3 June 2013
Minority return to Croatia - Study of an open process

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3 June 2013
Sustainability of minority return in Croatia

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4 April 2013
Assistance to refugees in the carriage of goods and persons to the country of origin

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21 March 2010
Process of voluntary repatriation of refugees to the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Process of voluntary repatriation of refugees to the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina
A considerable number of refugees still residing in Serbia would be ready to return in the country of their origin, only if conditions for sustainable return were provided, that is, voluntary, safe and dignified return with an access to all rights through the respect and consistent implementation of all internationally acknowledged standards. Provision of durable solutions for refugees is only possible with the support of international community.

Repatriation of refugees to the Republic of Croatia

Based on data from Registration of refugees who reside in the Republic of Serbia conducted by the Commissariat in cooperation with the UNHCR in late 2004 and early 2005, 100,524 refugees from Croatia were registered, while 76, 546 persons confirmed their refugee status. It is estimated that at least additional 150, 000 persons from Croatia obtained Serbian citizenship.

According to available data, 69,000 persons have returned to the Republic of Croatia so far, and out of this number 13,650 persons have returned in organization of the UNHCR. In 2007, 102 persons have returned within organized voluntary repatriation.

According to data of the Ministry of the Sea, Tourism, Transport and Development of the Republic of Croatia of January 2007, 91,555 persons have returned to the Republic of Croatia from the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro.

Based on our experiences, statistics on the number of returnees very often do not reflect the true status of the process of voluntary repatriation. Returnees are defined as persons who tentatively have returned, some organization or state service in the place of repatriation has registered them in their records, or they have received assistance to transport their personal belongings to place of repatriation, and there are no feedback whatsoever whether these persons have had access to basic human rights.

Latest UNHCR survey conducted in the Republic of Croatia speaks in favor of the above mentioned. Based on survey data, out of overall number of Serbian returnees, only 43% of them actually remained to live there, meaning that more than a half of them has left the Republic of Croatia and returned to the place of their temporary residence. Returnees are mainly older persons, of lower education, and they have returned to rural places. Children with parents account for barely 15% of returnee population, and only 8% of returnees are employed or self-employed. Still, 73% of returnees answered that they consider their life being much better compared to refugee status, however, one half feels as being second-class citizens.

Obstacles for voluntary repatriation to the Republic of Croatia

Returnees have still been facing difficulties in exercising basic human rights, as the OSCE Mission in Croatia (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) estimated in its Report on the progress of the Republic of Croatia in fulfilling international commitments since 2001, of 9 June 2006. OSCE Mission estimates that only 60% of the overall number of registered returns to Croatia is actually sustainable, due to lack of access to basic rights. Human Rights Watch openly mentions obstacles to the reintegration of Serb returnees to Croatia in its report 'Croatia: a decade of disappointment'. They express concern regarding the respect of human rights of Serb returnees, the lack of progress in resolving the issue of occupancy rights terminated before and after the war, on the growing number of cases of ethnically motivated violence, insufficient representation of Serbian minority in state management, judiciary and administration, discrimination in reconstruction of infrastructure in areas where Serbs return, slow progress in reconstruction of Serbian property destroyed in the war, etc.

The following problems are still present:
  • Restitution of occupancy rights that were terminated (resolving the issue of occupancy rights according to the same principle as anywhere in the region or provision of fair compensation).
  • Convalidation, that is, the recognition of years of service in line with the Law on Convalidation, prolonging the deadline expired in 1999 and resolving the unresolved claims submitted before 1999.
  • The exchange of information on war crimes charges, current court proceedings, including verdicts reached in absence of the accused.
  • Changes and amendments of the Law on Reconstruction pertaining to criteria, issues of conditioning of reconstruction with physical return, inheritance (ownership).
  • Repossession of agricultural land and business premises occupied on a temporary basis.
  • Resolving all negative consequences related to investments of temporary occupants and counter-sues against legal owners.
  • Prolonging the deadline of application for renewal of the status of foreigners with permanent residence for returnees (Article 115 of the Law Concerning Foreigners).
  • Enabling sustainable repatriation in urban environments through programmes for providing employment opportunities for returnees in state institutions, public services and administration.

