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Kosovo: UN concerned at persecution of minorities

Kosovo: UN refugee agency remains concerned at persecution risk for minorities

While removing two Roma communities from the list of people considered at risk in Kosovo, the United Nations refugee agency remains concerned for more than 400,000 Serbs, other Roma and Albanians who could face persecution if they returned to places where they are a minority in the multi-ethnic Serbian province.

“The fragile security environment and serious limitations these people face in exercising their fundamental human rights shows they should continue to be considered at risk of persecution and should continue to benefit from international protection in countries of asylum,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Return of these minorities should be strictly voluntary, based on fully informed individual decisions,” he added of UNHCR’s latest position paper aimed at guiding states and others making decisions about whether people from Kosovo should continue to receive international protection in an asylum country.

The Ashkaelia and Egyptian Roma communities were taken off the list thanks to positive developments within the inter-ethnic environment, but the paper says their returns should still be approached in a phased manner due to the limited absorption capacity of Kosovo, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1.

There are still more than 200,000 refugees and persons of concern to UNHCR from Kosovo in western European and other countries, with an equal number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Serbia, and some 18,000 persons of concern in neighbouring Montenegro.

The report notes that although the overall security situation in Kosovo has progressively improved over the past year, it remains fragile and unpredictable. Minorities continue to suffer from ethnically motivated or criminal incidents. Many incidents remain unreported as the victims often fear reprisals from perpetrators.

Serbs and Roma continue to face serious obstacles in accessing essential services in health, education, justice and public administration. Discrimination as well as low representation of minorities in the administrative structures further discourages minorities from exercising their basic rights.

The UN has administered Kosovo ever since North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave rights abuses in ethnic fighting. Talks are now underway to determine its future status and the return of Serb refugees is seen as a crucial factor in reaching a decision. Independence and autonomy are among options that have been mentioned. Serbia rejects independence.

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