DRC has operated continuously in Kosovo since 1998, only interrupted for a few months during the NATO bombings in 1999. Initially the assistance implemented by DRC focused on emergency aid, but was soon extended to logistics support, transport, shelter and reconstruction activities, income generating activities and social rehabilitation of IDPs, returnees and affected populations.
From 2003, DRC has focused increasingly on minority returns to Kosovo, a programme priority which has been developed in close cooperation with DRC Serbia & Montenegro. Tasks have focused on the creation of a sustainable and durable returns process to Kosovo through targeting not only the physical requirements of returning refugees and IDPs but also those crucial to other aspects that contribute to a secure and comfortable environment in which to live and work often following long periods in transition. These include social and economic reintegration and development, improving living conditions, facilities and opportunities for both receiving and returning communities, safety, inter-ethnic dialogue, tailoring ongoing support for the various groups of beneficiaries taking into consideration different ages, genders and specific ethnic or religious issues. Work has also continued in strengthening civil society organizations, empowering and building capacity amongst local authorities to ensure the ongoing support for beneficiaries in Kosovo, and the enhancing the civil registry process in Kosovo.
DRC is presently operating in Kosovo from the field offices in Pejë/Peĉ, Prizren and Prishtinë/Priština, Mitrovicë/ Mitrovica and operational office based in Civil Registry Agency of the Kosovo Government. The 25 local staff, 115 Operational Staff and three international staff implementing the 5 current projects throughout Kosovo are supported by a central support unit based in Prishtinë/Priština.
To increase the efficiency and to use resources more effectively, DRC implements a regional strategy in the Western Balkans. Within this strategy DRC country offices are much more linked to each other and a variety of procedures, implementation strategies and policies are harmonized. Considering the regional dimension of displacement and the interconnectedness of the various issues faced on either side of boundaries/borders, DRC-Kosovo is encouraging the dissemination of best practices and tools from their projects throughout the western Balkans. This includes regular attendance and presentations at regional and Kosovo-hosted interagency meetings. Thanks to its presence and operations in Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia, DRC-Kosovo continues to engage in active dialogue and exchange of experiences about local integration and livelihood enhancement issues at regional forums.
The return process
DRC emphasizes the importance of the three broad stages of the returns process, broadly summarized as Pre-Return, Return, and Post-Return. Information provision and inter-ethnic dialogue at the beginning of the reconciliation process is featured prior to the physical return. The actual return activities include: legal assistance, house reconstruction, transportation of the returning families to their homes, and addressing other immediate needs. The Post-Return process focuses on the importance to reintegrate the returnees into the broader community socially and economically. Continued relationship-building between communities and the central and local authorities is paramount to promote a lasting return.
This has been built on DRC’s 18 years of work in the Western Balkans supporting the refugees and IDPs/Kosovo-IDPs in their search for and gradual realisation of well-informed durable solutions. Working closely with central and municipal structures, DRC has endeavoured to ensure that the problems and capacities of refugees and IDPs/Kosovo-IDPs are regarded as an integral part of community life.
In every project, a number of measures are put into place to ensure that the return of IDPs/Kosovo-IDPs is realistic, secure and worthwhile. Applying a holistic approach, taking into account all phases and dimensions of return, is paramount to ensuring pre-conditions for sustainable return. This involves pre-return counselling and preparation, actual return assistance as well as reintegration support.
Crossover and collaboration
There are many international organisations and NGOs working in Kosovo pursuing similar goals. Increasingly, DRC’s projects have sought out collaborations and areas of crossover that encourages inter-organisational and multidisciplinary collaboration to effectively achieve objectives and to encourage long-term benefits.
Acting on this wider stage can have important implications. Interventions may assist in creating linkages between the returnee population and the receiving communities – of different ages, genders and ethnic groups – and support engagement and social networking in the local surroundings to enhance the reintegration process, while helping to increase the sense of belonging. Older children, youth and women are included in training and income generation schemes when possible, which enhances their chances for employment and prospects for successful reintegration over the longer term.
Combining individual reintegration support with institutional capacity building and environment building in the receiving country enhances the viability of the return process for individual returnees and alleviates the potential negative impact or destabilising effects of large numbers of returns from Western Europe on society as a whole. Ongoing support and mediation after DRC’s project mandate will be continued by local institutions and organisations which are being provided with training courses and other forms of internal support to effectively implement aspects of the returns process and evolve their own organisational mechanisms in response to changing circumstances, while working within the framework of transparency, fairness and accountability.
The poor condition of Kosovo’s economy amongst the general population particularly affects the returning community who may have spent many years in places of displacement. Upon return, many have lost key livelihood assets such as land, production materials, infrastructure or financial capital. Without these means, many become dependent on the passive reception of relief aid and support from the host community, or seek opportunities away from the place of return. Often this can result in a sense of social isolation which further lessens the chances of a durable and sustainable return. Tailoring social and economic support to the needs, skills and interests of the returning community provides alternative ways of making a living in a dignified way. It creates opportunities for the effective and meaningful use of resources, allowing them and their families to become more self-reliant and helps their integration into the social structures and relationships of the wider community. Linking relief to development in this way may even help to stimulate the local economy.
Community Development Projects
Close consultations and regular informal conversations with the receiving and returning community in a neighbourhood give rise to numerous suggestions for the improvement of the area to the benefit to all members. In Kosovo, many of these projects focus on the provision or upgrading of infrastructure – of sewage connection, street-lighting and electricity, road repairs, the construction of irrigation canals – as well as shared social spaces such as the construction of community centres, playgrounds and sports fields, parks and green spaces, and in the organisation of group events and gatherings.
Human Accountability: Processes and Systems
Accountability is understood to be a right of anyone affected by the use of authority. It is the means through which power is used responsibly, and is a process of taking into account the views of, and being held accountable by, different stakeholders, and primarily the people affected by authority or power.
A series of measures have been introduced that ensure that DRC-Kosovo is accountable to beneficiaries, local partners and communities. These consist of:
- Pamphlets explaining rights and entitlements of the returns process, and the stages involved in construction
- Certificates of Completion for the various stages of construction work
- A Complaints Mechanism, with drop-boxes in local municipalities and clear steps needed to make a complaint that is distributed to all beneficiaries
- A Post-Return Impact Monitoring Assessment and questionnaire, to record and map beneficiaries’ ratings of security, comfort, optimism and degrees of reintegration after they return and at periodic intervals in the following year(s).
Important partners and donors for DRC in Kosovo:
- European Commission Liaison Office to Kosovo
- The US State Department Bureau for Populations, Refugees and Migrants (BPRM)
- Kosovo Ministry of Communities and Returns (MCR)
- The British Embassy
- Swedish Migration Board
- Local municipalities