Director of Policy
U.S. Committee for Refugees
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
February 28, 2000
Thank you, Chairman Smith, for the opportunity to testify regarding the humanitarian needs of
displaced persons from Kosovo.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, which for 42 years
has defended the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons in this country and
throughout the world. Our organization has been documenting the conditions of refugees and
displaced persons in former Yugoslavia since the beginning of the conflict, as indicated, in part, by
our publications and previous testimony before this Commission and other congressional panels:
Yugoslavia Torn Asunder: Lessons for Protecting Refugees from Civil War (1992)
Croatia's Crucible: Providing Asylum for Refugees from Bosnia and Hercegovina
"'Preventive Protection' and the Right to Seek Asylum: A Preliminary Look at Bosnia
and Croatia," International Journal of Refugee Law (1992)
Human Rights and Humanitarian Needs of Refugees and Displaced Persons in and
outside Bosnia and Hercegovina, Helsinki Commission testimony (January 25, 1993)
"Civilians, Humanitarian Assistance Still Held Hostage in Bosnia," Refugee Reports
Voices from the Whirlwind: Bosnian Refugee Testimonies (1993)
Last Ditch Options on Bosnia (1993)
East of Bosnia: Refugees in Serbia and Montenegro (1993)
"No Escape: Minorities under Threat in Serb-Held Areas of Bosnia," Refugee Reports
"War and Disaster in the Former Yugoslavia: The Limits of Humanitarian Action,"
World Refugee Survey (1994)
"The Death March from Srebrenica," Refugee Reports (July 1995)
Bosnian Refugees, Hearing before the Subcommittee on International Operations and
Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives
(September 25, 1995)
Germany to Begin Returning Bosnians, Refugee Reports (September 1996)
Bosnian Minorities: Strangers in Their Own Land, Refugee Reports (October 1997)
State Department Welcomes, Then Backs Off, Serbian Humanitarian Centers in
Kosovo, Refugee Reports (September 1998)
Shaky Ceasefire in Kosovo; Displaced People Come Out of Woods, Fears Remain,
Refugee Reports (November 1998)
Fighting Heats Up Kosovo Winter, Refugee Reports (February/March 1999)
"Kosovo: The Outpouring of Misery," Refugee Reports (March/April 1999)
"The Kosovo Refugee Crisis," Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on
Immigration, (April 14, 1999)
"Here Come the Kosovars," Refugee Reports (May 1999)
Destination Unknown: From Kosovo to No-man's Land (January 2000)
"Reversal of Fortune: Serbia's Refugee Crisis," Refugee Reports (January 2000)
I traveled extensively in Serbia and Montenegro from December 3 to December 18, 1999, visiting
municipalities near Kosovo, including the Sandjak regions, as well as in the Belgrade area and
Vojvodina, near the Croatian border. The trip included visits to both government-controlled
municipalities and opposition municipalities. I met with federal and local government officials,
representatives of international humanitarian agencies, and nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs). Mostly, however, I met with refugees and displaced people. The focus of my trip was on
the needs of an estimated 200,000 people, mostly Serbs and Roma (Gypsies) newly displaced
from Kosovo, as well as the conditions for some 500,000 mostly ethnic Serb refugees from Croatia
(mainly from the Krajina region) and Bosnia (from Federation areas).
In Serbia, looks can be deceiving. The Serbs are a proud people, and do not want to show a
foreigner, particularly an American, that they are suffering. They are also a society used to a
relatively high standard of living. Their needs, therefore, are not always immediately obvious.
Generally (the notable exception being Roma), refugees and internally displaced people appear to
be in good health, to have clean accommodations, and to be adequately clothed. Yet, current
estimates place unemployment in Serbia at more than 30 percent, and joblessness among
refugees and displaced people is likely to be at least twice that percentage. Many factories were
damaged or destroyed by NATO bombing, and in many cases were functioning poorly before being
knocked out of commission. Agricultural production is also down by about 30 percent.
As is true of the population generallyÑand particularly true of its vulnerable segments, such as the
elderly, the infirm, and single women with childrenÑthe main problem for refugees and displaced
people is the lack of jobs and income. They simply have no earning power. A person who earns
the average Serbian income of 80 Deutsche marks (DM) (about $40) per month cannot afford 150
to 250 DM (between $75 and $125) per month for food.
Although needy refugees are receiving food aid, the problem is not principally a lack of food; food
assistance, in effect, serves as an income supplement, saving money that would otherwise be spent
on food. The capacity for food production in Serbia has not diminished, according to a World Food
Program (WFP) official, but because the government has set prices for staples at a low level,
producers of sugar, vegetable oil, and milk have either stopped production or sell their products
elsewhere or on the black market (at prices that the poor cannot afford).
The Yugoslav government is often late in paying retirees their pensions, stretching out the pay
periods, or missing pension checks entirely. Elderly refugees from Croatia have not been able to
claim their pensions from the Croatian government, despite having paid into the Socialist Federal
Republic of YugoslaviaÕs (SFRY) social security system during their working lives, before the break
up of Yugoslavia and Croatian independence. In actuality, even if retirees did receive their
pensions on a regular basis, that would not cover living expenses. Some pensioners have received
coupons for firewood, for example, but lack the money to hire someone to transport the wood to
The government’s social welfare system has essentially collapsed, and the rolls of social cases
continue to grow. Some 33 percent of the population is reportedly living below the poverty level.
The percentage among the uprooted is undoubtedly higher.
Although health care is supposedly free, decent and timely health care usually comes at a high
(bribed) price. There is a critical shortage of pharmaceuticals. The problem stems, in part, from
President Slobodan Milosevic’s takeover of the country’s leading pharmaceutical firm, ICN, and a
near monopoly of the pharmaceutical industry by the JUL party, the extreme nationalist party headed
by Mira Markovic, President Milosevic’s wife.
Some economists predict either more price fixing and malnutrition or another round of
hyperinflation and heightened economic instability. Some predictions are dire, including warnings
that the death rate among vulnerable groups, such as pensioners, could increase sharply.
