BalkanBlog, crisis management, MENA, Middle-East

Israeli vs Palestine Refugees – In, Out and No Return

One element by solving Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the question of refugees or better their right to return. When the “refugee issue” is discussed within the context of the Middle East, people invariably refer to Palestinian refugees, not Jews displaced from Arab countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel has launched a new international campaign entitled “I am a refugee”. The purpose of the campaign is to increase international awareness of a little-known refugee group – Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Before 1948 nearly one million Jews lived in the MENA region (Middle-East & North Africa) outside of the sc Brittish Palestinian mandate; after a half decade only few thousand were left. A documentary movie ”The Forgotten Refugees” gives some background to these Jewish communities in the Great Middle East.

Wider context of the Refugee question in MENA

Thriving, prosperous Jewish communities existed in the Middle East and North Africa ( aka MENA region) a thousand years before the rise of Islam and more than 2500 years before the birth of the modern Arab nations. These communities, which extended from Iraq in the east to Morocco in the west, enjoyed a lively fabric of life and were influential in the local economies. Until the 10th century C.E., 90% of the world’s Jews lived in regions now known as Arab countries.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the UN voted to partition then British-Mandate Palestine into two states: one Jewish, one Arab. Two states for two peoples. The Jewish population accepted that plan and declared a new state in its ancient homeland but the Arab inhabitants rejected the plan and launched a war of annihilation against the new Jewish state, joined by the armies of five Arab members of the UN. As a result of the war, there were Arabs who became refugees. Also following the declaration of the Jewish state antisemitism and anti-Jewish riots broke out in the Middle East and North Africa ( aka MENA region) and many Jews were driven from their homes – between 1948 and 1952, 856,000 Jews from Arab countries became refugees.

Every year the Palestinians are commemorating sc Nakba (catastrophe) Day, on which they remember the disaster that befell them in 1948, when they lost their war against Zionism and two-thirds of them were displaced from their homes, becoming refugees. While it is perfectly natural for the Palestinians to commemorate their national tragedy, the date they have chosen carries a clear political-ideological message, and it is not one that will encourage would-be Middle East peacemakers.

Besides humanitarian aspect I could mention an economic one too. In a recent conference “Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries” Dr. Stanley Urman, the executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, noted that Jewish refugees lost property worth $700 million (around $6 billion in today’s terms ), while Palestinian refugees lost property worth about $450 million (around $3.9 billion in today’s terms ). Since 1950, he said, Palestinian refugees have received $13.7 billion in U.N. funding, whereas Jewish refugees have received just $35,000. (Source Haaretz )

UNRWA – the never-ending mission

At least two aspects explain why there are still refugees after more than six decades:

  • First is Arab leaders’ recalcitrance to accept their brethren and refusing to absorb the Palestinian refugees.
  • Second the United Nations created a separate agency – UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – with unique principles and criteria.

According UNRWA criteria the refugee status is given not only to the original refugees whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost their homes as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict AND their descendants in the male line. So it isn’t just the first generation that is entitled to this aid, as is the norm for all other refugees the United Nations helps, now the fifth generation is also entitled.

Originally UNRWA was established as a temporary agency. One motivation to agency’s refugee definations might be economic aspect. An article ”Palestinians Refugees Forever” in Haaretz gives following background:

UNRWA states that the Palestinians are occupied – indefinitely. UNRWA has financial and political interests in maintaining this fiction: as long as the Palestinians are refugees, UNRWA is in business. Of the 30,000 people that UNRWA employs, the vast majority are Palestinian: UNRWA is the largest single employer of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Contrast this to the UN High Commission for Refugees, that only employs 5-6,000 people globally, and which focuses far more clearly on resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees and building new lives, and not on maintaining services that prop up the status quo. (Source Haaretz )

Refugees without agency

Millions of Germans who had lived in the Sudetenland and were kicked out at the end of WWII (3 years before 1948). They were not allowed to return and they are no longer refugees because Germany absorbed them. Finland settled some 10 % of its population from territories occupied by the Soviet Union, which from its side transferred new population to new regions. Around 45,000 Hungarians were deported from Czechoslovakia to Hungary, while around 72,000 Slovaks transferred from Hungary to Czechoslovakia, and they are no longer refugees either. Hundreds of thousands of Cypriots who were kicked out of their homes were also not allowed to go back to them, and they are no longer refugees because their fellow nationals on the other side of the island absorbed them.

One aspect with “right of return” should now be highlighted: A recent ruling by the European court of human rights declared that due to the time that had elapsed, Greek refugees expelled from northern Cyprus in 1974 would not be allowed to return to their homes. Now while, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world not the Palestinian refugees – defined by unique UNRWA criteria – the discussion of ”right to return” has so far been quite one-sided.

Israeli point of view

Earlier Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon published his view in informative video ”The Truth About the Refugees” explaining the historical facts relating to the issue of refugees in the Israeli Palestinian conflict.  This video also highlights the issue of the Jewish refugees who were forced out of their homes in the Arab world, and were subsequently absorbed by the State of Israel.

Organisation ”Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa ( JIMENA ) has completed their first comprehensive country specific websites about refugee issue:

My Conclusion

Unsolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict squanders resources which in more peaceful circumstances could be used for capacity building of civil societies. Keeping refugee question and land dispute on the top of their agenda Palestinian Authorities favor temporary solutions and relief instead of building more permanent institutions. On Israeli side the defense and security takes more and more resources, e.g one Iron Dome missile to drop one Quassam rocket costs nearly $ 100.000. Then there is also a question about effectiveness of foreign aid, but that is the other story outside the issue of this article (see e.g Placebo effect for people and society with 20 bn bucks).

