Kosovo was faced with a massive displacement crisis as around 90% of its population was displaced during the 1998-1999 war. As a result of the war, thousands of ethnic Albanians were displaced from their homes in Kosovo; many took refuge with host families, while a smaller proportion (several thousands) fled to the hills and forests1. In village raids aimed at changing the ethnic structure of Kosovo, Serbian forces burned homes and killed dozens of ethnic Albanians. Thousands of families returned to their villages to find everything destroyed and were faced with the prospect of the rebuilding their lives. Further, there was small-scale displacement, in some flash point areas, such as the divided city of Mitrovica after the war. As the Kosovar Albanian refugees returned to their homes in the summer and fall of 1999, a percentage of the Serb and Roma fled for Montenegro and Serbia, fearing reprisals and revenge attacks2. To complicate matters, some of those that were displaced had been recently settled in Kosovo and were victims of prior displacement in the wars of the 1990s in Croatia and Bosnia. Additionally, in 2000 and 2001 Kosovo was host to refugees from the wars in Macedonia and Presevo valley. Some of the people displaced from the Presevo valley remain in Kosovo, living in various levels of integration. Naturally, a large number of people were left with mental health issues due to war related trauma and displacement. In this study we have included data from our survey of displaced people.
As you will see below, Kosovo authorities have been more industrious in dealing with issues of migration in general, and less when dealing with displacement. Similarly, there is a lesser focus on mental health, and particularly so regarding gender aspects of mental health. These differences may be due to the focus on migration given by the process of EU integration and visa liberalisation. Both these processes, and especially the latter, stress the importance of having high standards in regulation migration issues.
Hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced within Kosovo (or so called Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)) and fled to other countries as result of this conflict3. More than 800,000 people became refugees in neighboring countries Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro and nearly 750,000 of them return to Kosovo. On their return, the displaced Albanians had to come to terms with the destruction of their homes and property, missing family members, and the traumatic experiences of violence, rape, and persecution. The full psychological impact of such emergency situations is a neglected issue. Over 17 years after the 1999 conflict, despite substantial international assistance and targeted programmes, large numbers of persons displaced both within and outside of Kosovo remain without durable solutions. Important legal steps have been taken to address the problem of conflict-affected displacement from Kosovo, through institutional, legal and policy development, and some progress has been made on returns; however progress remains limited.
In February 2014, Kosovo adopted the Strategy for Communities and Returns for 2014 to 2018. The Strategy has four objectives: sustainable return of IDPs and other displaced persons to their places of origin empowerment and stabilization of communities in Kosovo; development of a legal framework regarding communities, return and reintegration and improved management of the Ministry of Communities and Return4. The Strategy focuses on return of IDPs to their place of origin. While IDPs may achieve durable solutions through return, it is important that implementation of the Strategy takes into account that return must be voluntary and the authorities must also consider that IDPs may prefer not to return and rather settle in their area of displacement or in another area of Kosovo given their experiences during the conflict or their ethnic background.