Conditions for Refugees and Displaced People
It is hard to distinguish between conditions for the old caseload refugees from Bosnia and Croatia
and those for the newer arrivals from Kosovo. In both cases, the quality of their living conditions is
dictated less by their length of stay or by their status as refugees or internally displaced persons,
than by their own resources, including the precious existence of relatives in Serbia or Montenegro
willing and able to help. Another obvious factor is whether the displaced person is an ethnic Serb
the overwhelming majority or a Roma.
Collective Centers In general, people living in collective centers are worse off than those living in
private accommodations. They lack the means job, savings, or family that would enable them to live
in a private home. Often, they are elderly or lacking the skills in demand in an economy where jobs
Although people in collective centers generally live in poorer conditions than those I visited in
private accommodations, collective centers have an advantage: residents pay no rent or utilities
and receive food and other humanitarian assistance regularly. On the other hand, most collective
centers are grim. They often lack privacy, and the people living in them, especially the refugees
from Bosnia and Croatia, tend to be elderly. Heating is sometimes poor, in part, because the
centers were not constructed for residential purposes.
Collective centers vary widely in quality and population density. Some, including converted schools
and hospitals, are not especially overcrowded and provide separate rooms for families. Others,
often former cultural centers, are dismal, drafty, and crowded.
The main difference between collective centers for refugees and those for the newly displaced from
Kosovo is the contrasting demographics of the residents themselves. Refugees who, often after
five years are longer, still remain in collective centers, tend to be elderly and feeble. They often
appear listless. Collective centers for the internally displaced, on the other hand, tend to have more
families, more children, and include men and women in the prime of their working years. They
appear less passive, and are more likely to express anger or make demands.
Whether one lives in a decent collective center or a bad one seems to be a matter of dumb luck. I
visited a relatively nice collective center on the Avala mountain outside Belgrade, a former
psychiatric hospital. Just down the road, I dropped in on another collective center, a converted
restaurant, now home to 129 people from the same village in Kosovo as those in the neighboring
collective center. Cots were crowded together with no partitions separating them. The residents
wore their winter coats indoors. Because of a three-way dispute between the Serbian
Commissioner for Refugees, the owner of the restaurant, and the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) over the rent for the facility, the heat was turned off. (It is not a privately owned
facility, but socially owned, so ownership is at least indirectly governmental, yet the problem
apparently stems, in part, from a disagreement between the restaurant owner and the Serbian
Commissioner for Refugees.)
The residents were angry, suspicious. They said that the people in the collective center just down
the road were receiving more food and warmer winter clothing. They said that the Red Cross, which
had supplied canned food, had stopped. They accused the Red Cross of delivering old clothes in
The residents expressed anxiety that the winter cold would intensify and that the building would not
provide sufficient protection from the falling temperatures. Some were sleeping in the restaurant
porch, cots flat against plate glass windows. They asked for wood planks to cover the drafty
windows. I had seen other collective centers where the residents had built partitioned "rooms"
using planks supplied by local municipalities. In this case, however, the municipality had not agreed
to provide boards, and no one else had responded to their request. The residents said that ten of
the children had contracted pneumonia.
Private Accommodations Although the overwhelming majority of refugees and internally displaced
personsÑabout 90 percentÑare living in private accommodations, the lack of housingÑalong with
the lack of jobsÑremains a principal obstacle to local integration. Refugees living in private
accommodations divide into three groups:
1) The majority of the refugees and displaced people are living with family or friends, and may or
may not be paying rent, depending on their ability to pay.
2) Many refugees (fewer among the displaced) have moved out of the homes of family and friends,
and are now paying rent. In order to afford to rent, such persons usually have jobs or other sources
3) Finally, a relatively small, but not insignificant, portion of refugees and displaced people live in
homes they have constructed themselves. In the case of the internally displaced from Kosovo,
some built homes (or partially built them) in Serbia proper in advance of their flight.
Even if the people renting privately are supposedly better off than those in collective centers, it is
clear that their existence is also often precarious. I spoke with refugees and displaced people living
in overcrowded conditions in private homes who were worried that their relatives would tell them to
leave. I visited with a family in a collective center in Smederevo who had been living with relatives
but moved into the collective center when the relatives could no longer support them.
The refugees who are able to make an income, pay rent, and live in a home not shared with local
residents, often complain of the high rental costs, as well as the costs of utilities and firewood.
Nevertheless, some refugee families I visited appeared virtually indistinguishable from the local
community and appear to be fully integrated.
Humanitarian Assistance Pipeline
The existing network for distributing humanitarian aid in the FRY operates almost exclusively
through the Yugoslav Red Cross (YRC). The Red Cross system has had a virtual monopoly, and no
other agency comes close to it in terms of a national network for aid distribution, particularly at the
When the new influx from Kosovo erupted in the summer, the YRC did not have the capacity to
deliver humanitarian assistance. Through the help of international agencies, including the
International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC), UNHCR, and WFP, it significantly improved its capacity to deliver aid. From delivering
3,000 metric tons of aid in August, the YRC delivered 20,000 metric tons in November, and plans to
continue at that level through 2000.
Nevertheless, the YRC has proven controversial. During the conflict in Kosovo, it was exclusively
associated with the Serb community. Its critics have accused it of wrongful conduct from corruption
to participation in ethnic cleansing. Its defenders in Serbia say it is the only effective humanitarian
organization capable of delivering the quantity of assistance demanded by the humanitarian needs
of the country.
In late 1999, allegations surfaced that the YRC branch in Zemun, a Belgrade municipality, had
diverted hygiene packets and rice intended for refugees. The European Community Humanitarian
Office (ECHO) and IFRC investigators confirmed the allegations.
As it turned out, however, the diversion was neither surreptitious nor for profit in the local market.