In my opinion the Palestinian refugees should be rehabilitated in their place of residence just as the Jewish refugees were rehabilitated in theirs – Israel. There should be an immediate discontinuation of the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee issue. The rehabilitation process implemented this way would minimize the demand for the “right of return” during peace talks so one problem less in agenda.  Sure few years ago there was a preliminary agreement about Palestine returns in Israel but the number was rather symbolic ( 5.000 ).  In any case the insistence of some Palestinian refugees to be given a right of return will be resolved by their immigration into the future Palestinian state that will be established through a peace agreement.

In my opinion the refugee problem described above has some similarities with situation in Serbia after Balkan wars. In Serbia still lives over 200.000 refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons). Like return of Jews back to Arab countries, like return of Palestinians to Israel or West-Bank as well return of Serbs back to Croatia or Kosovo the numbers of returns are insignificant e.g due security reasons. From my point of view to solve refugee/IDP problem the rehabilitation process in the place of residence is good alternative and international aid should be redirected e.g towards effective housing programs instead of keeping alive unrealistic dreams about going back to square one.

 

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Some of my related articles:

 

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Out of Topic: Epilogue Lite

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BalkanBlog, Balkans, crisis management

Forgotten Refugees – West Balkans

The refugee question is of paramount importance in Balkans – still. Beginning 1991, political upheavals – such as the breakup of Yugoslavia – displaced millions of people. Officially one part of these people are refugees meaning that they have escaped to other country, one part is “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) meaning that they have escaped from their home village/-town but still are in the same country than before.

In contrast to the other regions, in Europe the refugee population increased slightly (+2%). This raise can partly be attributed to the figures from Montenegro in which 16,000 people from Kosovo (Serbia), previously reported as IDPs, were reclassified as refugees. Similarly, armed conflict in Georgia forced some 135,000 people to flee their homes in 2008; by the end of the year, an estimated 293,000 were considered internally displaced persons in Georgia, including 49,200 people in an IDP-like situation.

Statistics

As source I have used UNHCR report 16th June 2009 and “Internal Displacement in Europe and Central Asia” report made by UNCHR and The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), established in 1998 by the Norwegian Refugee Council. To table below I have collected the numbers of refugees and IDPs in western Balkans; the sum total includes also asylum-seekers, stateless etc. persons.

Country Refugees IDPs Total
Albania 65 0 87
Bosnia-Herzegovina 7257 124529 194448
Croatia 1597 2497 33943
(FRY) Macedonia 1672 0 2823
Montenegro 24741 0 26242
Serbia 96739 225879 341083

Most of Montenegro refugees – 16259 – fled from Kosovo. Nearly all of Serbia’s IDPs fled also from Albanian mayority parts of Kosovo province.

The table above is maybe surprising to those who have the picture – made by western mainstream media – in their minds, that (only) Serbs were making ethnic cleansing. In reality today the Serbs are the biggest victims of Balkan wars.


Behind of the numbers

Bosnian war (1992-95) included massive transfer of populations so it was possible to draw new boundaries according ethnic groups. Armed conflict between Yugoslav, Croatian and Bosnian forces and militias, accompanied by massive human rights abuses and violations, led to the displacement of over a million people and the creation of ethnically homogeneous areas within the newly independent Bosnia and Herzegovina. By 2008, almost 600,000 people had returned to their places of origin, and the government reported that 124,600 people remained as IDPs.

Dayton Agreement 1995 created federation like Bosnia with entities according these lines so situation with IDPs in Bosnia-Herzegovina is quite stable.Under Annex VII of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, support to durable solutions has focused almost exclusively on the return of displaced people to their places of origin to the exclusion of other durable solutions, as any support to local integration was perceived as cementing the effect of the war and the “ethnic cleansing” which motivated the displacement.

In 2003, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees took over from the international community the responsibility to implement Annex VII , and elaborated a National Strategy for Implementation of Annex VII which still focused mainly on return. In 2008 however, the Ministry revised this strategy, and from 2009, though the emphasis remains on return, it recognizes the need to compensate people for lost property (instead of a sole focus on restitution) and to assist the most vulnerable who cannot or do not want to return, thereby providing de facto support to local integration.

Between 1991 and 1995, 220,000 ethnic Croats and subsequently up to 300,000 ethnic Serbs were displaced by armed conflict in Croatia. Since then almost all the Croat IDPs have returned to their homes, while most of the Serbs displaced have resettled in Serbia or in the majority-Serb Danube region of Croatia.Since the end of the confl ict, only one third of Croatian Serb IDPs and refugees have been able to return.

In Serbia the refugee problem came when Serbs were expelled from East Croatia and Croatian Krajina. The IDP problem is a follow-up of Kosovo conflict when some 200.000 Serbs and some thousands of Roma were expelled from there to northern Serb-dominated part of province or to Serbia. During Nato bombings also Kosovo Albanians – about 700.000 – escaped from the province but most of them have returned back.

While new displacement was avoided, the rate of return decreased significantly in 2008 from an already low level, as most IDPs waited to evaluate the approach of Kosovo authorities towards Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanian communities. Those who already returned to Kosovo struggle to find livelihood opportunities, notably because of widespread discrimination against Serbs and Roma. Local integration opportunities for Kosovo Serb IDPs are scarce since they live in complete isolation from Kosovo institutions. Most of them reside in enclaves relying on a parallel system of education, policing, and health care supported by Serbia. Security concerns have prevented them from returning to their repossessed property. Because of their limited freedom of movement and the discrimination they have faced, IDPs’ access to land and employment has been very limited. The most vulnerable IDPs are Roma people in both Serbia and Kosovo, who have specific protection needs because of their social marginalisation and lack of civil documentation, which prevents them from registering as IDPs and limits their access to housing assistance and other social benefits.

