Kosovo and Serbia still embrace the long-running dispute
In exchange for normalizing relations, Kosovo fears border changes and territory swaps by Serbia which is bound to resuscitate old animosities in the two former regions within the Yugoslavia federation.
Kosovo is no longer a province of Serbia, it lost that right in 2008, after Kosovo declared its independence. Serbia has yet to recognize Kosovo’s ambitions for a sovereign nation. Serbia’s Belgrade government has undermined Kosovo’s statehood, which has been recognized by most European countries and the United States.
While the long-running dispute between the two countries continues, the ethnic Serbs displaced from Kosovo continue to live in the outskirts of Belgrade in the collective centers which are soon going to be demolished.
Read the complete case analysis of the displaced ethnic Serbs in the soon to-be published book: ‘Internal Displacement and Conflict: The Kashmiri Pandits in Comparative Perspective’.
In addition to the Kashmiri Pandits, the book takes up the issue of the displaced ethnic Serbs, along with those displaced from Georgia (South Ossetia), Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Sudan (Darfur).
First published 2019 by Routledge
ISBN: 978-1-138-35426-5 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-0-429-42765-7 (ebk)
Sudha G. Rajput
My article ‘Transitional Policies and Durable Solutions for Displaced Kashmiri Pandits’ appears in FORCED MIGRATION REVIEW, OXFORD University Press, U.K.
Valley Pandits trying to keep tradition alive
Published on: Mar 7, 2016, 12:30 AM
M Aamir Khan
Tribune News Service
Srinagar, March 6
On the eve of Shivaratri today, the non-migrants Pandits said they were struggling to keep their age-old traditions alive and continued to face neglect from the successive governments.
“On Herath (Shivaratri), Kashmir used to bustle with activities (before migration) but now we are struggling to keep our traditions alive. When we offer the nightlong prayers tonight, we will especially pray for the resolution of our demands as we have always been ignored by the Centre and the state,” said Chunni Lal, president, Hindu Welfare Society Kashmir.
After the migration of Kashmiri Pandits, the ‘Herath’ celebrations in the Valley have remained low key.
Pandits traditionally hold nightlong pooja on Shivaratri eve. It is followed by ‘salaam’ the next day (tomorrow). During ‘salaam’, they visit friends and relatives to extend Herath greetings.
Around 630 Pandit families are at present living in the Valley and they, for long, have been alleging step-motherly treatment. They claim that the government is only bothered about the migrants and does not care about those who stayed after the eruption of militancy more than 25 years ago. Their main demands include rehabilitation of the internally displaced non-migrants and job package for their youth.
Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti president Sanjay Tickoo said the return of migrants and redress of other issues was possible only when they would be taken into confidence.
“We (non-migrants) are the real stakeholders but we are never taken into confidence or consulted whenever the Centre forms a committee on Pandit issues. The government should talk to us and only then, issues facing the Pandit community, be it return of migrants or problems faced by the non-migrants, will get addressed,” Tickoo said.
Avtar Krishan, a resident of Sebdan village in Budgam district, regretted that no non-migrant was included in the recently proposed coordination committee on return and rehabilitation of Pandits by the Home Ministry.
“Had the Centre proposed to include any non-migrant, it would have given us confidence. Nobody should be ignored. We too have suffered during the past more than 25 years, especially our children and youth. The non-migrants also need to be suitably rehabilitated,” he said.
A family on their donkeys arrive at their new settlement in Zam Zam camp for internally displaced people in North Darfur. The nature of displacement crises has evolved. How can the international community do a better job at building resilience in affected communities so that fleeing is no longer their only option? Photo by: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND
More than 60 million people around the world have fled their homes due to conflict and disasters, of which about 40 million have been internally displaced. With new conflicts having erupted in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe in recent years, this number is likely to rise.
Perhaps more than ever before, the international community needs adequate policies and tools to address these crises, beginning with prevention mechanisms. How can we do a better job at building the resilience of affected communities so that fleeing ceases to be their only option?
Preventing forced migration starts with understanding the nature of conflicts and the reasons that lead people to flee. Too often we have failed to grasp the complexity of crises and the various factors that affect people’s safety.
