News 20 Aug 14

Montenegro Shifts Kosovo Refugees Into Containers

Refugees from Kosovo in Podgorica - whose camp burned down two years ago - have been re-housed in containers until permanent homes can be found for them.

Dusica Tomovic

Around 1,500 homeless, mainly Roma refugees from Kosovo in Podgorica's Konik camp have been moved to temporary homes in more than 100 containers, the government announced on Wednesday.

The containers are a mid-term solution for people who lost their homes and belongings when a fire broke out in the camp in July 2012. Since then, they have been living in tents and shacks.

Units of the Montenegrin army began setting up around 100 new containers on Monday and the government hopes the work will be completed in two weeks. The containers will soon be equipped with electricity, the government said.

Although the containers offer better conditions for the refugees than tents, most of the new users said they were far from satisfied with the solution.

Bejzak Nura, 68, from the Kosovo town of Pec/Peje, said the authorities had promised them permanent accommodation in apartments and houses, not containers that are barely 15 square metres in size.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful but... we did not get any real help, most of us cannot get Montenegrin papers, and now they are putting us in second-hand cans," Nura told BIRN on Wednesday.

He said if the situation did not improve, the only solution was to return to Kosovo because after spending 16 years in Montenegro they could not obtain citizenship or jobs.

Another refugee, Emil Gora, 34, mainained that refugees in other Montenegrin towns, such as Berane, Budva, Podgorica, had obtained permanent accommodation.

"More and more people are returning to Kosovo because they do not want to suffer in the camps," he said. "Often we do not have electricity and water, and the sanitary conditions have been appalling since the fire," Gora told BIRN.

The government's Directorate for Refugee says it is doing its best. It has announced that parallel to the provision of containers for the Konik camp refugees, they will build at least 900 housing units over the next three years for the most vulnerable refugees, mostly Roma.

In June, the government, with foreign donor support, launched a programme for re-housing displaced persons worth 27 million euro.

According to government data, around 16,000 refugees from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo live in Montenegro. Around 11,000 are from Kosovo.

Improving the status of refugees in the country, who have the status of internally displaced and displaced persons, is one of the conditions for Montenegro's EU accession.

The Roma refugees fled Kosovo in 1999 fearing reprisal from the Kosovo Albanians who tended to view them as pro-Serbian.

Last year, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, an advisory human rights body to the Council of Europe, described conditions in the Konik camp, located on the outskirts of Podgorica, as “inhumane and hazardous”.

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