Tensions in Macedonia between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians culminated in violent confl ict in 2001 which displaced over 171,000 people, 74,000 of them within the country. Since then, over 99 per cent have returned and only around 770 people remained displaced. Most of those still displaced in 2008 were ethnic Macedonians or Serbs who did not feel safe to return to the Albanian-dominated Lipkovo-Aracinovo area.

Some remarks from my point of view

  • International administration and sackful of money does not guarantee better living conditions for refugees nor other vulnerable groups. One of the cruellest example I earlier described in my article UN Death camps, EU money, local negligence
  • Some 5 % of IDPs in Serbia is planning to return to their original hometowns partly because their property is occupied by Albanians. In Bosnia-Herzegovina property issues have mostly solved and refugees/IDPs have got rights to their original flats/houses, but in Croatia the Serbs lost their homes without rights nor compensation.
  • While in Kosovo the situation is frozen like the overall situation in province too elsewhere there is fears that the progress may go backwards. In Bosnia-Herzegovina ethnic tensions for some reasons are rising e.g. between Croats and Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while earlier these tensions were mostly between Serbs and other ethnic groups. This may be related to rising of conservative Wahhabism in region and tendency of total collapse of state as it is today. More about this in my article “Bosnia Collapsing?
  • To solve refugee and IDP problem in western Balkans there is a need of massive housing programme especially in Serbia and this can probably be implemented with help of international donors. Housing activities should also be supported by economical development programmes to decrease unemployment figures and social problems common in locations with big share of refugees/IDPs.
  • I think that the revised strategy implemented in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2008 has better change to be successful than the earlier attempts. The new approach recognizes the need to compensate people for lost property (instead of a sole focus on restitution) and to assist the most vulnerable who cannot or do not want to return, thereby providing de facto support to local integration. This strategy should be copied to Serbia/Kosovo too. For example since 2003, the European Commission has allocated over €30 million for minority communities throughout Kosovo and still the return numbers are quite modest; the same money invested to housing in Serbia could achieve better results.

Global fact box


2008 IN REVIEW – WORLD STATISTICS AT A GLANCE

There were some 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008.

This includes 15.2 million refugees, 827,000 asylum-seekers (pending cases) and 26

million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Nearly 25 million people – 10.5 million refugees and 14.4 million IDPs – were

receiving protection or assistance from UNHCR at the end of 2008. These numbers

are similar to 2007.

In 2008, UNHCR identified some 6.6 million stateless persons in 58 countries. The

Office estimated that the overall number of stateless persons worldwide was far

higher, about 12 million people.

Some 604,000 refugees repatriated voluntarily during 2008. Repatriation figures have

continued to decrease since 2004. The 2008 figure is the second-lowest in 15 years.

More than 839,000 people submitted an individual application for asylum or refugee

status in 2008. UNHCR offices registered nine per cent of those claims. More than

16,300 asylum applications were lodged by unaccompanied and separated children in

68 countries. With one quarter of applications globally, South Africa is the largest

recipient of individual applications in the world.

UNHCR presented 121,000 refugees for resettlement consideration by States. More

than 67,000 refugees were resettled with UNHCR’s assistance during 2008.

According to Government statistics, 16 countries reported the admission of 88,800

resettled refugees during 2008 (with or without UNHCR assistance). The United

States of America accepted the highest number (60,200 during its Fiscal Year).

Women and girls represent on average 49 per cent of persons of concern to UNHCR.

They constitute 47 per cent of refugees and asylum-seekers, and half of all IDPs and

returnees (refugees). Forty-four per cent of refugees and asylum-seekers are children

below 18 years of age.

Developing countries are host to four fifths of the world’s refugees. Based on the data

available for 8.8 million refugees, UNHCR estimates that half of the world’s refugees

reside in urban areas and one third in camps. However, seven out of ten refugees in

sub-Saharan Africa reside in camps.

Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.8 million), followed

by the Syrian Arab Republic (1.1 million) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (980,000).

Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half of all refugees under UNHCR’s

responsibility worldwide. One out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan

(2.8 million) and Afghans are located in 69 different asylum countries. Iraqis are the

second largest refugee group, with 1.9 million having sought refuge mainly in

neighbouring countries.

Pakistan hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity.

The country hosted 733 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita. It was followed by

the Democratic Republic of the Congo (496 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per

capita) and the United Republic of Tanzania (262). The first developed country is

Germany at 26th place with 16 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita.

Source and more: UNHCR

Note

Bloggers Unite is an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference. A year ago I participated to Refugee event, this year I organized it again and one may find few other bloggers too writing today about different aspects of problem.

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BalkanBlog, Balkans

UN death camps, EU money, local negligence

I was just watching a film“UN death camps in Kosovo April 2009” about protest which was hold by Roma children living in UN camps in North Mitrovica, Kosovo.  The protesters however were still living, so far 81 has already dead after ten years suffering in United Nations Camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), living in place which is described the most toxic site in Eastern Europe.  Their story gives another perspective related to “humanitarian intervention” implemented by Nato and to international administration implemented afterwards and backed with billions of Euros EU financing.  And this is happening in Europe and in this millennium.

The children hold a protest vigil on International Roma Day.  In the protest, their banners proclaimed “God Save Us from UNHCR” and”Welcome to Kouchner’s Hell”, reminding Bernard Kouchner – then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG), now FM of France – about his promise autumn 1999 to move families immediately from toxic camp.