Take the violence caused by militant group Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria, which has led to the internal displacement of over 2.2 million people and has led hundreds of thousands of others to seek refuge in neighboring countries. This ongoing crisis cannot be understood without taking into account other factors such as state fragility, lack of economic opportunity in the region, or environmental degradation.
The blurred lines between refugee crises and irregular migration — as can be seen in current migration flows to Europe — also reveal that economic and political factors can play an inextricable role in people’s decision to leave.
Understanding the interplay between these different factors requires using more efficient analytical frameworks. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center suggests this begins with a very simple step — agreeing on a common terminology to describe and analyze the causes of displacement.
On one hand, we have the drivers of displacement, or the underlying causes, such as poverty, corruption, environmental degradation, joblessness, tensions over natural resources and food insecurity. On the other hand, we have triggers, or events that act as a tipping point and force people to flee — including armed conflict, floods or famine. Not all populations flee when experiencing these events; preventing displacement therefore involves building a better understanding of what makes people more resilient and adaptable to shocks.
Displacement is political
The nature of displacement crises has evolved. By the end of 2014, 45 percent of refugees were thought to be in protracted situations — where groups of 25,000 people or more have been in exile for over five years — in which they remain for an average of 25 years. Internally displaced persons spend 17 years away from home on average. The length of displacement, coupled with a declining quality of asylum (including reduced economic opportunities, reduced access to services, lack of access to education opportunities for displaced children and marginalization in countries of first asylum) is increasingly leading displaced populations to leave a second time, exposing them to life-threatening travel conditions and abuse. This phenomenon has been referred to as multiple displacement, onward movement and secondary movement.
Environmental disasters have also emerged as a growing cause of displacement, leading at times to confusion as to what sort of action is needed to limit their devastating consequences. Such disasters do not happen in a vacuum, and do not affect people equally.
Marginalized populations such as the poor, women, children and minorities are disproportionately impacted by natural hazards, often because they have been placed in situations of vulnerability. Many people around the world live in areas prone to floods, landslides or volcanic eruptions because of their inability to access safe and adequate housing.
Disaster-induced displacement cannot be addressed without looking at the structural causes of marginalization and vulnerability, from gender discrimination to ethnic tension, corruption and economic inequality. Poverty, tensions surrounding land use and state fragility exacerbated the consequences of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, leading hundreds of people to leave their homes.
Bridging the humanitarian-development divide
Addressing these structural and underlying causes requires a better-coordinated response to disasters and conflicts between the humanitarian and development sectors, whether it seeks to prevent displacement or onward movement. In this regard, recent agreements provided welcome yet incomplete frameworks to address the complexity of displacement crises. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate change agreement, in spite of having achieved breakthroughs in their respective sectors, have been criticized for their lack of coherence and clarity, and their lack of emphasis on displacement.
Both sectors need to acknowledge that resilience-building and humanitarian response must work hand-in-hand.
“The traditional humanitarian way of responding to displacement is not really working,” Fran Charles, advocacy director for Syria response at World Vision International, told Devex. “In the Syria crisis what we see is you need to do long-term resilience programming simultaneously with humanitarian intervention.”
This, said Charles, implies developing livelihood strategies for Syrians living in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan while addressing their most immediate needs.
Considering the overwhelming extent of human migration, it’s hard to keep track of the definitions prescribed for different subgroups — such as migrant, refugee and asylum seeker. Devex breaks down what each term means, as well as why it matters to distinguish among them.
Because livelihood strategies are closely associated with the ability of refugees to work in host countries, World Vision sought to make the case for local governments and multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to change their policies in that regard, Charles told Devex.
World Vision focused on conducting research demonstrating the economic benefit of allowing refugees to work, the result of which will be released later this month. “You have to use that evidence in your advocacy with those people who have influence with the government,” she said.
Gathering evidence and improving data collection during all phases of displacement and on all segments of affected populations also helps build a better understanding of displacement crises. UNHCR’s Population Movement Tracking Initiative enabled researchers to draw precious and sometimes surprising conclusions about patterns of displacement in and out of Somalia, notably that a key trigger of displacement during conflict lies in the anticipation of changes in the balance of power, not when these changes actually take place, at which time it may already be too late to flee.
