro’s declaration of independence in June 200617. A major problem stems from their state-defined status of being “displaced persons”. These persons are not granted the rights of refugees as enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention and its protocols, but instead are categorised as “displaced” under the “1992 Government decree on Care of Displaced Persons”. Owing to this status, they face obstacles to accessing employment, social welfare, health insurance and property rights. The Government has not yet opened sufficient concrete avenues for the legal integration of such displaced persons from Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia, and the Law on Asylum, the Law on Montenegrin Citizenship and the draft Law on Foreigners do not fully and effectively address this issue.

With financial and technical support from UNHCR, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Public Administration manages a database of Croatian and Bosnian “displaced” persons and issues temporary displaced status cards, while the Bureau for Care and Refugees manages the database of Kosovo IDPs (i.e. refugees) and has the competence to issue special IDP cards. Although the Government adopted the “2005 – 2008 National Strategy for Resolving the Problems Faced by Displaced persons, the overall situation of these persons appears not to have changed significantly in that period.

118. The Government believes that the Law on Montenegrin Citizenship and the Law on Asylum and the draft Law on Foreigners18 ensure all persons on their territory with sufficient legal protection. The Commissioner notes a number of shortcomings with the said laws. The law on Montenegrin Citizenship retains strict naturalisation criteria including access to guaranteed income, and a fixed abode. This strictness in the law is limiting the possibility for effective integration of the displaced (refugee) populations19: for a vast majority of so-called “displaced persons” the regular naturalization criteria of the Law on Citizenship would apply, but the strict requirements represent a serious challenge for many as they remain without right to ownership and full right to work. The draft Law on Foreigners appears to be satisfactory neither in terms of the legal status of so-called “displaced persons” not considered residents nor in terms of the restricted access to social services to citizens only – thus excluding non-citizens. The Commissioner reemphasises the principle that the said laws should ensure the human rights protection of all persons belonging to minorities on the Montenegrin territory, irrespective of their status.

119. The Commissioner welcomes the indication from the Office for Asylum within the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Local Administration that the status of individuals will be re-examined in accordance with Article 75 of the Law on Asylum, and subsequently refugee status granted as appropriate according to the law. For those persons who do not obtain refugee status, it would be possible to have foreigner status with a granted stay. The Commissioner emphasises the importance to regularise without delay the status of these persons to pave the way for their effective integration into society.

i. Displaced Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians (RAE) – Access to civil registration and personal documents

120. The “displaced” (refugee) Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian populations form the most marginalised, destitute and vulnerable segment of the displaced populations from the former Yugoslav republics. Approximately 24% of persons who fled from Kosovo are Roma, Ashkali or Egyptian. Many of them are either de facto stateless, or at risk of being so, resulting from a protracted combination of various problems: the absence of any means to prove their citizenship; the administrative chaos created by the conflict in Kosovo; arbitrary or discriminatory practices by civil servants; and the lack of awareness and understanding of the means and importance of registering and documenting themselves and their children. An additional problem is their inability to exercise their original citizenships and the lack of a mechanism and procedure to obtain Montenegrin citizenship. Some encounter severe difficulties in obtaining birth certificates from their places of origin in Serbia or Kosovo. Their problems are compounded by the lack of recognition of official documents between Serbia and UNMIK, in addition to their short validity time and hefty fees.

121. The Commissioner deeply regrets that at the time of visit there were no Government-sponsored projects to address the lack of documentation among the RAE population in Montenegro.

122. Without citizenship and ID documents many RAE refugees experience severe problems in registering their new born children. These children then run the risk of being stateless or de facto stateless – thus perpetuating the problem. The Commissioner recommends the Government take a more proactive role in promoting civil registration to ensure documentation for all persons born on its territory and ensure active, open and transparent access to competent bodies in this regard.

123. The Commissioner stresses the importance and urgency for the Government to solve the issue of status for IDPs and refugees and facilitate the issuance of identification documents. Appropriate measures need to be considered for those whose documents are not currently available or do not exist. The Ombudsman should also consider continuous monitoring of the situation of these most vulnerable groups.

Recommendations

Roma

36. Tackle the human rights situation of the Roma in a comprehensive way and fully implement the Government’s 2007 Strategy for the Improvement of the Position of Roma Population.

 37. Resolve the precarious living conditions of Roma in informal settlements particularly in the Konik area, in close cooperation with international partners.

38. Support and facilitate birth and citizenship registration of both domicile and displaced Roma from Kosovo, in order to minimise the risk of statelessness.

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

39. Open concrete possibilities for the local integration of “displaced persons” from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina opting to remain in Montenegro, and grant them a proper legal status which will facilitate their integration in Montenegrin society.

40. Regularize the status of the “internally displaced persons” from Kosovo residing on Montenegrin territory through: (1) citizenship, (2) long term residence with all of the rights of citizens other than voting rights, or (3) prima facie refugee status.

41. Promulgate the necessary regulations and operating instructions necessary for full implementation of the Law on Asylum.

 Comments by the Montenegrin government

 IX. Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

PARAGRAPHS 116, 117, 118

Montenegrin Law on Citizenship is fully in line with the new Constitution of Montenegro (it was enacted after the adoption of Constitution), and also with the relevant European and international instruments related to citizenship. Law on Asylum, prepared in cooperation with the experts from UNHCR and Council of Europe, is in line with relevant European and international instruments on asylum, and in accordance with that, it grants the rights to the people who are looking for or already have asylum in Montenegro. Proposal of the Law on Foreigners, which is expected to be adopted soon, is fully in line with relevant instruments for entering and staying of foreigners in Montenegro.

Montenegrin Law on Citizenship allows refugees who have certain period of continuous residence in Montenegro to get Montenegrin citizenship, but permanent residence permit is not the prerequisite that for obtaining Montenegrin citizenship.

PARAGRAPH 119

All refugees (from Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia) have adequate documents by which they prove their status and rights. It was determined, without any doubt, that majority of refugees from Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia are not people without citizenship, as they have citizenship of those countries, and even their documents (passports and personal IDs).

In this relation, Office for Asylum of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Public Administration will re-examine the current status of these people in accordance with Article 75 of the Law on Asylum. For those that need protection according to the conditions from this Law, it will give them refugee status and all the subsequent rights, including the right to obtain identification document and travel papers. For persons that do not obtain the refugee status, it would be possible to have foreigner status with a granted stay.

The full report together with the comments of the Montenegrin authorities are available here.