In brief

“The place where the camps are, the UN had a plan to build a fence around it and say, ‘danger.’ But they didn’t do that. Instead they put the Roma there.” (U.N. toxic Shame)

While Nato troops arrived to Kosovo – for “humanitarian intervention” – on June 1999 their Kosovo Albanian allies started their revenge not only against Serbs but also against the Roma which the Albanians accused of collaborating with Serbs.  The largest Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (RAE) community was in south Mitrovica.  They were forced to move over Ibar river to Serb dominated north Mitrovica.

Under international administration those displaced families were placed in camps located heavily polluted mining and smelter complex.  The international administration know that camps were in dangerously toxic environment, the experts and non-governmental organizations demanded immediate evacuation for Roma families, however after nearly ten years – in post-war Kosovo, 200 km from the European Union’s borders – these families still are trapped in camps slowly dying from lead poisoning.

To get live picture about case I can recommend an excellent documentary film “Trapped – The forgotten story of Mitrovica Roma” by Katalin Barsony/Duna Television/Hungary which can be watched from here!

The Saga

A summary of main events related to Mitrovica Roma case is in insert below.  As source I have used a Chronology prepared by KMEG (The Kosovo Medical Emergency Group) –group of advocates with goal to achieve immediate evacuation and medical treatment for families abandoned in toxic camps in north Kosovo.  (The Chronology and other KMEG material can be found from here)

1999: June 16 After NATO troops arrived in Kosovo, black uniformed KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) soldiers begin visiting homes in the Romani (Gypsy) settlement (mahalla) of Fabrička in south Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, largest Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian (RAE) community in Kosovo, with about 1,000 families comprising about 8,000 people. The RAE families are told that Kosovo is only for Albanians and the RAE must leave if they want to save their families. Over the next three months, many RAE families lock up their homes and move across the Ibar River into north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica. But accommodation is unavailable as thousands of Serbs also flee from Albanian nationalists.

1999: August Paul Polansky, an adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) on Romani issues, visits the Fabrička neighbourhood to assess the situation. He finds Albanians looting many of the abandoned homes. He asks French NATO troops in the area to intervene. Their Commanding Officer (CO) replies that they are not a police force, and that their mandate is only to protect Albanians from the local Serbs.

1999: September Baroness Nicholson meets Bernard Kouchner, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) at camps when he stated the families would be moved immediately.

1999: End of September UNHCR is renting a plot of land from abandoned lead mining site where the IDPs can be housed in tents until UNHCR can find a permanent solution for these 800 vulnerable inhabitants. According UNHCR this is a temporary solution for only 45 days. Also head of UNMIK (SRSG) Dr. Bernard Kouchner (founder of Medecins San Frontieres, and currently the Foreign Minister of France) personally assures that the camp will be closed within 45 days and the inhabitantsresettled elsewhere.

1999: December UNHCR contracts with ACT (Action by Churches Working Together) to build a camp in north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica called Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug. These barracks are built next to the railroad tracks that border the tailing stands of the Trepča lead mines. These barracks are built with old lead-painted boards.

2000: Summer/Fall SRSG Dr. Bernard Kouchner orders his UN medical team to make an investigation of the lead pollution in the entire Mitrovicë/Mitrovica area. French army doctors have reported several cases of lead poisoning in their soldiers who are quartered in an old Serbian army base 100 meters from the IDP camp at Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug.

2000: November Dr. Andreyew submits his written report to Dr. Kouchner, head of UNMIK and a report to the World Health Organization (WHO), recommending evacuation of the RAE camps and fencing off the land so that the public cannot accidentally enter. His investigation shows that the entire population of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica is suffering from unhealthy levels of lead poisoning. However, the highest levels (three to four times higher than the average in Mitrovicë/Mitrovica) were found in the children in the IDP camps of Çesmin Llug/Česmin Lug and Zhitkovc/Žitkovac. Dr. Andreyew’s report, which UNMIK refused to release to the public, was never acted upon, with one exception: several international UNMIK police officers were tested, since they jogged daily on a path by the slag heaps near the Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug camp. Their lead levels were so high that UNMIK immediately repatriated them since lead poisoning cannot be treated at the source of poisoning without causing dangerous complications.

2002 UNHCR shelves all of its plans to resettle the camp Roma abroad. UNHCR contracts ACT (Action by Churches Working Together) office in Prishtinë/Priština to build barracks on the same toxic land in Zhitkovc/Žitkovac, replacing the tents.

2004: March/April After the investigation prompted by the death of Djenita Mehmeti, and the compiling of the information from the blood lead level (BLL) results, WHO Pristinë/Priština sends a letter to UNMIK calling for an immediate evacuation of the UN camps. UNMIK refuses, claiming that they have no place to take 500 Gypsies. UNMIK pleads lack of resources to tackle the problem. 

2004: November pregnancies and more than 50 have miscarriages. ICRC sends a letter to UNMIK demanding immediate evacuation of the camps. UNMIK refuses.

2005 A staff member of WHO, upset by UNMIK’s and WHO’s apparent cover-up of the tragedy, asks Paul Polansky to let the world know what is happening. Polansky publishes an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune about the plight in these UN camps. Though several other journalists pick up the story, UNMIK authorities still refuse to evacuate the camps.  He also asks European Roma Rights Center   (ERRC) to file a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Strasbourg against UNMIK. The Human Rights Court in Strasbourg rejects the lawsuit saying that only a country, not an organization, can be sued.

2006 Finally admitting that the camps are located on highly toxic waste, UNMIK decides to bow to international pressure and take some steps to try to convince the public they are dealing with the lead pollution.

2008 An international advocacy group, known as the Kosovo Medical Emergency Group(KMEG), is formed to publicize the plight of the IDPs in the UN camps. The group– whose purpose is to push for an immediate medical evacuation – begins a press campaign and makes public the report from 2000, as well as all blood tests from 2004 to 2008 which WHO and UNMIK have refused to share with even the families in the camps. treat the more than 500 IDPs.