On the contrary, the board of the Zemun Red Cross branch voted on October 18 to make a one-time
grant of hygiene parcels and rice to school employees in the municipality because of their irregular
and low incomes and very bad living standard.
According to the local Red Cross branch, the school employees had not been paid since May
1999. The schools are used for distributing Red Cross aid to its beneficiary lists. Additional
parcels were distributed to 250 employees of the Teleoptik factory in Zemun and to 300 employees
of a shoe factory there. The Red Cross reportedly used warehouses located at both factories to
store humanitarian assistance.
ECHO visited 13 Red Cross branches in the Belgrade area, and found that similar diversion had
occurred in 8 of the 13. This suggests that the problem is systemic and not limited to Zemun. All
branches in question were temporarily closed, according to ECHO.
The Yugoslav Red Cross has agreed, in principle, to an independent audit. In a December 2
memo to all Red Cross municipal branch offices, the Secretary General of the YRC, Dr. Rade
Dubajic, summarized the YRC executive board’s November 25 decisions. On the one hand, the
board stated that “aid cannot be distributed to persons who do not fit the criteria”. It said, “We have
received some serious complaints by the donors in regard to the obvious cases of disrespecting
the set criteria in certain municipal Red Cross branches and distributing the assistance to the
people that cannot be the beneficiaries of the international humanitarian aid.”
On the other hand, the same memorandum directed local branches not to cooperate with
international humanitarian organizations in their monitoring efforts. It prohibited international
humanitarian organizations from obtaining lists of beneficiaries, from meeting with municipal Red
Cross branches without prior YRC permission, and prohibited local branches from filling out forms
or questionnaires from international humanitarian organizations without consulting with the YRC or
the Serbian Red Cross.
Alternative Distribution Networks?
In December, the U.S. government restricted its humanitarian funding in FRY to ensure that U.S.
funds do not directly or indirectly support the Milosevic regime. The earmark specifically prohibits
U.S. funds from being used in support of activities and operations of the YRC or the Serbian
Commissioner for Refugees (the government refugee agency) without congressional notification.
This meant that UNHCR's FRY budget would be reduced by 20 percent that part of its costs
associated, particularly, with renting socially owned collective centers, as well as its more limited
use of the YRC in distribution of non-food items. The WFP, on the other hand, uses the YRC for 100
percent of its food warehousing and distribution, and the IFRC and ICRC are similarly tied to the
YRC as their local partner. Although U.S. AID funds food assistance elsewhere in the Balkans, it
has cut its funding of WFP in the FRY entirely.
U.S. bilateral assistance is to be directed to international NGOs with the intention of creating an
alternative network for distributing humanitarian assistance. The U.S. government is encouraging
partnerships with UNHCR that can distribute directly to beneficiaries.
During my visit, I examined the capacity of NGOs in Serbia to develop alternative distribution
avenues. I met with a number of NGOs already operating in Serbia, including Caritas, CARE,
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC, which works with the Serbian Orthodox Church),
the International Rescue Committee, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). All showed potential for
increased involvement, depending on donor interest. Some of the NGOs have had major
humanitarian assistance operations in Kosovo that could be replicated in Serbia proper. Thus far,
however, none has a network that could effectively reach beneficiaries nationwide.
Such international NGOs could coordinate their activities, however, and provide direct assistance
to collective centers. But, in the short term at least, they would have great difficulty in reaching most
of the refugees and displaced persons in private accommodations without using local Red Cross
branches. They would also have difficulty finding appropriate warehouse space and in renting that
space. Clearly, the cheapest avenue is to rent space from "socially owned" facilities rather than
privately owned ones. But this presents another roadblock. In addition to higher costs for privately
owned warehouses, if an international NGO locates a cheaper "socially owned" warehouse, it runs
into the same difficulty UNHCR has had with paying "rents" to socially owned collective centers: the
money paid to socially owned facilities ultimately reaches the coffers of the government and other
elites closely tied to the Milosevic regime.
Despite problems associated with some local Red Cross branches, I found that the local branches
often operate independently of central authorities and seem to have good rapport with the local
beneficiary populations. I visited key opposition municipalities in various parts of the country
Kraljevo, Nis, Cacak, Novi Pazar, Sombor and found that all had good relations with their local Red
Cross branches. Although opposition municipality officials complained about the higher echelons of
the Yugoslav and Serbian Red Cross, they had only praise for the local branches, and interacted
collegially with them.
Most often, local opposition officials complained of actions at the government level. For example,
Sombor, an opposition municipality in Vojvodina bordering Croatia, has attempted a local
integration project to help refugees construct private homes. Sombor has not received any support
for infrastructure development, roads, water lines, sewage, or electricity from the federal Yugoslav or
Serb republic authorities to support this initiative.
Despite other problems opposition municipalities have, I found no substantiation of the charge that
food and humanitarian assistance per se are being manipulated in ways that deny such aid to
needy populations in these municipalities or that direct the aid into opposition municipalities in
order to draw more uprooted people into them.
Possibilities for Return
The most noticeable difference in attitudes toward return is not between refugees from Bosnia or
Croatia and the displaced from Kosovo or between men and women, but rather between
generations. Older people, generally, seem more interested in return. Younger ones, on the other
hand, tend not only to see greater obstacles to return, but perhaps to see greater opportunity in not
a) Return to Croatia? My visit was prior to the election in Croatia and coincided with President
Tudjman's death. Attitudes might well have changed since these occurrences in Croatia. At the
time of my visit, however, refugees I spoke with (particularly men of military age) said that fear for
their personal safety was the major obstacle to return.
Several refugees expressed concern that they might be falsely charged with war crimes if they
returned. They all denied having been involved in any criminal activity, but all men of military age
from the Krajina, in particular are presumed to have played some role in the military or in civil
defense forces. A bearded refugee from Knin, the capital of the Krajina region of Croatia, perhaps
in his 30s, living in a dismal one-room collective center in Subotica near the Hungarian border, told
me, “I can’t go home. There is no work. I wouldn’t be safe. They have lists of war criminals. I
worked for the railroad. I never hurt anyone, but I could be accused.”
