Balkans struggle ~ Women suffer

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Syrian woman and children, Aleppo, 2013

A new UNHCR report reveals that over 145,000 Syrian refugee families in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq are headed by women alone. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres paid a visit to Awah, who is raising her children on her own in Amman.

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Working environment

The countries that comprise the western Balkans are still coping with the consequences of large-scale displacement caused by the conflicts in the region in the 1990s. In addition, persisting social and economic challenges continue to drive the movement of nationals within and from the region, primarily to the European Union.

The European Union-facilitated agreement between the authorities in Pristina and Belgrade on the principles for normalization of relations has made a major contribution to the stability of the region. Indeed, gradual political stabilization has transformed the western Balkans into a region of transit and, increasingly, a destination for migrants and refugees from other parts of the world. There has been a significant increase in the number of asylum applications in the region.

Many asylum-seekers lodge asylum claims in one of the western Balkans countries. However for a variety of reasons, including lengthy refugee status determination procedures and weak asylum regimes, many often move on before having their protection needs determined. Of particular concern is the growing number of unaccompanied and/or separated children travelling irregularly. Most countries in the subregion do not have solutions frameworks in place to address the needs of newly arriving refugees and other groups with specific needs from outside the region.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia continue their efforts under the framework of the Regional Housing Programme to find sustainable housing solutions for some 74,000 vulnerable refugees, returnees and IDPs from the 1991-1995 conflicts. Funds for the programme were pledged at a donors’ conference in Sarajevo in April 2012.

More than 200,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), including some 80,000 members of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) minority groups, remain in need of durable solutions in the region. The Governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo (S/RES/1244(1999)) are also striving to develop and implement solutions for those vulnerable IDPs whose needs will not be covered by the Regional Housing Programme. UNHCR is focusing its technical assistance and support for the authorities on providing decent housing for the most vulnerable, many of whom live in collective centres and substandard private accommodation.

The lack of civil registration and documentation for some 20,000 stateless people or individuals of undetermined nationality hinders their access to rights and solutions in South-Eastern Europe. In October 2011, during the Conference on the provision of civil documentation and registration in South-Eastern Europe, UNHCR encouraged countries to accede to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. This conference, sponsored by the European Union, the OSCE and UNHCR set out the framework for national, bilateral and regional dialogue and practical cooperation to resolve the civil-registration and nationality-determination issues of people at risk of statelessness, many of whom belong to the Roma minority.

| Response |

Strategies

A key priority for UNHCR will be to work towards the progressive assumption of responsibility by the Governments in the region for people of concern to UNHCR. UNHCR will also seek to enhance these Governments’ cooperation in implementing comprehensive durable solutions strategies. The four Governments in the region will receive UNHCR’s support to implement their commitments within the Sarajevo Process to overcome the remaining displacement challenges in the region and to secure durable solutions for those affected by the 1991-1995 conflicts. Protection monitoring by UNHCR in the context of the Regional Housing Programme will ensure sustainable solutions for the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, UNHCR will continue discussions with concerned Governments on appropriate ways to end refugee status for those no longer in need of it.

UNHCR will advocate for the necessary resources, monitor protection and provide technical assistance to aid governments and national civil-society partners developing durable solutions for IDPs whose needs have not been met. Governments in the region will receive support to develop comprehensive and protection-sensitive asylum and migration systems. This will help promote a rights-based approach to irregular migration to ensure that people seeking international protection are identified within mixed migration flows and that their protection needs are adequately addressed.

UNHCR will also promote accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness among those States still not party to it. It will engage in advocacy for legislation to facilitate late registration of birth and residence, as well as the issuance of civil registration and identity documents, with a focus on minority groups. Individuals who are stateless or of undetermined nationality will receive aid to acquire identity documents and confirm or acquire citizenship.

Challenges

Most governments in the region have adopted legislation in line with international norms, but implementation is often inadequate. Difficulties in applying for asylum at borders, inadequate reception conditions and the lack of procedural safeguards in the refugee status determination process pose serious challenges. In addition, exceptionally low recognition rates in the region (Croatia excepted) discourage people in need of protection. Asylum systems in the region were unprepared for the recent sharp rise in the number of new asylum-seekers.

The economic situation remains difficult throughout the region. Discrimination against displaced people in the job market and high unemployment rates limit any prospects for the local integration of vulnerable refugees and IDPs. Inter-ethnic relations also continue to pose challenges in many countries, while the global financial crisis has made it difficult to secure funding for governments to run durable solutions plans. The lack of adequate housing, birth registration and personal documentation, as well as insufficient access to health care and social assistance, hinder access to rights for groups that face discrimination.

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