On 12 May, 2008, UNMIK officially turns over the three camps (Osterode camp, Česmin Lug/Çesmin Llug and Leposaviq/Leposavić) to the Kosovo government. As the year ends, it is noted that 78 RAE had died in the camps since Nov 1999, their lives foreshortened by the severe damage caused to their health by toxic conditions in the camps.

On January 22nd 2009 European Parliament highlights Roma camp case in its “EU resolution Kosovo” as follows: (EP) Is gravely concerned at the acute ill health of Roma families in the Osterode and Cesmin Lug refugee camps; believes that these are directly linked to the improper siting of those camps which find themselves on the highly toxic tailing stands of the Trepça lead mines; welcomes the Commission’s initial engagement with the Kosovo government and urges the Commission to continue to work with a view to relocating urgently the families concerned;

2009 April 81 deaths so far, the Kosovo government who took over responsibility on 2008, have not yet even visited the camps.

My view   

When I visited in those northern Mitrovica camps during 2000-2002 the risks about lead poisoning was well known.  Also we who lived in normal conditions in region were got some instructions to exercise some caution.  Already then there were plans to cure circumstances but nothing happened.  I hardly have imagination how it is possible to still have same problems.

This should not had been happen – not during and after “humanitarian intervention”, not during post-conflict capacity building and after billions of EU taxpayers money put to development projects, not in Europe 200 km from EU border, not in international protectorate with “European perspective”.

EU’s most ambitious rule of law mission – Eulex – has been operating in Kosovo already nearly one year.  I must ask if human rights have any priority in mission or is the aim only to train local police to write traffic tickets correctly.  EU Commissioner Rehn said in his letter 17.02.2009 to MEP Gay Mitchell, that funding is not primary problem but complicated political side.  When EU has funds and other resources ready to implement actions plus huge rule of law mission on the ground I really wonder why actions are not taken immediatelly.

The Way ahead

From my point of view at least following steps should be taken to correct situation and to prevent it happen again:

1)     According international law (UN Security Council resolution 1244) Kosovo still is international protectorate.  As officially highest authority is UNMIK so it could make immediate decision t evacuate camps and transfer Roma families from them to get medical treatment elsewhere.  The other international actors – Eulex, Kfor, ICO (International Community Office)/EU Special representative and EU delegation could help to implement this immediate action.

2)     For long term solution international – and donor – community should plan together with local representatives resettlement/housing program for Roma families.

4)     To increase responsibility in future missions the persons/organisations who have enabled situation described earlier should be put in international court charged about human rights violations, crimes against humanity, involuntary manslaughter and covering up the case (stupidity, laziness and incapability are probably not crimes but could be non-qualifying skills in future recruitments).

Roma families in Kosovo are people left in deathly camps years after a conflict. These are not only displaced, but their displacement happened while western nations, whose duty it was to protect them, stood by. Inactive at the scene, international administration subsequently placed them in a dangerously toxic environment, and for years thereafter effectively ignored their plight covering same time own mistakes.  EU’s speciality has been “soft power”, taking responsibility, initiative and leadership now could at least limit the damages in Roma camps in Kosovo and hopefully elsewhere afterwards.

More about UN Camps e.g.

  • Two-part film “UN Camps in Kosovo” from 2005 gives more perspective to case: Part I and Part II
  • KMEG portal with links to more films and articles

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BalkanBlog

What to do with Refugees?

Immigration policy discussion is gaining speed inside EU. It has been said that harder attitude towards immigrants has guided peoples voting behaviour related e.g. to Lisbon Treaty, it is one topic while considering EU enlargement and today’s financial turmoil is heating discussion more.

One aspect of immigration policy discussed in Finland is integration of asylum seekers to Finnish society. There is lot of problems in this sector – not enough language courses, long administrative process before getting status, the cold environment (both social and climate), difficulties to get job etc. And to handle these problems there is never enough money.

Recently I was reading an interesting article (here but only Finnish) which proposed solution same time to first avoid many problems related to Finnish society and second increase the effectiveness of managing bigger amount of asylum seekers. The key idea in article was following:

In Finland the Ministry of Interior has estimated that one asylum seeker cost 57.000 € to state per year. One expert of development policy calculated that if we could help asylum seekers near their country of origin -e.g. neighbourhood regions – so with that sum we could help 200 people. If Finland nowadays takes 6.000 asylum seekers per year with this method and the same investment we could help over one million people.

In EU there has been plans to establish camps for illegal immigration just outside EU borders. From my point of view this solution is not so good than concentrate actions near countries of origin. People who have came long way to EU border have many times paid a fortune for their dangerous trip and false papers to traffickers and many times only one from family can go. If the help would be given near families, maybe villages could stay together, wait to return or start new life in environment which is so much as possible similar than place from where they had escaped.

During Balkan wars in 90s created a big refugee/IDP problem in region. Hundreds of thousands refugees/IDPs have not yet returned to their homes. Anyway situation in Balkans today represents a possibility to test about method described above.

Forced or free population changes or transfers took place mostly to nearby regions and most are still living in these destinations. The problems and solutions would be totally different if the destination had be e.g. Indonesia, Paraguay or Greenland. The main components to manage situation in Balkans could be effective housing programme backed with infrastructure investments and economical development programs. The same system could be applied also in future by EU while managing global challenge of asylum seekers.

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BalkanBlog, Balkans

Freedom in Balkans

Different aspects of freedom are fundamental value of human rights in Balkans as well globally. While starting of a year it’s good time to check the near past and make some benchmarking. Rankings or ratings are one kind of (process) benchmarking in which organizations or in this case states evaluate various aspects of their processes in relation to best practice.

