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Country Report: Yugoslavia
(Includes Kosovo)


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  • Yugoslavia

  • At the end of 2001, Yugoslavia hosted more than 400,000 refugees and about 277,000 internally displaced persons. Although Yugoslavia hosted the largest number of refugees in Europe, the number decreased by 17 percent from the end of 2000. Virtually all the refugees in Yugoslavia were ethnic Serbs, the largest number from Croatia (245,000) and Bosnia (143,500). Serbia hosted 377,131 refugees and Montenegro 14,418.

    During the year, more than 81,800 refugees arrived in Kosovo from Macedonia, and another 12,000 in Serbia, but by year’s end most had returned to Macedonia, leaving only about 10,800 in Kosovo and 450 in Serbia. Although Yugoslav authorities registered arriving refugees, only 13 Macedonians (arrivals from previous years) were accorded refugee status. The UN Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) accorded temporary protection to Macedonian refugees entering Kosovo. Another 382 Croatian refugees and 69 Bosnian refugees were living in Kosovo at year’s end.

    The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 145 asylum seekers registered claims in Yugoslavia in 2001, mostly from Afghanistan, Chechnya (Russian Federation), Iraq, and Georgia. UNHCR reported that an additional 641 refugees from Slovenia resided in Yugoslavia during the year. Because Serbian refugee law lacks provisions for cessation of refugee status, the Slovenians have remained registered, but because their continuing need for protection is uncertain, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) prefers to categorize them as “refugee-like.”

    UNHCR also lists 74,849 “war-affected” persons from the other former Yugoslav republics residing in Yugoslavia (outside Kosovo), also categorized as “refugee-like” by USCR.

    The 277,000 internally displaced people in Yugoslavia at year’s end included 201,641 registered persons displaced from Kosovo into Serbia-proper, 29,451 registered persons displaced from Kosovo into Montenegro, and about 46,000 displaced within Kosovo itself, including 16,000 returning refugees unable to inhabit their original homes. Because Yugoslavia stopped registering internally displaced persons after April 2000, it was impossible to determine how many people might have been newly displaced in 2001. UNHCR regards another 85,000 persons inside Kosovo as “at risk.”

    The drop in refugee numbers in Yugoslavia came to light in a re-registration exercise during March and April, reducing the number of registered refugees by 83,000 from the end of 2000. The government began to promote local integration, amending its citizenship law in February so that acquisition of Yugoslav citizenship no longer required refugees to renounce their citizenship from the other former Yugoslav republics from which they fled.

    About 42,000 refugees and internally displaced persons lived in 678 collective centers in Serbia and Montenegro. Of these, about 30,000 lived in recognized collective centers and about 7,500, mostly Roma and other “gypsy” subgroups, lived in unrecognized collective centers. Others lived in specialized institutions, student dormitories, and local settlements.

    More than 25,000 Yugoslavs sought asylum in other European countries during the year, a 36 percent decline from the number that applied in 2000 and a 76 percent decline from 1999. During the three-year period of 1999 to 2001, Yugoslavs were the largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, totaling more than 171,000. In 2001, the largest numbers of Yugoslavs applied for asylum in Germany (7,842), Switzerland (3,470), and Sweden (3,102). Germany granted temporary or humanitarian status to between 10,000 and 35,000 ethnic minorities from Yugoslavia; up to 90,000 other unregistered Yugoslavs were living in refugee-like circumstances in Germany in 2001. About 17,500 Yugoslavs in Switzerland had temporary protected status or were awaiting the outcome of asylum applications. Croatia hosted about 1,600 refugees from Yugoslavia and Bosnia hosted about 1,700.

    Political Developments
    A bloody and tragic chapter in Yugoslav history came to an end in June when the Serbian government turned over former strongman president Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. President Vojislav Kostunica and the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia made progress toward calming rather than exacerbating brewing crises. Through negotiations, the government succeeded in defusing the most volatile flashpoint, the ethnic-Albanian dominated southern Serbia region in the Presevo Valley near Kosovo, which in 2000 had threatened to become a major conflagration and had displaced about 15,000 persons, mostly into Kosovo. By May, however, after armed ethnic Albanian groups in the region had disbanded and a multiethnic police force had begun operating, the displaced began returning to their homes in the Presevo Valley. By the end of November, about 5,500 had returned, including registered returns of 1,800 to Bujanovac Municipality, 1,600 to Presevo Municipality, and 200 to Medvedja Municipality.