Even those who take active steps to return often find their way blocked. An 80-year-old refugee
from Lika, a town in the Krajina, now a resident of a collective center in Kraljevo, told me that he had
applied to the Croatian authorities four times to repatriate. He said that he had filled out the various
forms, but never received a reply.
b) Return To Kosovo? Internally displaced persons are generally less concerned than refugees
about war crimes accusations per se. Their greater concern is the general level of danger for
non-ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. I often heard refugees say that they feared returning to Kosovo as
it is now, but that they would return if the Yugoslav army and police went back. People displaced
from Kosovo accuse the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of committing crimes against them. Many
said that they would not feel safe unless the Serb police and army returned in force, punished those
who had committed crimes, and removed "the immigrants from Albania out of Kosovo, the people
with blood on their hands.”
Among both refugees and internally displaced persons are people, usually the elderly, who
express intense feelings of connection to their lost properties. Many people insisted that they were
interested only in returning to their original homes, and categorically rejected relocating. “I was born
in the same house as my father, my grandfather, and my great grandfather,” said a man displaced
from Musutiste, a mixed Serb and Albanian village in Kosovo. “I do not think we stand a chance
here. There is no money. We can’t earn a living.”
I asked him if he would you go anywhere else. “I would never move to another part of Kosovo,” he
said, “only to the place where my father’s and grandfathers’ graves are.”
A young man also living in the collective center (perhaps the old man’s son) had been listening
quietly to the interview. But hearing this, he spoke: “I’d go to Australia. I’d go to any country that
would take me.”
Integrating Locally: Citizenship for Refugees
Although the prospects for refugee repatriation may have improved somewhat since the death of
President Tudjman, the election of Stipe Mesic as president, and the dawn of a new political
landscape in Croatia, real progress toward significant repatriation has yet to occur. In the past,
hopeful rhetoric from Croatia has not been matched by positive action. It remains likely that the
majority of Croatian refugees will not go back. Sharing language, culture, and ethnic identity with
the local Serb population, the overwhelming majority of refugees ought to be able to integrate in
Serbia. The obstacles, however, are both economic and legal.
FRY’s citizenship law did not come into effect until June 1997. So far, about 42,000 refugees have
become naturalized FRY citizens, and another 41,000 have applied for citizenship. Although no
refugee applicants have been denied outright, the grant of citizenship is not automatic.
Furthermore, the government suspended the processing of citizenship applications during the
NATO bombing. Government officials said that FRY’s citizenship application records were
destroyed in the bombing. By the end of 1999, it had not resumed processing applications.
FRY does not permit dual citizenship. Many refugees who still have property claims in Croatia are
particularly reluctant to surrender their Croatian citizenship, fearing they might forfeit the chance to
be compensated for their losses.
Some of the younger Croatian refugees have another reason for not wanting to surrender their
Croatian passports for FRY ones. Many want to leave Yugoslavia, and visa-free travel from FRY is
not open to the more attractive countries of preferred destination, such as Germany, which does not
require visas from persons traveling on Croatian passports.
Documents for Internally Displaced People
Unlike refugees, the people displaced from Kosovo are already Yugoslav citizens. That does not
mean, however, that they have no problem with documents. In fact, many of the internally displaced
cite lack of residence documents as their chief complaint. Such documents are routinely issued by
one’s local municipality, and have generally been required for health care, education, driver’s
licenses, and passports.
In general, people moving from one municipality to another are expected to de-register from the
place they are leaving before registering in a new location. This was not possible for people fleeing
Kosovo on short notice, however. Retrieving personal documents has been very difficult. In seven
Kosovo municipalities, these documents are completely missing.
The need for documents to gain access to health care was quickly resolved when the Ministry of
Health waived the requirement to show such documents. Although the Ministry of Education was
slower to respond, it has now allowed displaced children to register for school without the proper
These ad hoc, temporary arrangements were made as winter approached and the authorities
recognized that displaced people would not be able to return to Kosovo quickly. However, the
Serbian authorities are not resigned to losing Kosovo and insist that the durable solution for the
displaced is to return to Kosovo. They may be reluctant, therefore, to issue permanent documents
that will enable the displaced to integrate completely in their new local Serbian communities outside
This problem is likely to be even more intense for Roma and other non-Serb minorities, as local
Serb authorities and populations have already demonstrated strong resistance to their local
Roma in Serbia: A Different Story
Roma and gypsies were caught in the middle of the ethnic conflict in Kosovo. Neither Serb nor
Albanian, the Roma in Kosovo, as elsewhere, tended to adapt to the ethnic group they perceived as
dominant, learning that language and trying to accommodate themselves with that group. Kosovo’s
swift reversal of fortune, therefore, proved disastrous for many of Kosovo’s Roma, as the returning
ethnic Albanians often perceived them as Serb collaborators.
There are currently between 40,000 and 50,000 displaced Roma in FRY. About 15,000 to 20,000
are in the central and southern areas bordering Kosovo. Another 15,000 are in the Belgrade area.
The other 10,000 are living in Montenegro.
Although the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo may have perceived the Roma as being aligned with the
Serbs, that has hardly made them welcome to local communities in Serbia. Pre-existing Roma
communities in Serbia occupy the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. They appear at night
as street cleaners and live in squalid slums in industrial sectors or in makeshift encampments under
bridges or in abandoned buildings. The new arrivals from Kosovo often gravitate to local Roma
settlements, making it difficult to distinguish the displaced from the general, and also destitute,
I visited a Roma family living in such a pre-existing Roma settlement, a tightly packed ghetto in the
Mali Leskovac industrial outskirts of Belgrade. The slum is called “Deponija,” which translates to
“garbage dump.” Their home, a small dwelling with concrete walls, a rusted tin roof, and windows
made from plastic sheets, is set in a muddy, potholed alley. They borrowed the equivalent of $200
for the downpayment on the place, and pay about $25 monthly in rent. They huddle around a stove
provided by UNHCR, supplementing their meager diet with staples (flour and oil) provided by the
Red Cross, and other humanitarian goods provided by a Roma association. Despite the
assistance, a nine-year-old boy is obviously malnourished, looking the size of an American child half
“We owned three large houses in Kosovo in the town of Srbica, a young man, who heads the
household, told me. There is no work, no way to earn money to pay the rent, he said. “It takes
money to make money.” He added, “There is no glass for the window, no door, no wood for heat,
not enough food.”