In 1st part of my “Freedom in Balkans” serial I make a short update about political rights and civil liberties.

Part 1 – Political Rights and Civil liberties

In my article “Freedom in Balkans” On September 2008 I wrote about the freedom ratings with political rights, civil liberties, religious and press freedom in Balkans. Now Freedom House released the findings from the latest edition of Freedom in the World 2009, the annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties.The ratings reflect an overall judgment based on survey results and global events from Jan. 1st through Dec. 31st 2008.  In my earlier article I had one year older survey.  

The survey a year ago showed that only Kosovo province (as UN protectorate) fell to category not free;Albania, Macedonia (FRY), Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro were partly free category and Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovenia were in the best free category.

The situation remained the same during year 2008 so no state changed category.Inside the category occurred following two changes:

  • Bulgaria’s political rights rating declined from 1 to 2 (1 represents the most free and 7 the least free rating) due to backsliding in the government’s efforts to combat corruption and organized crime, which prompted the European Union to suspend substantial aid payments in July.
  • Macedonia had a downward trend –without number decline – due to increased harassment of and violence against political party members during the country’s June parliamentary elections, which domestic and international observers deemed the worst since independence.

So nothing radical happened during last year. The only peculiarity still is the result of Kosovo which is ranked as ‘not free’ and received scores the same as Sudan, Chad and Egypt in terms of political rights and civil liberties despite the fact that international community has been building democratic standards and human rights in its protectorate now over eight years.  If the result is this I hope that new EULEX mission will apply some lessons learned in this case.

More about methodology and global results from web sites of Freedom House.

Part 2 – Democracy

World Audit Org has been conducting sc. Democracy Audit since 1997.Their survey is concerned only with the criteria of democracy – which they hold to be Human Rights; Political Rights; Free Speech and Absence of Corruption. 150 nations, all those with populations in excess of one million are included.  Related to 1st part of my article serial Freedom in Balkans Democracy Audit gives an other point of view to the same topic.

World Audit brings together statistics and reports from respected agencies such as Freedom House, Transparency International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and The International Commission of Jurists. From their work and data WorldAudit.Org present and update the World Democracy Audit.

With this background it is understandable that the results are quite comparable with those in my earlier articles – Part 1 and its earlier more comprehensive version .

As source I have used latest Democracy Audit of WorldAudit.Org.  From there I have selected following countries:

  • Balkan states
  • Top 3 and Worst 3 in the world
  • U.S. as old superpower
  • BRIC countries as rising superpowers

And here is the table (more compact version here)

Country/

Rank

Democracy

Press Freedom

Corruption

Overall Category

Denmark

1

2

1

1

Sweden

2

4

1

1

Finland

3

1

5

1

United States

15

14

15

1

Slovenia

19

28

21

1

Bulgaria

36

45

56

2

Croatia

45

47

47

3

India

48

46

67

3

Serbia

50

50

67

3

Romania

52

59

54

3

Brazil

53

56

62

3

Macedonia

59

65

56

3

Albania

64

70

67

3

Bosnia and Herzegovina

81

62

73

4

China

120

138

56

4

Russia

133

127

117

4

Uzbekistan

147

144

136

4

Turkmenistan

149

148

136

4

Myanmar

150

149

147

4

In Balkans Slovenia is again on its own top class, Bosnia-Herzegovina is in the last shake of the bag – alone because disputed territories such as Kosovo were not included. The rest of the Balkan countries are between them. Of course one should remember limitations like overvaluation of western perspective with these kind of surveys but anyway from my point of view these survyes are good tools for benchmarking, future planning and debate.

Part 3: Economy

Economic freedom is highly valued element especially in U.S. society and its imitators.Conservative politics claims that greater economic freedom generates opportunities for people, creates wealth and respect for human rights.In Nordic countries the approach is different and the economic freedom of one individual – human or company – can be limited if it limits other peoples freedom.However this study is based to traditional American conservative formula and everybody can value the output against that background.

The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute – a think tank – whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defence.For over a decade this Washington’s preeminent think tank has tracked economic freedom around the world with its main publication The Index of Economic Freedom.

The Heritage Foundation defines economic freedom as follows:

The highest form of economic freedom provides an absolute right of property ownership, fully realized freedoms of movement for labour, capital, and goods, and an absolute absence of coercion or constraint of economic liberty beyond the extent necessary for citizens to protect and maintain liberty itself. In other words, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, and that freedom is both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state.

The 2009 Index of Economic Freedom covers 183 countries and measures 10 separate components of economic freedom.To table below I have picked the Balkan countries and their scores with each of those measures and the picture is following:

Name

World Rank

O-   ver- all  Sco-   re

Busi- ness Free- dom

Tra-   de Free- dom

Fis-  cal Free- dom

Go- vern- ment Size

Mone- tary Free- dom

In-   vest- ment Free- dom

Fi-    nan-  cial Free- dom

Pro- perty Ri-    ghts

Free- dom From Cor-  rup- tion

La-   bour Free- dom

Albania

62

63.7

67.0

75.8

92.8

75.6

79.6

70.0

70.0

30.0

29.0

47.2

Bosnia -Herze-govina

134

53.1

59.9

77.2

71.8

37.6

79.0

50.0

60.0

10.0

33.0

52.2

Bulgaria

56

64.6

73.5

85.8

86.2

58.7

72.8

60.0

60.0

30.0

41.0

78.4

Croatia

116

55.1

59.9

87.6

68.7

31.7

79.0

50.0

60.0

30.0

41.0

43.4

Greece

81

60.8

78.7

80.8

66.5

46.3

78.8

50.0

50.0

50.0

46.0

61.2

Macedo- nia FRY

78

61.2

58.2

81.6

89.4

65.1

85.4

50.0

60.0

30.0

33.0

59.8

Monte- negro

94

58.2

68.7

80.2

89.1

45.3

78.9

40.0

50.0

40.0

33.0

57.2

Romania

65

63.2

74.9

85.8

87.0

70.0

75.0

60.0

50.0

35.0

37.0

57.1

Serbia

109

56.6

56.0

78.0

85.9

46.3

65.8

40.0

50.0

40.0

34.0

70.0

Slovenia

68

62.9

84.4

85.8

62.9

38.4

78.6

60.0

50.0

60.0

66.0

42.8

If the Overall score were 100-80 the country was defined to be Free, countries with score 79.9-70 were Mostly free, countries with score 69.9-60 Moderately free, countries with score 59.9-50 Mostly unfree and countries with score between 49.9-0 were defined as Repressed.So according The 2009 Index of Economic FreedomAlbania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia were Moderately free and the rest of Balkan countries were Mostly unfree.

Last autumn I wrote about competitiveness of Balkans referring “ Global Economic Competitiveness Report 2008-2009” of The World Economic Forum, which approaches economic freedom a bit wider angle. Their measures include e.g. health, education, public and private institutions, infrastructure and innovations so perspective is a bit more social than that of hard line conservatives. Anyway in report mentioned Slovenia was ranked as the most competitive economy in the Balkans with rank 42 out of 134 countries polled followed Croatia (61), Greece (67), Romania (68), Bulgaria (76), Serbia (85), Macedonia (89), Bosnia-Herzegovina (107) and Albania (108).

If compared the order between economic freedom and competitiveness the biggest difference are ranks of Croatia and Albania – almost opposite positions – so one could say that free economy does not necessary create high competitiveness and mostly unfree economy can sometimes be very competitive.

Part 4 – Poverty

Poverty stricken Bosnian Muslims search a garbage dump near their village of Visca.  The extreme winter low temperatures force people who live in poverty to resort to desperate measures to scrape a living Poverty stricken Bosnian Muslims search a garbage dump near their village of Visca. The extreme winter low temperatures force people who live in poverty to resort to desperate measures to scrape a living.

One can dispute which level of economic freedom can increase or decrease common welfare for all population but the fact is that poverty sure limits individuals political and human rights as well use of civil liberties.”Poverty” defined as an economic condition of lacking both money and basic necessities needed to successfully live, such as food, water, education, health care or shelter.The table lists countries by the percentage of the population living below the national poverty line — the poverty line deemed appropriate for a country by its authorities.

While studying poverty in Balkans I have used as source UNDP report accessed on Feb. 3rd 2008 and CIA’s The World Factbook, updated on July 24th 2008.  From there I have picked Balkan countries and Kosovo province figures and the outcome is here:

Country

UNDP

CIA

Year

Other

Year

Albania 25.4 25 2004 est. 25 2002
Bosnia-Herzegovina 19.5 25 2004 est. 20 2002
Bulgaria 12.8 14.1 2003 est. 13 2001
Croatia N/A 11 2003 N/A N/A
Macedonia FRY 21.7 29.8 2006 29.4 2007
Montenegro N/A 7 2007 est. N/A N/A
Romania 21.5 25 2005 est. N/A N/A
Serbia N/A 6.5 2007 est. N/A N/A
Province of Kosovo N/A 37 2007 est. N/A N/A
Slovenia N/A 12.9 2004 N/A N/A

National estimates are based on population-weighted subgroup estimates from household surveys. Definitions of the poverty line may vary considerably among nations. Thus, the numbers are not strictly comparable among countries.  However one could size up that poverty is serious problem in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania and Kosovo province (UNSC 1244 protectorate).

World of powerty

Bigger image from link

Part 5: Movement

Freedom of movement including traveling abroad or in one’s own country and selecting locations to live has also its own limitations in Balkans. If we exclude such restrictive factors as money, handicaps or imprisonment I could find three main categories for limited freedom of movement in Balkans. They are

  • Restricted moving back to original dwelling place
  • Restricted moving out from place of residence
  • Traveling abroad

Refugees and IDPs

This theme is of paramount importance in Balkans. Beginning 1991, political upheavals – such as the breakup of Yugoslavia – displaced millions of people. Officially one part of these people are refugees meaning that they have escaped to other country, one part is “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) meaning that they have escaped from their home village/-town but still are in the same country than before.

Movements

This kind of restricted moving back to original dwelling place is still – 10-16 years after Balkan Wars – biggest problem in Serbia with 326,853 refugees and IDPs. Bosnia-Herzegovina has 146,586 mostly IDPs, Greece 30,799 (mostly asylum seekers), Montenegro 24,822, Bulgaria 5,848, Croatia 7,826, Slovenia 4,408 (mostly stateless persons), Macedonia (FYR) 2,397, Romania 2,180 and Albania 101 (situation 31st March 2008).(Source UNCHR statistics 3rd June 2008).

From this link you can have full-scale of figure above.

Restricted moving out from place of residence

Limited moving out from home in one’s own country is usually not restricted by law or regulations – the limitations are real or fancied fears in one’s head. In Balkans this problem occurs most in Kosovo province.Albanians in Kosovo’s middle and southern parts are not familiar to travel northern Kosovo, Serbs in their enclaves are afraid to go outside of their enclave.

Outside Kosovo this kind of fears are in smaller scale and they maybe occur only when ethnic tensions for some reasons are rising e.g. between Croats and Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina, between Albanians and Macedonians in Macedonia (FYROM) etc.