The Republic of Croatia adopted a “Conclusion on implementation the programme of housing care for former holders of occupancy rights outside the area of special state concern” in August 2006, where it was stated that the preparation actions would start up to the end of 2006, and that construction of 3,600 state-owned apartments for lease, without possibility of purchase, would be completed up to the end of 2011. This dynamic of housing care does not correspond to implementation of Sarajevo Declaration. The issue of terminated occupancy rights cannot be solved by the offered model of housing solutions, and negligible number of submitted claims speaks in favor of the above mentioned. This Conclusion is the continuation of establishing special parallel pseudo-legal system in Croatia, which tends to bring the access to human rights and protection of human rights of Croatian Serbs down to humanitarian problem, resolving it not as a legal commitment, but as an act of mercy of the state. The attention should also be directed towards the issues of privatization of socially-owned property in Croatia, taking into consideration the fact that majority of Serbs did not take part in the process; to auditing and fair resolving of disputable issues in property sales contracts through Croatian APN; to repossession of private property and completion of started reconstruction, etc. The increasing number of ethnically motivated violence cases and apprehensions of returnees are also matters of great concern.

Repatriation of refugees to Bosnia and Herzegovina

The return of refugees to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is no longer a political and security problem. A considerable progress has been achieved in exercising property rights in BiH, as over 99 % of property has been returned to its legal owners, no matter if they are in BiH or have a refugee status. The return to Bosnia and Herzegovina is very closely linked with the implementation of property laws resulting in return of the housing units to their legal owners, reconstruction of the housing fund for returnees, as well as raising the overall security of returnees. However, even today, 10 years after the peace accord was signed, great number of refugees from BiH has still been waiting for provision of the basic preconditions for durable solutions through return.

According to data of the Registration of refugees residing in the Republic of Serbia conducted by the Commissariat and in coordination with UNHCR in late 2004 and early 2005, 40, 932 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina were registered, while 27,541 persons confirmed their refugee status.

Since the war conflicts ceased, about 108, 000 persons have returned from the Republic of Serbia to BiH out of whom about 65, 160 returnees, and about 43,000 persons who have an IDP status in BiH.

Overall 6,100 persons have returned in organization of the UNHCR. The most marked return is noticed in Canton 1 Una – Sana (Bosanski Petrovac, Sanski Most, Krupa), Canton 3 - Tuzla, Canton 7 – Herzegovina - Neretva (Mostar- west), Canton 9 – Sarajevo (Center, IIlidza, Novi Grad, Novo Sarajevo, Bogosca), Canton 10 (Drvar, Glamoc).

Repossession of private property and occupancy rights – The biggest success of this process was the fact that the issue of repossession of occupancy rights was made equal with repossession of private property. Up to November 2005, PLIP organizations (OHR, UNHCR, OSCE and CRPC) announced that property laws implementation in BiH reached 99%.

Reconstruction of damaged property – The process of reconstruction of destroyed or damaged property is very slow depending entirely on BiH funding opportunities and international donors. About 60% of houses and apartments were reconstructed.

Economic situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a direct influence on the process of return.

Information on Sarajevo Declaration implementation

Sarajevo Declaration was signed aiming at implementation of political commitment of the countries in the region in practice pertaining to provision of durable solutions for refugees (return and integration) and closure of a refugee file  thus commencing essential resolving of all problems of refugees in the region up to the end of 2006.

A trilateral approach was confirmed by the Declaration in resolving refugee-related issues. The basic principle of the Declaration is based on the access to rights. The states have committed themselves that they will create individual Road Maps in compliance with this principle, which are to include overall list of tasks that have to be carried out in order to resolve refuge-related issues in the region. The Map Roads being this defined and harmonized should be a part of Joint matrix for implementation. A trilateral working group is entrusted with this task referring to drafting and implementation of the Road Map. This group has convened six times so far. At the meetings of the Working Group, parties have been working on drafting an individual Road Maps as well as identifying all obstacles in accessing all rights pertaining to return and integration. Some recommendations referring to their elimination were given based on identified obstacles.

