The persistent absence of a sustainable solution for approximately 235,0001 displaced persons (DPs) from Kosovo continues to pose a major challenge for all concerned. While the safe and dignified return of DPs to their homes is recognized as a fundamental right both in international law and in the legal framework in Kosovo and despite long-term engagement with the issue by Kosovo institutions and international actors, returnees in Kosovo are still confronted by serious obstacles to their sustainable reintegration, including limited access to public services, property rights and socio-economic opportunities; the deteriorating security situation in returns sites; and tensions between receiving communities and potential returnees in certain areas.
As part of its core mandate to monitor, promote and protect human rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Mission in Kosovo (OSCE) supports and periodically reports on the returns process in Kosovo, monitoring trends and assessing compliance by Kosovo institutions with the relevant legal and policy framework.
There have been some positive developments in returns policy since 2010, but implementation by municipal institutions has been neither consistent nor effective. A 2010 government regulation mandating the establishment of municipal co-ordination mechanisms, the Municipal Offices for Communities and Returns (MOCRs), constituted an important first step towards addressing identified problems in the returns and reintegration process at the municipal level. However, to date, there is little evidence that this has led to tangible improvements in the development, implementation and co-ordination of returns activities on the ground.
Of serious concern is the deteriorating security situation in several returns sites, which have seen an increase in incidents affecting returnees and their property. Frequent looting of these sites, coupled with damage to places of religious or cultural significance and occasional low-level harassment, has had a negative impact on perceptions of security among both returning communities and potential returnees.
While most municipalities have taken these incidents seriously, expressing their support for affected communities through statements of condemnation and outreach activities, some have failed to take any action whatsoever.
At several difficult returns locations, tensions between potential returnees and receiving communities have further obstructed the returns process. In most cases these frictions are rooted in allegations of unresolved war crimes or missing persons cases, although exacerbating factors such as ongoing property disputes or the overarching political situation also play a role. With a few laudable exceptions (Gjakovë/Ðakovica, Klinë/Klina and Prizren), proactive municipal support for the returns process is often lacking, and in a small number of cases municipal officials themselves openly condition the returns process on external factors, such as the resolution of outstanding property issues or a change in overarching political circumstances.
The OSCE urges Kosovo institutions to take all necessary measures to ensure full implementation of the legal and policy framework on returns, including through the timely establishment of MOCRs, the development and implementation of municipal returns strategies, and the allocation of adequate budgetary resources for returns activities. In the aftermath of security incidents affecting returnees, senior municipal officials should show support for the returnee communities through a public statement of condemnation and follow-up outreach activities. Security actors should likewise continue their efforts to reassure affected communities through increased patrols and community policing in returns sites, and to make greater use of local community protection mechanisms, notably the Municipal Community Safety Councils (MCSCs) and Local Public Safety Committees (LPSCs). All actors working on returns must send a clear message, including through public statements of support and regular attendance by senior officials at returns activities, that support for the returns process is unconditional. Central and municipal institutions should work together with the Kosovo police and international organizations to develop inter-ethnic dialogue activities to build confidence between receiving and returning communities.
The report is available here.