    The situation in Kosovo remained static in 2001. Kosovo remained under the international administration of UNMIK, and members of ethnic minorities (mostly Serbs and Roma) who remained were essentially restricted—out of fear for their own safety—to closely guarded enclaves. Despite failing to show significant popular support among ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during October 2000 municipal elections, which gave 58 percent of the vote to the moderate Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) of Ibrahim Rugova, ethnic Albanian militants mounted well-organized acts of violence and intimidation against minorities. Violence and threats were directed particularly at would-be minority returnees to Kosovo.

    Despite progress on the political front, there was relatively little movement by displaced ethnic Serbs, either among the refugees from Croatia and Bosnia or the internally displaced from Kosovo. In fact, when polled on their desires for the future as part of the re-registration exercise, 60 percent of the refugees from Bosnia and Croatia said that they preferred to remain permanently in Serbia rather than go home, and only 5.3 percent said they wanted to return to their places of origin (34.4 percent were either undecided or refused to answer).

    Minority Displacement within Kosovo
    The threat of violence continued to prevent the return of most displaced Serbs and other minorities, including Roma, Ashkalis, and “Egyptians” (RAE) to their homes in Kosovo. With an estimated unemployment rate of more than 60 percent, and continuing crime, political instability, and ethnic polarization, Kosovo was slow to recover from the full-scale armed conflict of 1999. Both ethnic Albanian and ethnic Serb militants strove to consolidate the ethnic divisions that they had created after the deployment of NATO troops, called KFOR (for Kosovo Force). At the end of 2001, UNHCR estimated that about 20,000 persons remained internally displaced in Kosovo from areas where they would be in the ethnic minority, and another 10,000 ethnic Albanians were displaced into Kosovo from the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia.

    The estimated 100,000 Serbs and thousands of RAE still in Kosovo during 2001 were mostly confined to northern Mitrovica, other parts of northern Kosovo controlled by Serbs (Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan municipalities), and isolated enclaves in the rest of Kosovo, in most cases preserved only by the 24-hour presence of KFOR troops. Because enclave residents were unable to move freely, most were unemployed and unable to gain access to a variety of services, including schooling for their children. Many were fully dependent on outside assistance. Minorities living in enclaves depended on KFOR escorts to enter and leave their settlements, and some were too fearful to leave at all.

    The ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo remained tense in 2001. Ethnic Serbs harassed and intimidated ethnic Albanians residing in the predominantly Serb section of town north of the Ibar River, and discouraged ethnic Albanians from crossing bridges spanning the river. Similarly, ethnic Albanian militants intimidated Serbs in the southern part of Mitrovica, including coercing them into selling their properties through threats, vandalism, and arson.

    Estimates of the number of internally displaced persons who returned from Serbia and Montenegro to their places of origin in Kosovo during the year varied between 400 (registered) and 1,500 (including spontaneous returnees). The majority of returning internally displaced persons from Serbia and Montenegro to Kosovo were ethnic Serbs.

    Ethnic Albanian Kosovar Return
    After KFOR deployed to Kosovo in June 1999, a majority of ethnic Albanians who had fled abroad returned to their places of origin within weeks. By the end of 1999, about 780,000 Albanian Kosovars had repatriated. During 2000, another 101,000 Kosovars repatriated. In 2001, the number of repatriating Kosovars fell to about 19,500. Since voluntary returns to Kosovo began in 1999, more than 900,000 refugees have returned to Kosovo, including 430,000 from Albania, 224,000 from Macedonia, 90,000 from Germany, 44,000 from Switzerland, and 34,000 from Turkey. UNHCR assisted in about 207,000 returns.

    Host countries also deported 8,053 Kosovars during 2001, including 4,501 deported from Germany and 1,334 from Switzerland.

    An estimated 98,000 homes destroyed or damaged in 1999 remained uninhabitable in 2001. Assuming an average family size of six per household, this would mean that as many as 600,000 could still be displaced from their original homes. This rough estimate would be qualified by the possibility that some uprooted persons may have found other durable solutions and that others could remain displaced because of fear of persecution but have intact homes.

    Southern Serbia
    Between January 2000 and May 2001, conflict between ethnic Albanians and Serb police resulted in the displacement of about 15,000 ethnic Albanians from the Presevo Valley area of southern Serbia into Kosovo. After the Serbian government and the so-called Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), an offshoot of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, signed a peace agreement in May, about 5,500 persons who had been displaced into Kosovo returned to their homes in southern Serbia.