His elderly father started to say that he was afraid to leave the house. Four days ago, “skinheads”
came into the neighborhood and killed a "Shiptar," the word for an Albanian. The son hushed him,
saying, "We don't want to talk about that. We feel free to walk outside. We have no problems." Yet,
he refused to have his picture taken.
The children speak only Albanian. They can’t go to school now, their father explains, because they
don’t speak Serbian. “We have had enough of this misery,” he said. “We want to return to our
home in Kosovo.” He showed as much attachment to his home and property in Kosovo as any
displaced Serb. He said he would only return to his own home. Nowhere else would do. But, “We
will remain here until the army or the police return to Kosovo. Only the Serb police and military
would make us feel safe.”
Local municipalities often turn a cold shoulder to the Roma, hoping that if they refuse to provide
shelter or assistance, the Roma will move on. I saw this situation in Kursumlija, a municipality that
borders Kosovo, which has struggled generally with the influx of displaced people. A group of
Roma took over a semifinished, large concrete structure in the center of the town.
The building had no windows, not even plastic sheeting to break the gusts of frigid wind whipping
through. The muddy ground was strewn with litter. A basement with standing water of indeterminate
depth appeared to be filled with sewage and trash. An oily liquid dripped from ceilings throughout
the structure. There was no evidence of humanitarian assistance of any kind.
The structure was teeming with people. Dirty, poorly clothed children crowded about. Each family
had fashioned its own living space. Those places protected from the elements had no light.
I went into one small space, picked at random. It was dark, dank, and dirty. A woman and three
children were huddled by an old stove. She told me that her husband had been taken by the KLA on
June 15. They dragged him out of their house in Kosovo Polje, and then set the house on fire. She
and her children were still in the house. She turned to what appeared to be a pile of blankets. She
lifted the top blanket, and exposed a baby of indeterminate age. The child scrawny, malnourished
had severe scarring covering her legs. The mother said that the baby was caught in the burning
house. She said that she knew nothing of the whereabouts of her husband. She was unaware that
the International Committee of the Red Cross has a family tracing service. No one from the Red
Cross had been there. She said she that believes her husband is dead. She appeared passive,
fatalistic, expecting nothing.
Roma in Montenegro: Yet a Different Story
I also visited a large Roma settlement in Montenegro, known as Konik, built on a large, pre-existing
Roma settlement near the garbage dump on the outskirts of the capital, Podgorica. Konik held
about 1,600 people in August. No census had been taken, and the count fluctuated daily, but the
camp population had reached about 2,800 by December, an average increase of 300 people per
Although local officials there were no less unwelcoming toward the Roma, another element had
markedly improved their conditions compared with what I saw in Serbia: the presence of
I participated in a meeting with a group of international NGOs and the mayor of Podgorica. They
were having a heated debate about whether or not to construct a water pipe to serve the camp or to
keep trucking water in. It was a debate almost unthinkable in the current Serbian context. Who in
Serbia would advocate on behalf of the Roma? Who would build and service camps for them
despite resistance from local officials? The Roma in Kursumlija were not receiving water, trucked
But in Montenegro the question of how to deliver water was open to debate. No one suggested
that piping in water would be difficult. Doing so, however, would suggest another step toward
permanency, and the mayor was insistent that the Roma have to leave, that they must go back to
Kosovo. (His unstated concern appeared to be that conditions should not be better in Konik than
other places in FRY for fear that this would attract more displaced Roma to the Podgorica area.)
A similar controversy has raged regarding shelter. Italian NGOs (with generous support from an
Italian government that does not want the Roma to move on to Italy) built sturdy, high-quality wooden
barracks when the influx first started. They were willing to expand on them for new arrivals.
However, the local authorities insisted that the new arrivals be placed in tents. Therefore, NGOs
constructed "Konik II," a tent encampment next to the "Konik I" barracks.
Konik is located in a valley surrounded by hills. As such the ground tends to be damp and muddy;
also, it is subject to high winds that funnel down from the hills. Trying to create a more sanitary
environment for the tents in Konik II, humanitarian agencies first put down a layer of stone and
gravel. Shortly before my visit, a night of swirling winds blew the tents away. Konik II looked
devastated. About 1,000 of its residents abandoned the tent encampment and piled into the
barracks and a community center in Konik I, creating overcrowded conditions in any hard-shelter
structure. Ironically, except for a handful of UNHCR tents that survived the wind storm, most of the
tents that remained standing in Konik II were makeshift ones built in traditional style in the mud. The
mud held the poles down in the harsh wind, whereas the tents built on gravel could not be firmly
Both Konik camps were beset with problems. But international NGOs, UNHCR, and other players,
including the municipal authorities, were on hand working to solve them. Nothing comparable
currently exists in Serbia to help displaced Roma.
Relatively few refugees from Bosnia and Croatia have been resettled from Serbia to third
countries. Since 1992, about 15,000 refugees have been resettled out of UNHCR's Belgrade office
Under the current procedures, to be considered for U.S. resettlement, the principal applicant of a
family must first establish his or her refugee claim. In the FRY context, this means that the person
has fled from another country, almost always Bosnia or Croatia; internally displaced people from
Kosovo are not eligible.
The United States resettled 2,149 refugees from FRY in 1999, fewer than anticipated. During the
first four months of 1999, UNHCR conducted no status determination interviews because of the
emergency. At that time, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) were able
to move some refugees already in the resettlement pipeline via Hungary. Since then, however, the
process of interviewing and moving refugees has become more complicated.