Travelling abroad

To travel from one country to other is a fundamental freedom restricted however more or less depending about which passport the traveller holds.Visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders. This topic I treated already in my previous article “Visa rank and the western Balkans” and to that I do not have anything new to add now as I do not have any new data available.

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BalkanBlog

Refugees and IDPs in western Balkans

Bloggers Unite

Background of this post

Bloggers Unite is an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference. This time, because of our work to increase human rights awareness, many members chose to go one step further to raise awareness for refugees — people who are impacted by these issues. So, on Nov. 10, thousands of bloggers will write about the various challenges faced by the 11 million people who have no country to call home and the 40 million more who have been displaced because of war and natural disasters. (More about this campaign here.)

Bloggers Unite

Refugees and IDPs in West Balkans

This theme is of paramount importance in Balkans. Beginning 1991, political upheavals – such as the breakup of Yugoslavia – displaced millions of people. Officially one part of these people are refugees meaning that they have escaped to other country, one part is “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) meaning that they have escaped from their homevillage/-town but still are in the same country than before.

Latest statistics about this problem in western Balkans are following (country, no of refugees – no of IDPs – Total including also stateless etc. persons):

  • Albania:  77 –  0  –  101
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina: 7.367  –  130.984  – 146.586
  • Croatia:  1.642  –  2.873  –  7.826
  • FRY Macedonia: 1.235  –  0  –  2.397
  • Montenegro:  8.528  –  16.155  –  24.822
  • Serbia:  97.995  –  226.350  –  326.853
  • Slovenia: 263  –  0  –  4.408

(Source: UNHCR statistics end-2007, table established 3rd June 2008)

The table above is maybe surprising to those who have the picture – made by western mainstreammedia – in their minds, that (only) Serbs were making ethnic cleansing.  In reality today the Serbs are the biggest victims of Balkan wars.

Roots and possible solution

Bosnian war (1992-95) included massive transfer of populations so it was possible to draw new boundaries according ethnic groups. Dayton Agreement 1995 created federation like Bosnia with entities according these lines so situation with IDPs in Bosnia-Herzegvina is quite stabil.

In Serbia the refugee problem came when Serbs were expelled from East Croatia and Croatian Krajina.  The IDP problem is a follow-up of Kosovo conflict when some 200.000 Serbs and some thousends of Roma were expelled from there to northern Serb-dominated part of province or to Serbia.  During Nato bombings also Kosovo Albanians – about 700.000 – escaped from the province but most of them have returned back.

To solve refugee and IDP problem in western Balkans there is a need of massive housing programme especially in Serbia and this can probably be implemented with help of international donors.  Housing activities should also be supported by economical development programmes to decrease unemployment figures and social problems common in locations with big share of refugees/IDPs.

Bloggers Unite

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Kosovo – failed UN (justice) mission

Tim Guldimann, head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo, said on Monday 8th that Kosovo today is “not what we could call a multi-ethnic society”. “Different communities live in Kosovo, but a multi-ethnic society means integration, mutual understanding, tolerance and cohabitation. We do not see this,” he stated. His words have good base in a new OSCE report on human rights, ethnic relations and democracy in Kosovo for the period from the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2008. Also the headline of other report by Amnesty International tells enough “Kosovo (Serbia): The challenge to fix a failed UN justice mission.

The Kosovo judiciary continues to suffer from serious shortcomings due to the failure to properly apply the law and international human rights standards. OSCE report e.g. highlights that

  • Almost nine years after the conflict, a large number of properties remain illegally occupied, despite the resolution of almost 30,000 residential property cases as of summer 2008. In total, these property claims and cases amount to approximately 59,000 the vast majority of which involve Kosovo Serbs, whose properties were damaged, destroyed or illegally occupied as a result of the conflict and have not yet been addressed or settled.
  • The Kosovo judiciary failed “to properly apply the law and international human rights standards,” the report said, resulting “in widespread violations of fair trial standards.”
  • Both police and courts “are often exposed to political interference,”

Guldimann added that “When it comes to the return of members of the Serb community, the question if there are conditions for Serbs to view their future in Kosovo as safe and if they trust Kosovo institutions needs to be answered.”

Ethnic cleansings

The facts are showing that other ethnic groups than Albanians do not see their future in Kosovo. Since Kosovo separatists took power, over two thirds of ethnic Serbs have been ethnically cleansed by Albanian separatist. According to statistics from the UNHCR there are about 206,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo living in Serbia. This fact has mostly ignored in western mainstream media. Their attitude is understandable since this media from the very beginning had fixed their one-sided picture about good and bad guys so Serbs somehow deserved their fate. The outcome is that Serb Refugees (from Croatia and Bosnia) and IDPs (from Kosovo) are one of the forgotten and forsaken victim groups in the former Yugoslavia.

The vast majority of those people – Serbs, Roma and Gorani – were forced out by ethnic violence and intimidation and still live in dreadful conditions in camps and emergency housing in Serbia. The remaining Serbs in Kosovo are barricaded into enclaves keeping their lives mainly with help of international KFOR troops or in de facto separated Serb majority region in North Kosovo.

Wasted billions

The situation described here and e.g. in OSCE report is very discouraging also from other perspective. Since 2000, the international community has likely invested more non-military resources per capita in Kosovo for stabilizing and developing Kosovo than in any other post-conflict area in the world. In spite of the billions and billions of dollars the international community has poured into Kosovo since NATO ousted Serbia’s military in 1999 the result is mono ethnic, corrupted society where gangs of thugs are left free to roam around terrorizing the people and pretty much imposing their own ‘law’ either on streets or in government.

Failed mission has lead to failed state.



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