The meeting of ministers was held on 31 March, 2006 in Sarajevo resulting in signing the common press release stating some progress in implementing the process as well as full willingness of the states to enable either return process or integration on non-discrimination bases up to the end of 2006. It is also mentioned that ministers discussed some issues that remained open following the meetings of the Working Group so far, including solution of tenancy rights. The delegation of Serbia and Montenegro expressed its expectation that a comprehensive and overall solution as stated. The necessity of further active participation of international community was highlighted, especially in terms of financial assistance as well as other forms of assistance, bearing in mind its great contribution so far.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia adopted all remarks and recommendations, and in terms of Croatian Road Map, out of many initially identified issues, some were included in the Road Map, some were noted only as references, while two key issues still remained open the Republic of Croatia is still refusing to include, as follows:
  • resolving the issue of tenancy rights holders
  • convalidation of years of service

Regarding the current status of this process, it is important to highlight the willingness of the Republic of Serbia for full implementation of Sarajevo Declaration, as well as its efforts devoted to speeding up realization of all its principles and objectives. The Road Map of the Republic of Serbia (including financial aspects, too) is a draft that shall be proposed to Government for adoption but only together with Joint Matrix for Sarajevo Declaration implementation. Full implementation of Sarajevo Declaration means inclusion of all open issues, only thus is possible to start drafting Joint Matrix for implementation which has to be coherent, not partial.

The heads of missions of OSCE, UNHCR and European Commission in Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade sent a letter on 18 September, last year, to the Prime Ministers of the Republic of Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia as well as to the Chair of Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina in which they were drawing their attention to necessity of taking measures with some concrete recommendations for resolving these open issues.

The Republic of Serbia attaches considerable importance to a coherent implementation of Sarajevo Declaration as well as to realizing all its principles and aims, through creating durable solutions for refugees, bearing considerable political importance for the region. Even though great efforts were indisputably made in this respect, Sarajevo Process due to open issues is considerably slowed down; therefore it is necessary to make additional efforts to initiate full, not partial implementation of the Sarajevo Declaration. This includes immediate finding solution for the remaining open issues.

CRS support to repatriation programmes

The Commissariat for Refugees will still plead for open issues compatible with the international community’s tasks proposal directed towards the Republic of Croatia, to be included in both the common Road Map and matrix for Sarajevo Declaration implementation. 

The Commissariat for Refugees will continue cooperation with the UNHCR and numerous international NGOs dealing with repatriation and provision of legal assistance to persons in exercising their rights in the country of origin, in implementation of programmes of repatriation to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Commissariat will continue to inform stakeholders on return possibilities to the Republic of Croatia, shipping services for the purpose of moving, filing in requests for organized return, filing in requests for provision of housing solution in the Republic of Croatia, reconstruction in Croatia etc. 

20 January 2009

The Republic of Serbia has sheltered a total number of 850,000 people displaced by war since 1991. There are 97,000 refugees currently living in Serbia and 75% of them come from the Republic of Croatia. Republic of Serbia holds the view that one of the priorities of the good-neighbourly cooperation is just and durable solution of the refugee problem in the region in line with the Sarajevo Declaration signed in 2005 by the countries of the region, namely Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with the participation of the European Commission, OSCE and UNHCR.

Republic of Serbia has made it possible that 200,000 refugees, mainly from Croatia, receive the citizenship of the Republic of Serbia as the first step in their local integration.  A significant number of refugees from the Republic of Croatia would like to return to Croatia provided that the conditions be secured for their sustainable return in accordance with the relevant international documents. Still existing problems regarding the rights of the refugees from the Republic of Croatia are as follows:

Return of tenancy rights

UN SC Resolution 1120 (1997) and the Sarajevo Declaration confirmed the right of all refugees to return to their former homes before the outbreak of war. More than 42,000 refugees from the Republic of Croatia have not been given back their tenancy rights (the right to the use of tenement and to buy up under favourable conditions, which is an acquired property right existed in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). In this way, they have been discriminated against in comparison with the other citizens of the Republic of Croatia. Instead of returning their tenancy rights, the Government of the Republic of Croatia offered a housing care programme, a model of social housing, as the only solution for refugees whose tenancy rights were terminated. This issue could be resolved in three ways: through restitution (as was done in Bosnia and Herzegovina) by signing protected lease agreement under equal conditions relevant for other Croatian citizens; alternative accommodation (housing) or land and material for building the house; monetary compensation.