Because the United States and FRY have severed diplomatic relations, U.S. officials are no longer
conducting refugee status interviews in Serbia or Montenegro. As before, IOM prepares cases for
the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Now, however, the INS interviews take place
just across the border, in Timisoara, Romania, and refugees approved by the INS for U.S.
resettlement fly to the United States from there. By the end of 1999, UNHCR and IOM had arranged
for about 4,000 resettlement interviews in Timisoara.
At the present time, all candidates for U.S. resettlement must be referred by UNHCR, which in
doing so follows strict criteria for priority one (P-1) cases set forth by the U.S. government. These
are cases of compelling concern, such as torture victims, persons at risk of refoulement or
otherwise in danger in their first asylum country, and persons in urgent need of medical care.
Once a refugee leaves Serbia under UNHCR’s auspices, the governments of FRY and Romania
consider him or her to be wholly UNHCR’s responsibility. Romania will not allow refugees to
remain, nor will Serbia allow them to return. If, for any reason, the INS rejects the applicant, UNHCR
is duty bound to find another country willing to resettle the refugee. Places are not readily available,
and other countries the Nordics, in particular, which are usually generous in offering resettlement
places are sensitive about serving as a back up for cases rejected by the United States.
Since the bombing campaign, the U.S. program has largely been confined to two groups of
refugees. The first group, most of whom originally fled from the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995,
are “double refugees.” In 1995, the FRY authorities placed thousands of newly arriving refugees in
Kosovo, putting about 14,000 of them in collective centers, as part of an effort to alter the
demographic composition of Kosovo by introducing more ethnic Serbs into the province. Many of
the refugees living in these collective centers were in grave danger when tensions and violence
escalated in 1998 and 1999. UNHCR and the U.S. government had already identified them as
being in need of resettlement before all but about 600 of them fled from Kosovo following the entry
of KFOR and the return of the ethnic Albanian refugees.
The others still being resettled in the United States are ethnic Serb refugees originating from the
Bosnian Federation, the predominantly Muslim and Croat part of Bosnia, who meet the criteria
established as priority two (P-2) by the U.S. government (including former detainees, members of
ethnically mixed marriages, victims of torture, and surviving spouses of persons killed in detention)
whose status UNHCR has upgraded to P-1. UNHCR has “converted” about 20 percent of the
existing P-2 caseload into the P-1 category.
In theory, a third group would be eligible: refugees originating from Bosnia who have close
relatives from the United States (spouses, unmarried children, and parents) who submit Affidavits of
Relationship (AORs) on their behalf. However, because no refugee processing post exists within
the FRY and because UNHCR is unwilling to be responsible for non P-1 cases in Romania,
potential priority three (P-3) cases (like P-2 cases) cannot gain access to the system. Furthermore,
Beginning on April 1, 2000, Bosnians will no longer be eligible for P-3 processing.
Because UNHCR considers those persons who arrive from Muslim or Croat-controlled regions of
Bosnia and Croatia as prima facie refugees, its protection officers do not conduct individual
refugee status determination interviews. However, if making a P-1 resettlement referral, they must
do so. Before referring such cases to the INS in Romania, UNHCR must also be virtually certain
that the INS will agree with its assessment and grant the case. Consequently, UNHCR has
converted relatively few P-2 or P-3 refugee cases into P-1s.
Prospects for Local Integration
Assessing realistically their prospects for return or resettlement, many refugees are reconciled to
staying in Serbia. Even so, they need help in integrating.
A middle-aged refugee from Croatia in a collective center in Pancevo told me, “I won’t return. My
house was destroyed. It's not so much a safety issue. It would be difficult to start from scratch.” He
added that his son, who lost a leg in the war, would never go back. Despite severe unemployment
among refugees in Serbia, he thought he had a better chance in Serbia than back in the Krajina. “I
can get seasonal agricultural work, and some temporary construction work.” He said, “I would
prefer to be relocated somewhere else in Serbia where I could have land to build a house and
If he’s lucky, he may get his wish. Some refugees have been able to build their own homes. I
visited with a few of these families both in Montenegro and Vojvodina. In some cases, homes were
well furnished with telephones, televisions, refrigerators, etc. In agriculturally rich Vojvodina, a
region bordering Croatia and Hungary with a large concentration of refugees of Croatian origin,
some municipalities are cooperating with international humanitarian organizations to provide
building materials to refugees who have decided to integrate locally.
The program is open to certain refugees who apply for Yugoslav citizenship. The municipality
promises a job to one member of the family and the family members build a home on land provided
by the municipality. After they build the house, they are required to turn in their refugee cards,
rendering them ineligible for humanitarian assistance. After ten years' occupancy, they will be
considered co-owners of the property with the municipality.
Although this is still a modest program, the refugees who participate in it seem to be delighted with
the chance to establish new roots, and it appears to provide a good model for others who see no
prospects for return. “I am more than happy with this situation,” a refugee from Banovici, Bosnia,
who had been living with a family in Kula municipality since 1992, told me.
While the international community, including our own government, has good reason to isolate the
Milosevic regime, it also needs to recognize that isolating the Serbian people hurts the most
vulnerable elements of its society, including the elderly, people with disabilities, refugees, and
displaced people. Weakening the weakest elements of this society does not necessarily weaken
the regime. Paradoxically, it might even strengthen Milosevic's hand, giving him a convenient
scapegoat for the many ills confronting Serbia.
Humanitarian assistance, therefore, has both a direct benefit in keeping people from hunger,
disease, and exposure, as well as an indirect political benefit in making the society more open. The
contrast between Serbia and Montenegro helps to illustrate this. International NGOs play an active
role in Montenegro, bringing direct benefits as the deliverers of humanitarian assistance. But they
also bring that nettlesome, but oh-so-healthy trait peculiar to NGO's advocacy.
