Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Local Integration for Refugees in Serbia

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Local Integration for Refugees in Serbia

Article excerpt

By paying particular attention to the promotion of livelihoods and self-reliance, UNHCR hopes to be able to phase out the long-standing assistance programme.

The situation of Bosnian and Croatian refugees in Serbia was one of five identified for support when UNHCR launched a Special Initiative on Protracted Refugee Situations in 2008. In December 2008 a high- level meeting took place in Geneva between the High Commissioner and a Serbian delegation, where both parties agreed to make a last effort towards ensuring that the remaining refugees in Serbia would find a durable solution, through either return or local integration, so that within a two-year period this particular situation would finally be resolved.

Thirteen years have passed since the end of hostilities in the western Balkans but there are still some 361,000 IDPs and around 100,000 refugees in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, of whom around 96,000 are in Serbia alone. Some 140,000 refugees have returned from Serbia to their countries of origin over the past decade, while around 50,000 people were resettled to third countries. The majority of refugees in Serbia, however, decided to integrate locally.

Local integration of refugees in Serbia is a process that has lasted for more than a decade. Serbia allowed naturalisation of refugees in 1997. Citizenship legislation was amended several times after that and the current legal framework is very liberal. However, naturalisation is only one component. Local integration is also an economic process in which refugees should grow less dependent on state assistance and become self-reliant. Finally, it is a social and cultural process, enabling refugees to contribute to the social life of the country of asylum.

Serbia's National Strategy for Resolving the Problems of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (2002) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (2003) set out clear guidelines and provide a solid foundation for progress in the integration of refugees in Serbia. The National Strategy focuses on promoting repatriation to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as return of IDPs to Kosovo, and promoting local integration by addressing the issues of housing (including the closure of collective centres), facilitating opportunities for employment and dealing with the legal and property aspects of both local integration and repatriation.


UNHCR in Serbia has developed a number of programmes for local integration of refugees, mainly in the sectors of housing and employment. More than US$100 million has been invested in integration projects, of which $30 million is for housing projects alone. During the nineties, the public housing system established during socialist times was intentionally destroyed by the regime. UNHCR, as the only international organisation operating in Serbia at the time, therefore aimed its first housing projects at meeting the needs of both the most vulnerable among the population of its concern (people in collective centres) and those in private accommodation, who would be able to manage their own housing if they had some support.

In Serbia, over 90% of the housing stock is now privately owned. Unfortunately, private owoiership of housing continues to be elusive for the majority of refugees. A December 2008 survey by the Serbian Commissioner for Refugees indicated that only 29.5% of refugees in the Republic of Serbia owned their own housing. The largest percentage Uve in rented apartments and houses (41.75%), paying a large proportion of their monthly income in rent. Another 19.75% live with family or friends. The remaining collective centres accommodate 1.5%, social welfare institutions and other forms of social housing 6%, and 1.5% live in other forms of accommodation.

Mass construction of individual houses and apartment buildings for refugees was undertaken in the period 1996-2004. Several new housing concepts were introduced in accordance with the strategic documents published by the government which increased the interest of the international community in providing assistance. …

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