One of the challenges for the returnees is their safety and the security.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 20/7/12
More than 330,000 of the 3 million people displaced during the Balkan conflict in the 1990s remain separated from their homes, with as many as 200,000 Kosovars still living in surrounding countries.
Since 2000, more than 23,000 from minority communities have voluntarily returned to Kosovo. But experts say the return and reintegration, especially for the Serb community, can often be difficult.
"The challenges affect not only returnees, but Kosovo society as a whole; weak rule of law, struggling economy, lack of infrastructure, inadequate delivery of basic services, including access to health, education, social protection," Dejan Radivojevic, manager at the Inclusive Local Development, UNDP Kosovo, told SETimes.
Since 2010, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia renewed their efforts to find permanent solution for some 73,000 refugees from the Yugoslav conflict.
Some 2,200 people, mainly Serbs, remain displaced within Croatia. Montenegro hosts more than 16,000 displaced persons from BiH, Croatia and Kosovo. Macedonia hosts some 1,600 refugees, mostly Roma, from Kosovo.
Jo Hagenauer, the head of Kosovo UNCHR, told SETimes that the return is slow, with many obstacles.
"One of the challenges is that the overall security situation for minorities in Kosovo is relatively stable but fragile. Incidents targeting property of minorities and the quality of response from the law enforcement negatively impacted the perception of Kosovo security among the minority communities," Hagenauer said.
Radivojevic agreed. "Although overall security in Kosovo remains relatively stable, some incidents targeting individual returnees and recent clashes in northern Kosovo continue to pose challenges to the actual and perceived safety of returnees from minority communities, and their freedom of movement in Kosovo," she said.
Hagenauer said that the number of reported security incidents, potentially ethnically motivated, is steadily declining, "However, tensions continue to exist between communities and interactions are still very limited, especially in Kosovo north."
In early July, a Serb couple, Milovan and Liljana Jevtic, returned to Kosovo, but were killed in their house in the Talinoc village, near Ferizaj. Kosovo and international representatives condemned the murders, asking for the perpetrators to face justice, but they are still at large.
"Despite regular co-operation with Kosovo police, the perpetrators remain unidentified and unpunished, therefore, we are for an enlargement of institutional co-operation on all levels, so that security, which is already fragile, does not get more complicated," Radojica Tomic, Kosovo minister for returns and communities, told SETimes.
Tomic said the returns process faces many security challenges for returnees in areas of Albanian majority population.
"We still consider necessary the inter-ethnic dialogue between the local community and the returnees," Tomic told SETimes.
UNHCR confirmed that in the last two years, a total of 159 houses were handed over to returnee families, but in 2012 there has been a slowdown in returns, mainly due to the absence of housing assistance projects and finding a more lasting solution elsewhere.
Economic conditions for both majority and minority communities remain poor in Kosovo. Poverty and unemployment prevail. Some 1,250 internally displaced persons and refugees continue to live in collective centres in Gjilan, Mitrovica and Pristina, UNHCR confirms.
Tomic told the media that 425 people returned in 2011, most of them elderly.
Momcilo Jovanovic, 50, decided to return to Kosovo from Serbia, to the village of Brusince, in Kamenica municipality. He said the main problem is unemployment and his only income is from cultivating the land. "The rest of the family would return if the municipality and the international authorities in Kosovo enable minimum living conditions," he told SETimes.
Hagenauer says that the inter-ethnic dialogue between communities is part of the return process. "It is important for returnees to meet with their former neighbours and have honest communication," she said.