Disaggregated data by sex, age, income level and ethnicity is crucial to understanding the dynamics of displacement in order to plan targeted interventions with vulnerable groups. As displacement becomes increasingly urban, improving data collection can help understand the patterns and needs of populations who otherwise go under the radar and are harder to reach.
Improving cross-sector collaboration
Researchers have long urged policymakers to work more closely with local civil society organizations as a way to better address the needs of vulnerable communities and counter some of the top-down decision-making that often takes place during crises.
“Local capacities are often overlooked; there needs to be much more emphasis on assisting local providers, suppliers and existing civil society structures, rather than on bringing in outsiders,” said Jan Snoeks, program specialist in peace building at the United Nations Volunteers program. “And when outsiders are brought in, they should focus more on further developing the locally existing capacities rather than only on providing actual response.”
Initiatives such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ One Billion Coalition for Resilience, or the partnership between the Global Resilience Partnership and Amplify, are examples of how humanitarian and development actors can engage the participation of local communities through bottom-up innovation.
Seeking partnerships with non-traditional actors is increasingly seen as a necessity among humanitarian and development actors. World Vision’s Charles told Devex that her organization has been looking at innovative ways to address the question of water resources in Jordan, which are being strained by the influx of refugees.
“We’re bringing in experts in the sector who do work for profit, but are excellent at understanding how water rehabilitation and water systems can work in a middle-income country,” she said.
Another area where cross-sector collaboration can be improved is how humanitarian and development actors work with various levels of local governments. With crises and displacement increasingly taking place in an urban setting, municipal governments have not been included enough in conversations surrounding humanitarian responses and resilience building.
“We often see that there are big gaps between [national] governments and the municipal level,” said Jørn-Casper Øwre, a program manager at the Global CCCM Cluster. “You have a lot of cases where the municipal level is not sufficiently engaged and brought into the responses.”
The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development — known as Habitat III — will take place in October in Quito, Ecuador. Together with the various meetings being held in the lead-up to the conference, it represents a key step toward addressing urban resilience and urban conflict, while improving the cooperation with municipal governments.
A new financing model
Building resilience and addressing displacement doesn’t come without a cost, and humanitarian and development actors are well aware that the current funding model needs to be reassessed.
“Realistically speaking, there will never be enough funding and there will always be newly emerging needs, however much money you manage to raise,” said Snoeks. “What I think we are missing a bit in terms of resilience, is an acknowledgement that a lot can actually be done without necessarily having large budgets, that people can work together as a community to make things better for themselves. Volunteering is a major asset in this regard.”
Charles said there is a crucial need to reform funding appeals and address the long-term dimension of displacement crises.
“We’ve got to stop kidding ourselves and make appeals and response plans that address the fact that there will be humanitarian needs for the next three to five years, and that’s what we should be looking at to finance at least,” she said, adding that a more efficient funding strategy needs to involve a stronger investment into disaster risk reduction in order to decrease the costs of disaster relief.
Improving cross-sector collaboration and evidence building, as well as planning for a more efficient funding model are just some of the many issues that will be discussed at the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit.
What should be the priorities of the World Humanitarian Summit regarding forced displacement? Have your say by leaving a comment below.
Across Borders is a monthlong online conversation hosted by Devex and partners — World Vision, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, the International Organization for Migration and United Nations Volunteers — to analyze and amplify the discussion on global migration and current refugee crises through the lens of global security, development cooperation and humanitarian aid work, and more. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation on social media tagging @devex and #AcrossBorders.
About the author
Flavie Halais is a freelance journalist based in Montreal who covers cities and international social issues. In 2013-2014, Flavie was an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Fellow, reporting for Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s also reported from Rwanda, Brazil and Colombia.
Feb 26 2016
The Darfur conflict erupted in 2003, leading to the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese citizens and capturing the world’s attention.
Three years later, the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed — but the war raged on. Then, in 2011, came another peace agreement, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. Again, the conflict continued.
The Khartoum government’s divide-and-conquer strategy led to rebel groups breaking into more rebel groups breaking into even more rebel groups. Today, a plethora of weak and divided rebel movements remain entrenched in Darfur’s Jebel Marra mountains. Some of these say they will never sign a peace deal. But one thing almost all of them have in common, as the 13th anniversary of the Darfur conflict looms, is this: They are sick of fighting.