Serbia is not monolithic. International NGOs will find local partners. Together, they might go a long
way toward building a more tolerant and committed civil society. But NGOs will also need to tread
carefully. There is a great deal of sensitivity right now in Serbia toward the international community.
Serbs feel stigmatized, misunderstood, resentful. These are sentiments expressed among the
refugees and the displaced, as well as in the local community. If NGOs do their job right, they will
reduce xenophobia and establish inroads of dialogue and understanding.
Although there are still groups and individuals in need of third country resettlement from among both
the "old caseload" of refugees from Bosnia and Croatia and the newly displaced from Kosovo, and
although political changes in Croatia suggest that it is too early to give up on repatriation,
nevertheless, the mostly likely outcome for the overwhelming majority of refugees and displaced
people is not to return to Bosnia, Croatia, or Kosovo.
International humanitarian agencies and NGOs should recognize that most refugees and displaced
people will remain in Serbia and Montenegro, and should work to facilitate their local integration.
Integrating refugees and displaced people assumes that there is an economy and a society
capable of absorbing them. Given the international economic sanctions on Serbia, direct
reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country's economic infrastructure appears not to be an
option. However, at the micro-level, even at the municipal level, the limits of the sanctions should be
tested. It is an ancient axiom of charitable giving that it is better to give a man a portion of a field to
till himself than to give him food outright. Continuing to provide only basic humanitarian goods to
refugees and displaced people might keep them from becoming cold, malnourished, and ill (all
good things), but, after a time, it also breeds dependency, passivity, and hopelessness. The
international community needs to think about, and work toward, real and sustainable solutions. With
some important exceptions, focusing on local integration would be the most realistic, cost effective,
and beneficial approach for most refugees and internally displaced people. If helping them to
integrate in Serbia and Montenegro also helps the larger society there to heal, so be it.
I. Humanitarian Assistance
1) The U.S. government and other donors should direct bilateral funding to international
nongovernmental organizations to develop alternative networks to deliver humanitarian assistance
The U.S. government is already committed to this course of action. The U.S. government, ECHO,
and other donors should, indeed, encourage NGOs to develop partnerships inside Serbia, as well
as Montenegro. This will not only establish alternative networks for the delivery of humanitarian
assistance, thus breaking the Yugoslav Red Cross's monopoly and introducing healthy competition
that will hopefully make the YRC more accountable as well, but will also encourage the development
of an active and vibrant local NGO sector in the FRY.
2) The U.S. government and ECHO should establish a set of conditions that the Serbian
Commissioner for Refugees (the government entity) and the Yugoslav Red Cross need to meet in
order for donors to restore, or continue, multilateral aid funding that involves the Yugoslav Red
These conditions (which have been agreed to in principle but have not been fully implemented)
1) The successful completion of a full, independent audit by international auditors of the Yugoslav
Red Cross, the Serbian Red Cross, and local Red Cross branch offices in the Serbian Republic.
The audit should not be limited to specific allegations that have already been raised. The audit
should include an examination of the beneficiary lists to ensure that the lists are accurate and that
beneficiaries meet the stated criteria for receiving aid.
2) A full and complete registration of internally displaced persons and refugees. The registration
exercise should be independently funded and conducted jointly by Red Cross and UNHCR field
staff, supervised by UNHCR and monitored by the Swiss government.
3) Ongoing access at all levels of the YRC of its operation for international monitors.
4) Accurate and complete lists of registered refugees, internally displaced persons, and other aid
beneficiaries to UNHCR, ICRC, IFRC, ECHO, and WFP, updated regularly.
5) A legal framework for the work of international NGOs in FRY, allowing NGOs to import the
finances, goods, and services needed to provide humanitarian assistance in FRY without
6) Direct access for international NGOs, operating as implementing partners of recognized donors
and international humanitarian organizations, to beneficiary populations.
3) WFP and other international humanitarian agencies that use YRC warehouses and delivery
systems should reassess the fees that YRC charges for distribution and warehousing on a quarterly
basis, and seek to reduce these fees to the actual costs.
WFP reports that the $70 flat-rate fee per ton of humanitarian assistance charged by the YRC until
recently has now been reduced to $64, but that it could (and should) be reduced further. Economies
of scale suggest that per ton rates should be reduced as the quantity increases.
4) UNHCR should more strictly and systematically monitor the fee it pays to the Serbian
Commissioner for Refugees for the cost of collective centers to ensure that payments made at the
federal and republic level actually reflect real costs and that these fees are, in fact, being allocated
fairly by the authorities to those who administer the collective centers locally.
UNHCR should seek to minimize any funds that are not used for expressly humanitarian purposes
directly related to the running costs of the collective centers themselves and basic assistance for
collective center residents. Currently, payments are made on a formula of 70 cents per day per
refugee or displaced person in a collective center, currently amounting to about $10 million to
support refugees and displaced persons in more than 600 collective centers. UNHCR field offices
in Serbia need to monitor these payments carefully to ensure that collective center residents are, in
fact, receiving a level of assistance consistent with this payment and that the central authorities
allocate these payments on a regular and nondiscriminatory basis according to the actual number of
residents in particular localities.
Ultimately, UNHCR has no choice but to work with the governing authorities in Serbia if it is to serve
40,000 of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced people who comprise the collective center
population. UNHCR's involvement is essential to ensure that this vulnerable population is cared for
appropriately, and not subject to manipulation. UNHCR's monitoring is critically important to holding
the Serbian authorities accountable to maintain satisfactory standards of responsible treatment for
5) UNHCR should earmark a portion of its fee to the Serbian government for collective center
support to reflect the number of internally displaced Roma who live in "unofficial" collective centers.
With no support from Serbian authorities at the municipal, republic, or federal level, displaced Roma
from Kosovo are squatting in abandoned buildings and other sites "unofficial" collective centers.
After UNHCR conducts its census of the refugee and displaced population in Serbia, it should
demand equal treatment for displaced Roma. The Roma cannot remain invisible and unassisted.
