The United Nations refugee agency is working with Serbian authorities and donors to build new public housing for people displaced by conflict and unrest in Kosovo and other regions and close Serbia’s collective centres for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
About 6,000 refugees and IDPs now live in Serbia’s 60 remaining collective centres, down from about 26,000 people spread across 340 centres in January 2002, according to a press release issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday.
UNHCR said it has been working with Serbian authorities for five years on helping move refugees and IDPs but began to intensify its efforts late last year after establishing a joint task force.
That task force identified 30 small centres that can be quickly closed or converted into homes for the elderly and proposed solutions for relocating the residents – many of whom are unemployed – into new or established housing.
Recently UNHCR contributed $440,000 to the construction of an apartment block in the southern Serbian town of Vranje that is now home to former IDPs from Kosovo. The incoming residents will only have to pay for utilities and will receive ongoing support from local social welfare centres.
UNHCR warned that the project is far from completion, despite the construction of hundreds of apartments and other buildings. One reason is that many residents of the collective centres are extremely vulnerable, such as the elderly or the chronically ill, and ineligible for the assistance programme. They are also unable to return to Kosovo or their homes in Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Serbia is currently host to about 205,000 IDPs from Kosovo and some 97,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. An estimated 17,000 people are also deemed stateless.