The Darfur peace process has stalled, and is now contingent upon the political opposition’s decision whether or not to join a national dialogue with President Omar al-Bashir’s government. As the region wavers in violent limbo, one community in Darfur has refused to wait for peace to come to them. Instead, they went out and made peace for themselves.
Al Malam lies 600 miles southwest of the political apparatus of Khartoum. It’s at the foot of the rebel-held Jebel Marra mountains, and at the heart of the Darfur conflict.
Al Malam’s community includes rival Fur and Arab tribes. Tens of thousands of ethnic Fur were displaced from there in the government’s initial military campaign in 2003. The area has endured relentless and vicious sparring between government-backed Janjaweed militias and rebels for the last decade.
Spearheading an initiative for peace in Al Malam was Lukman Ahmed, a journalist originally from Al Malam who moonlights as a peacebuilder. Ahmed believed that if he could develop the area around Al Malam by rebuilding schools, hospitals, and markets, he could provide enough incentive for Al Malam’s residents to return home from the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps to which they’d fled, and to live together peacefully in the name of improving their livelihoods. So Ahmed did just that.
With funds raised from the Sudanese diaspora in the United States and international groups, Ahmed’s organization, Malam Darfur for Peace and Development (MDPD), rebuilt Al Malam and the surrounding villages. When displaced residents living in the camps heard about MDPD’s work, they decided to give their hometowns another chance.
After the initial batch of Al Malam residents returned to the area, MDPD facilitated peace dialogues between the rival tribes. A group of women formed a peace committee, composed of traditional leaders from all the surrounding communities. And when the rebels and Janjaweed militias returned to Al Malam, they were told: “Enough.” Al Malam was done with fighting. With or without a political agreement implemented from Khartoum, they were moving on from war.
The story of Al Malam’s recovery is no fairy tale. Many displaced people are afraid of leaving the camps, fearful of returning home to more attacks from government militias, and suspicious of any effort to move them from the camps. For many, they have nothing to return to; their homes were burned to the ground, their families killed, and their land stolen.
Countless questions remain unanswered: How will this issue of land rights be addressed? Will there be justice for the people who were killed? What happens to IDPs who would rather stay in the cities they fled to? All of these questions will need to be part of a larger conversation about transitional justice and reconciliation.
In the meantime, the people of Al Malam will continue to give peace a chance. Once the rival tribes around Al Malam realized they could achieve more by living in peace than fighting each other and fleeing to camps, trade routes through the area reopened, markets filled up again, and commerce began to rise.
MDPD is now expanding its work to other areas of Jebel Marra, hoping more communities will recognize the dividends of peace. While ongoing conflict ravages other parts of Darfur, Al Malam is proof that when a community wants peace and development, they don’t need to wait for a national political process. They can sideline the spoilers and make peace for themselves.
Katie Campo is a Sudan expert at the National Endowment for Democracy. She previously served as a political officer at the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, where she specialized in Darfur. Katie writes in her personal capacity, and views expressed are her own. You can follow her on Twitter at @KatieCampo1.
Displaced Kashmiri Pandits plead for status change from ‘Migrant’ to IDPs
Youth for PK meets British MP
JAMMU, Feb 21: A high power delegation of Youth for Panun Kashmir (PK)-the frontline youth wing of Panun Kashmir today held a meeting with the British MP Bob Blackman who is on a visit to India and had come to assess the situation in the State. He met the Panun Kashmir youth delegation in New Delhi and gave them a patient hearing.
In a memorandum submitted to the visiting dignitary, community youth have asked him to apprise the policy makers and the international community that the Kashmiri Pandit community is a frontline victim of the Islamic Jihad, which has now engulfed the entire world and is posing a grave threat to democracy and human rights.
It was due to Islamic Jihad unleashed under the garb of Azadi that Kashmiri Muslim society in Kashmir and their Jihadi foot soldiers inflicted genocide and human rights violation of the Kashmiri Pandit community in 1990.
