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According to the head of the Belgrade office of the Fund for Open Society, Jadranka Jelincic, the Western European countries that recognise Kosovo as an independent state are misusing the rights that protect refugees and internally displaced people by returning them to Serbia, and not to their country of origin – Kosovo.
Following the war in Kosovo in 1999, around 200,000 people fled to Serbia where they were given the status of the internally displaced people, IDPs. How many subsequently went on to seek asylum in other countries remains unknown.
“People rarely speak about this problem. I understand when Spain returns Kosovo Roma to Serbia, since it does not recognise the independence of Kosovo, but I cannot understand it when the countries that recognize Kosovo, such as Sweden or Finland, do that,” says Jelincic.
The Swedish Agency for Migration says that they are not guided by political, but legal reasons.
“The documents that Roma IDPs have are either from Serbia or from the former Yugoslavia, and since Serbia is a successor of the former country, we are obliged to send them to Belgrade,” the Swedish Agency for Migration told BIRN.
The Belgrade lawyer Nikola Lazic says that in this situation political conditions cannot be ignored.
“Bearing in mind the complexity of the situation, until this is legally settled between the countries, the process should be either stopped or resolved differently. For example, people should be asked whether they want to go back to Serbia as IDPs or to Kosovo as returnees, “ explains Lazic.
In 2010 the Council of Europe and Amnesty International called on countries to stop deporting Roma to Kosovo “until it is proven that they could live safely there”.
In its report Amnesty wrote: “Following Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, the Kosovo authorities have come under increasing pressure from Germany and other EU member states to accept returnees. However, the authorities in Kosovo lack the resources and political will to provide forced returnees with assistance.”
As a condition of a visa free regime, Serbia signed a readmission agreement with the European Union in January 2008, while Kosovo started signing individual agreements with EU member states in 2004.
It is not clear how many people should be returned to Serbia on the basis of the readmission agreement. In 2003, the Council of Europe estimated that the figure could be between 50,000 and 100,000 but over the last few years, figures as high as 150,000 have also been cited.
The majority of returnees to Serbia, around 70 per cent, are returning from Western European countries, mainly Germany, followed by Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and The Netherlands.Between 60 and 70 per cent were Roma, according to estimates.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia still regards it as its southern province and opposes its independence.