Convalidation of years of work experience

Although the Republic of Croatia abolished the application deadlines in 2008, the administrative obstacles and complicated procedures for entitlement to years of work experience for persons who resided in the territories that were not controlled by the Croatian Government in the 1990’s, still exist.

Unpaid pensions

In the 1990’s, a large number of pension beneficiaries (estimated to number  40,000) who remained in the territories administered by the UN or took refuge, were deprived of their pensions because the Croatian pension fund unilaterally suspended the payment of their pensions. The problem of the back pensions (for the period from 1991 to 1998) was the result of the application of the legal provision stipulating that the beneficiary was responsible for the circumstances which contributed to the non-payment of pension, even though their non-payment began on August 1st 1991 due to the suspension of monetary transactions between Croatia and its UN protected territories.

Property reconstruction

Until September 2004 the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees in the Republic of Serbia received 17,500 requests for the reconstruction of properties damaged in the conflict in the Republic of Croatia. Such requests submitted by more than 57,000 persons were forwarded, through the UNHCR, to the Croatian authorities. According to the European Commission Progress report for Croatia for 2008 there remain approximately 8,700 outstanding appeals against negative eligibility decisions, many of which have been pending for four years. Furthermore, reconstruction of houses has not been followed by appropriate investment in the development of those areas, new jobs and building of the infrastructure, thus making sustainable return very difficult.

Participation in privatization process

Refugees from Croatia, unlike other Croatian citizens, are completely left out of the participation in the privatization of social, state and public enterprises to whose development and prosperity they have made their full contribution.

Return of all occupied agricultural land to their legal owners

There are thousands of hectares of occupied agricultural land that has still not been restituted to the returnees and refugees who originally owned it.

By adopting the new Law on Agricultural Land in December 2008, the Croatian Parliament created a very difficult situation for the landowners - refugees and returnees. According to the Law, landowners will have to pay high fines for not cultivating their land. As a measure of last resort, the Law envisages that these holdings be rented out to other persons. Thus, a person who fails to cultivate his/her land will have to pay an annual fine of 15,000 Croatian kunas which is equivalent to two thousand euros per hectare. This measure will severely affect returnees and those who intend to return, because a large number of these people lack sufficient funds and machinery to cultivate their entire land holdings. In addition to penal sanctions, the Law also restricts the right to sell land. Accordingly, owners are not allowed to sell their holdings to persons of their choosing, but are obliged to offer it to the Land Buy-Up Agency responsible for evaluation and sales.

Returnee residence and citizenship status

A considerable number of returnees do not have Croatian citizenship under the Croatian regulations. Therefore, upon their return to Croatia, they are treated as foreign citizens and are subject to a rigid, complicated and expensive procedure in order to be recognized foreigner status with the right to temporarily or permanently reside in the Republic of Croatia. The problem is in inadequate regulations which do not recognize that these persons are actually not foreigners, but citizens who used to live in Croatia before the breakdown of the SFRY.

War crime trials

The existence of sealed indictments for war crimes has resulted in intimidation of refugees and prevention of their return. Disclosure of the list of indictees would put an end to manipulations with war crime indictees, because the abuse of sealed indictments is precisely one of the major obstacles to the return process.

Security situation

Occasional attacks against the physical integrity, dignity, property, religious sites and cemeteries of citizens of Serbian nationality call for a better, effective and direct action to be taken by the state authorities at all levels.

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31 January 2006
The Sarajevo Declaration

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