Memorandum also appealed to MP Bob Blackman to sensitize the world opinion and the Indian State that Kashmiri Pandits are not “migrants ” but Internally Displaced People (IDP) as they have been rendered homeless in their own State and within the borders of their own country -India. As such it is the prime duty of the international community to help the KP community to get justice under the covenants of IDP principles as underlined by the United Nations.
All the IDP principles should be applied in case of KPs as it will guarantee their return and rehabilitation in their separate Homeland as envisaged in Margdarshan Resolution. MemZorandum categorically states that only separate Homeland with full application of IDP principles will ensure the reversal of KP genocide.
Bob Blackman assured that he will raise the IDP issue in United Kingdom and ensure that the Indian government works on the lines proposed by the delegation.
Feb 21 2016
Sudan’s National Dialogue Poses Test to Government’s Commitment
Thursday, February 11, 2016
In Sudan, a country still struggling with violent conflict in Darfur and two other states, almost 700 participants in a national dialogue process are finalizing recommendations after three months of vigorous and genuine discussion. But legacies of tension and division are hard to overcome. Key groups that must be involved for any resolution to be sustainable have not joined. Most concerning, the open debate exercised within the national dialogue does not extend outside the doors of Friendship Hall.
University of Khartoum. Photo credit: Petr Adam Dohnálek/Wikicommons
The hall, Khartoum’s main conference center near the banks of the Nile, is playing host to intensive discussions on fundamental issues of identity, human rights, the economy, governance, foreign affairs and peace. President Omar al-Bashir initiated the process in 2014, and the conference convened in October 2015.
“Internal peace in countries like Sudan and South Sudan requires political transformation – a new, inclusive, responsible and accountable way of governance.” – Ambassador Princeton Lyman
In a visit this week with Ambassador Princeton Lyman, a special advisor at USIP, we sought to learn more about the prospects of the national dialogue; explore how it relates to other local dialogue initiatives and the peace talks on Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; and understand the ongoing challenges to securing an inclusive peace.
We saw first-hand the dedication and achievements of those who participated. As Ambassador Lyman said in a lecture afterwards at the Peace Research Institute at the University of Khartoum, “There is no doubt that the participants in the dialogue have been addressing very critical and sometimes very sensitive issues with vigor and earnestness. The results could be far-reaching.”
But it is not enough. The dialogue has not been sufficiently inclusive. Key armed groups and members of the political opposition declined to join the national dialogue, saying that the structure is dominated by the ruling National Congress Party. The government counters that more than 100 political parties and 30 armed groups have joined and that the invitation to the opposition remains open. But as the deliberations in Friendship Hall wind up in the coming days, a mechanism is needed to further broaden discussions about the future of the country.
Without an end to the wars, it is hard to imagine how the resolutions agreed to in the national dialogue could be implemented. Furthermore, throughout Sudan, civil society organizations are being denied registration or closed, non-violent activists are being detained with documented cases of mistreatment, political and civic leaders are being barred from traveling to meetings outside of the country and media outlets are being shut down. The government justifies these actions in the name of national security, but this limited political space runs directly contrary to the supposed purpose of the dialogue.
Test for the Government
In the coming months, the Sudanese government’s commitment will be put to the test. Will the recommendations be taken to the Sudanese people for a broader, more inclusive dialogue? Will negotiations to end the violent conflict make progress? Will the hundreds of recommendations from the national dialogue be implemented?
“I would suggest that at the heart of the problem is that there has not yet been a commitment to a real democratic transition, especially by the ruling authorities,” Ambassador Lyman said in his Feb. 9 speech, “The Missing Piece: Where is the Peace in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement?”
A former special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Lyman assessed the challenges to building a lasting peace within Sudan and South Sudan and engaged in a vigorous discussion with the 30 university professors, civil society leaders, former political leaders and students who attended. Drawing on experiences from South Africa to South Korea, he argued that “internal peace in countries like Sudan and South Sudan requires political transformation – a new, inclusive, responsible and accountable way of governance.”
The issue of U.S. sanctions on Sudan was raised often during the visit. The United States has imposed penalties on the Sudanese government since 1997, including economic measures in 2007 “in response to the government’s continued complicity in violence occurring in the Darfur region,” according to the State Department.