    Displaced Serbs from Kosovo
    Some 186,000 ethnic Serbs who fled Kosovo to escape retaliatory violence remained internally displaced in Serbia and Montenegro at year’s end. The majority of the displaced, more than 100,000, resided in municipalities in central and southern Serbia near Kosovo. About 30,000 internally displaced Serbs lived in more than 400 former municipal and “socially owned” buildings transformed into collective centers. In general, collective center residents were more likely to be poor and unemployed than displaced persons living in private accommodations. Many were also elderly or lacked skills in an economy where jobs were scarce.

    Displaced “Gypsies” from Kosovo An estimated 45,000 “gypsy” minorities from Kosovo—Roma, Ashkalis, and “Egyptians” (RAE)—were displaced into Serbia and Montenegro. Many lived in what are somewhat euphemistically called “unrecognized collective centers”—often little more than abandoned buildings. At year’s end, 5,149 persons were registered as living in unrecognized collective centers. Thousands lived on or near the sites of garbage dumps outside large municipalities, such as Belgrade and Podgorica. Displaced RAE often joined pre-existing RAE communities in Serbia and Montenegro, making it difficult to distinguish the displaced from the general—and destitute—Roma communities. Both the local and displaced RAE occupied the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, many working in jobs such as street cleaners and living in squalid slums in industrial sectors or in makeshift encampments under bridges or in abandoned buildings.

    Local municipalities often refused to assist or provide shelter to the RAE, hoping that they would simply move on. While local officials in Montenegro were no more welcoming than in Serbia, displaced RAE in Montenegro at least benefited from the presence of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that provided assistance.

    Refugees from Croatia and Bosnia
    Serbia continued to host 242,600 refugees from Croatia and 133,800 from Bosnia at year’s end, a 43 percent decrease from the number of Bosnians hosted at the end of the war in 1996, and a 17 percent decrease from the number of Croatians hosted in 1996.

    During the year, 7,221 Croatian Serbs repatriated through an organized return program, a 58 percent decrease from the 17,000 Croatian Serbs who repatriated in 2000. As of the end of 2001, some 59,000 Croatian refugees had voluntarily repatriated from Yugoslavia since 1996, of whom about 16,000 were assisted by UNHCR. The majority of returnees to Croatia were reportedly elderly Serbs whose homes remained habitable and unoccupied.

    Yugoslavia also hosted about 143,500 ethnic Serb refugees from Bosnia in 2001, many of whom had arrived in the country as early as 1992. Of these, 133,780 resided in Serbia, 9,720 in Montenegro, and 73 in Kosovo. Because registered Bosnian refugees may pass freely between Serbia and the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, it is difficult to estimate the number who repatriated in 2001 or who have returned permanently since the 1995 Dayton agreement. However, about 1,000 families did request UNHCR’s assistance in returning to Bosnia in 2001. Most returned to the Federation, where they would be in the ethnic minority. Almost 90 percent of refugees requesting UNHCR assistance in repatriating have returned to the Federation.

    Some 25,500 of the most vulnerable refugees from Croatia and Bosnia lived in collective centers, sometimes together with internally displaced persons. Although most refugees had been in Serbia and Montenegro considerably longer, conditions for refugees in the centers were no better than for the internally displaced.

    The continued deterioration of economic conditions in Yugoslavia had a particularly devastating impact on both refugees and the internally displaced. Estimates placed unemployment in Serbia at about 30 percent during 2001, with joblessness among refugees and displaced people believed to be at least twice that high.

    More than 90 percent of the refugees lived in private accommodations—with relatives, in rented housing, or sometimes in their own homes. Many experienced increased difficulties in making ends meet.

    Although 60 percent of refugees have indicated that they prefer local integration to repatriation, gaining Yugoslav citizenship has not been easy. At times, the bureaucracy for processing citizenship applications has been at a complete standstill. Nevertheless, between January 1997 (when a revision in Yugoslavia’s citizenship law went into effect) and November 2001, more than 176,000 individuals had acquired Yugoslav citizenship. It was not possible to track how many had been refugees.

    In response to a widely held belief that many refugees were not opting for citizenship out of fear that they would render themselves ineligible for possible future compensation for their losses in Croatia or Bosnia, in March 2001 the Yugoslav government revised its citizenship law, no longer requiring citizenship applicants to renounce previous citizenship in order to naturalize.

    During the year, 1,367 refugees departed from Yugoslavia for resettlement in other countries. The largest number, 693, went to the United States (633 Croatians, 30 Bosnians); another 599 refugees from Croatia, 67 from Bosnia, and 8 from Iraq resettled in seven other countries. At year’s end, 552 refugees approved for resettlement were awaiting departure, while 425 refugees that UNHCR had recommended for resettlement were awaiting decisions by six resettlement countries.

    Copyright USCR