They must be counted, acknowledged, and helped. UNHCR needs to use every carrot and stick at
its disposal to pressure the authorities to assist them. International NGOs seeking to work in Serbia
should also focus their attention on this vulnerable and needy population.
6) Donors should support local integration projects that work directly with local municipalities in
Most refugees and displaced people will not return to their original homes in Bosnia, Croatia, and
Kosovo. Local municipalities should be encouraged to integrate them and make them contributing
members of their communities. UNHCR and NGOs, if adequately funded, have been able to enter
into agreements with certain municipalities whereby the municipality provides land, primary
infrastructure (such as roads, sewage and water lines), and a job to a refugee family. In return,
UNHCR and its implementing NGO partners provide building materials for self-help construction of
homes, secondary infrastructure, farming equipment, and other transitional assistance. Although
initially expensive, such projects create self-sufficiency, productivity, and stability.
Among the hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons in and around
Serbia and Montenegro, there are smaller subgroups who cannot integrate locally in the area of first
asylum and who cannot return to their places of origin on account of a well-founded fear of
persecution. Ordinarily, such persons might be considered for resettlement to third countries.
However, most of these people are displaced internally, and, thus far, UNHCR has not interpreted
its guidelines on internally displaced people to include referring them to third countries for
1) The United States should institute refugee processing out of Podgorica, Montenegro.
Prospective applicants from Serbia are able to cross into Montenegro without having to obtain a
visa, since Montenegro is still officially part of the FRY. It would also be easy to transport
recognized refugees in Montenegro via Croatia. A nongovernmental organization in Podgorica
could prepare cases in the same way that IOM does in Belgrade (the Joint Voluntary
AgencyÑJVAÑmodel). INS officers could conduct circuit rides to Montenegro where they would
conduct interviews. Montenegro would be safe and relatively friendly toward U.S. officials.
There are precedents for this: in both Vietnam and Cuba, in the absence of diplomatic relations,
the INS has conducted refugee status interviews. This would introduce much needed flexibility into
the program. Not only would it enable UNHCR to refer cases, but it would also allow a JVA to
generate cases by making an initial assessment that an applicant meets the U.S. government's P-2
or P-3 criteria.
The most important advantage of processing out of Montenegro is that the INS would have the
flexibility to reject cases without creating a demand that UNHCR seek other countries to resettle
rejected cases. This would give UNHCR greater latitude to refer cases that it is not absolutely
convinced the INS will accept, avoiding the present problem in Romania where it is seeking a 100
percent approval rate (the approval rate currently stands at 98 percent).
2) President Clinton should issue a presidential determination permitting the United States to
consider admitting certain categories of internally displaced persons in FRY as refugees for
purposes of the U.S. resettlement program.
The Refugee Act of 1980 allows the United States to accept as refugees people departing directly
from their country of origin. This requires a presidential determination a formal notice in the Federal
Register and has been used to admit as refugees people arriving directly from Vietnam, Cuba, the
former Soviet Union, and for a short time, Haiti and Romania.
In many respects, persons fleeing from Kosovo to Serbia proper appear more like refugees than
internally displaced people. Kosovo is presently outside the control and jurisdiction of the central
authorities in Belgrade. It is ruled by the international UNMIK (UN Mission in Kosovo) administration
and de facto by ethnic Albanian authorities. Although in the abstract Kosovo is still under FRYÕs
ultimate sovereignty, this distinction has no meaning on the ground for the foreseeable future. In
effect, Serbia and Montenegro function very much like countries of first asylum for persons seeking
refuge from Kosovo. If such asylum seekers are unwelcome in Serbia and Montenegro, few other
options are currently available to them. Because of this reality, and because IDPs who have fled
from Kosovo to Serbia proper or Montenegro would have a well-founded fear of persecution if
returned to Kosovo, internally displaced people fleeing from Kosovo ought to be considered as
refugees for purposes of the U.S. resettlement program.
3) To facilitate the processing of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, the
U.S. government ought to expand P-2 criteria to include refugees from Croatia who meet the same
criteria that now apply for P-2 category refugees from Bosnia.
4) The United States should also provide P-3 processing for refugees from Croatia.
5) The U.S. government should consider creating a P-2 category for double refugees who had
resided in collective centers in Kosovo in order to expedite their processing.
Many of the uprooted in Serbia have been displaced multiple times. Among the people recently
displaced from Kosovo are thousands who were already refugees from Croatia or Bosnia, known
locally as “double refugees.” Many had been placed in collective centers in Kosovo, part of
Belgrade’s effort to alter Kosovo’s ethnic demography. Ethnic Albanian nationalists saw the
settlement of ethnic Serb refugees in Kosovo as a provocation; they became a target of ethnic
Albanian anger. Often, Serbian police or military were quartered in these same collective centers,
making the refugees living in them even more vulnerable to attack. The P-2 criteria for double
refugees should be limited to those who resided in collective centers in Kosovo. There are other
refugees who chose to live in Kosovo, had good jobs there and nice houses. Such people have
more resources and less need for resettlement.
7) The following vulnerable groups who are unable to integrate locally in the area of first asylum and
who cannot return to their places of origin on account of a well-founded fear of persecution should
be considered for the U.S. resettlement program:
a) Roma and Hashkalija (Gypsies) who fled from Kosovo to Serbia proper, Montenegro, or
Macedonia who led a sedentary life in Kosovo prior to their departure, who are Albanian speaking,
and who would have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Kosovo.
Roma, and other “Gypsy” subgroups such as Hashkalija, have been particularly scapegoated,
accused by ethnic Albanian nationalists as having collaborated with the Serbian regime that
controlled Kosovo until June 1999. In many cases, they have experienced severe persecution.
Some do not speak Serbian, making their integration in Serbia or Montenegro all the more difficult,
and making it impossible for their already disadvantaged children to go to school. Contrary to
popular belief that all Roma are nomadic, most of the Roma living in Kosovo were homeowners.
b) Ethnic Albanians