Ambassador Lyman pointed out that sanctions are linked to the most critical challenges Sudan is confronting: Conflict, human rights, and political transformation. The national dialogue is addressing several of these, and the conclusions and follow-up implementation will be closely watched.
But as Ambassador Lyman pointed out in his speech, the national dialogue has to be linked to political negotiations that end the internal conflicts and support a transition to democratic governance. Moreover, civil society, the media and political activists have to be given space to exercise the rights and freedoms guaranteed by Sudan’s own constitution. And an agreement on humanitarian access to assist civilians impacted by violent conflict that resurged in Darfur in late 2015 and early 2016 and that continues in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states must be put into action. The issues of sanctions has to be seen in this context.
“In Sudan and South Sudan, despite years of intensive negotiation, multiple agreements, and the dedicated work of so many, peace remains not only elusive, but—in South Sudan and parts of Sudan— has been lost altogether,” Ambassador Lyman said. “Yet we cannot despair nor pull back from this work. Too many people are suffering, too much potential is being lost, too much danger exists of even greater loss of life that, if anything, we must intensify our work.”
Susan Stigant is USIP’s director of Africa programs.
December 28, 2015
Displaced KPs continue to fight for their right to return, led by the group’s NGOs to choose to return to a “Separate homeland”.
On December 28, 1991, KPs first raised their demand for a “distinct homeland” within the Kashmir Valley, from which they were forcibly evicted in 1989/90, the new homeland to be called “Pannun (our) Kashmir” to be governed by a centrally-administered (Delhi government) territory under the Indian Constitution. December 28 has come to be observed as the ‘Homeland Day’ among this community when the ‘Margdarshan Resolution’ was passed in 1991.
Pannun Kashmir, a civil society movement representing this community has lately promoted this idea through ‘Kashmiri Youth Conference’, with its nodes in many part of the globe, known as the ‘Friends of Pannun Kashmir Overseas’. NGO has mobilized the youth in solidarity in many parts of Europe and ask the community to “engage people and politicians in dialogues even with whom they disagree”.
The NGO has also been voicing its opinion to set up a tribunal to probe into the violence responsible for the eviction of this community, labeled by the group a ‘genocide’ and an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of this community.
Dr. Sudha Rajput
Professor: ‘Refugee and IDP Issues Analysis’
School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Consultant/Trainer (USAID) Bahri University, Khartoum, Sudan
Book Chapter: “Internal Displacement of Kashmiri Pandits” in State, Society, and Minorities in South and Southeast Asia.
World Bank (Ret.)
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Link to the full story
Where Wars Collide: Inside a Serbian Center Home to Refugees Old and New
By Sara Elizabeth Williams
November 23, 2015 | 10:41 am
Afghani teenager Khalil squinted in the winter Balkan sunshine and winced as he flexed his left bicep, red and inflamed where a police dog bit him a few days back, in Bulgaria. Across a muddy field, an older woman in a bandana watched warily as she swept a porch. She had seen his kind come and go, and today would be no different.
Like most of the other hundred or so young men re-tying shoes and adjusting bandages, coats and rucksacks at the refugee transit center on the outskirts of the Serbian capital, Khalil was bound for Europe.
Few people on the refugee highway running through Belgrade want to stay: of the 335,000 who have registered with the UN refugee agency in Serbia on their way through the country this year, just 30 have filed claims for asylum.
Bulgaria had been brutal and Khalil had no wish to stay in eastern Europe. “The police robbed me,” he told VICE News. “They took 70 Euros and my smartphone. I have no money now and no phone.”
smail, a 26-year-old father of three girls, worked as a translator with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. He was determined not to leave, but after militants came to his house and threatened to kill him, he had no choice.
“It’s not true that there is no war in Afghanistan,” he told VICE News. “It’s not only the Taliban but also American bombs. There are 100 groups.”
Ismail hoped to set up in Europe and send for his wife and daughters in future. After seeing his country torn apart and endangering himself and his family by working with Westerners, he believes they all deserve a new start.
“If the US and NATO will not bring peace to the country, what should we do?” he asked.
Khalil and Ismail have dreams of a better life. For other residents at the center in Krnjaca, about half an hour from Belgrade, it’s a little different: this collection of spartan barracks-style dormitory blocks is home.
