With the world’s youngest country, Montenegro, still saddled with thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from its former union with Serbia, victims of the various Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, the United Nations refugee agency has pledged continuing help in providing protection and assistance.
Today, there are more than 8,000 refugees, mainly from Bosnia and Croatia, together with nearly 18,000 people from Kosovo who were classified as IDPs while Montenegro was still in a union with Serbia.
“Many need continuing assistance and protection, especially those displaced from neighbouring Kosovo,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today. “These IDPs are mainly ethnic Serbian or members of the Roma community and are unable to return to their homes.”
The deputy director of the UNHCR’s Europe Bureau, Udo Janz, discussed the issue with senior officials during a visit last week shortly after the province voted for independence, and pledged to help the new Government find durable solutions for these groups and to design and establish a national asylum system.
In the mid-1990s, Montenegro hosted nearly 30,000 refugees from Bosnia and Croatia. In 1999, during the Kosovo crisis, a further 28,000 IDPs fled to Montenegro, which has a population of just 650,000 people.
The governments of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia and Montenegro agreed in January last year to try and solve their refugee problems by the end of 2006, either through voluntary repatriation or local integration in the countries of asylum.
“We hope this deadline will be met,” Mr. Redmond said. “At the same time, we believe continuing talks under UN auspices on the final status of Kosovo should also seek a solution for the tens of thousands of IDPs from that province,” he added, referring to the Albanian-majority Serbian province, which the UN has run ever since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave human rights abuses in ethnic fighting.