More than eighty people forced from their homes from the 1990s Balkan conflicts still live at Krnjaca, sleeping in its bunk beds, dining in its stale-smelling canteen, and raising their Serbia-born children as perpetual refugees.
The current migration epidemic, in which more than 650,000 people have flooded into Europe fleeing war in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, or poverty and brutal regimes in countries such as Eritrea and Congo, is not the continent’s first refugee crisis.
More than two million people were displaced during the Balkan conflicts, a series of wars and insurgencies between 1991 and 2002 that saw the former Yugoslavia broken up and parts of eastern Europe ravaged by ethnic cleansing, genocide and other war crimes.
The Krnjaca facility was one of 700 so-called “collective centers” built in Serbia at the height of the crisis to house refugees and internally displaced people. Most have been closed down, but a handful remain, and are now seeing past and present humanitarian crises become entangled.
The Serbian government, a poor country plagued by accusations of corruption and committed to an austerity budget, is proving as unable to help its new refugees as it was the old.It can stretch to just 60 euros per person per month in welfare, and doesn’t have the money to build new housing for its oldest refugees, let alone the new arrivals.
The Krnjaca center feels like it has been forgotten by the world, surrounded by a scrubby wood, with rubbish and discarded masonry piled on either side of the road by which the refugees arrive.
Separate accommodation blocks for men, women, and families each follow a cookie-cutter design: bunk beds, a communal room tacked over with art, ageing bathrooms with wet floors, and dripping faucets.
The Serbian government opened the center to international refugees in August 2014. According to Marija Bojic, a government employee who works at Krnjaca, “Since it opened, asylum seekers are coming in different waves constantly.”
Managers say 6,000 refugees and migrants have passed through Krnjaca so far this year. With the rarest of exceptions, they stay just 24 hours. And so in ever-repeating cycles, the refugees from the past and the present come into the same orbit, sharing a canteen, an ageing collection of playground equipment, and a wifi network named “Asylum.”
After 20 years at Krnjaca, those displaced by old wars are adapting to a new routine: twice-daily buses dropping off foreign strangers and stragglers coming up the approach road, shouts and laughter in different languages.
Beyond language and cultural differences, Krnjaca’s two groups of residents are on the opposite sides of hope and it’s this that separates them as much as anything else. The possibilities of an endless search for refuge, of a life stopped and never restarted, of joblessness and economic failure, of children born stateless and forever remaining that way – these are the elephants in the room at Krnjaca.
Officials say Serbia’s Commissariat for Refugees and Migration is working provide build houses for its long-displaced families in a village nearby, and people are gradually being moved on — at one time the center housed hundreds of Balkans conflicts refugees and IDPs — but at a snail’s pace. And so the 85 longterm residents remain at Krnjaca, living in a limbo that threatens to stretch to two decades: on 14 December 2015, it will have been 20 years since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement that put an end to the Bosnian War.
Across a sludgy creek and a stand of trees is the canteen, nearly empty between the rush of young men grabbing a breakfast before leaving, and the usual lunch crowd of long-term residents. A trio of blond Kosovar children, some of the center’s youngest residents, have breakfast as canteen staff and some older residents look on. The children were born in Serbia to refugee parents. Without the jobs and social mobility to become self-sufficient, they have remained at Krnjaca.
Nearby, 57-year-old Dragiša waited for a meal in the lull time between shifts of internationals. An ethnic Serb from Croatia, he has been at Krnjaca for 20 years. He says he doesn’t hold the newcomers’ circumstances against them.
“What can you do about politics?” he shrugged. “I can’t say anything. I’ve seen it all. Everyone is running from troubles.”
At the center’s entrance the bus is being loaded, taking Khalil and his companions to Belgrade and then north to the Croatian border and the promised land: Europe. For the lucky ones, there will be welfare, jobs, and a future as European citizens.
For others, like Dragiša and other long-displaced citizens of a country that no longer exists, there will likely be disappointment as jobs fail to materialize, social exclusion limits opportunities, and the money to build a life long dreamed of proves elusive.
As the bus rolls away from Krnjaca, the cycle begins again.
Follow Sara Elizabeth Williams on Twitter: @saraewilliams