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Alternative housing solutions for the displaced in Serbia

Following the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, Serbia was faced with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees in the early nineties and then with more than 200,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Kosovo and Metohija by the end of the century.

A village house purchased by Intersos in Nakovo.

This would have been a serious blow for any developed country, but even more so for a fragile economy depleted by the years of isolation during the Milosevic regime and NATO bombing which put a final end to his rule. Only when the democratic government was elected at the beginning of the 21st century, the first serious attempts were made to provide durable housing solutions for the most vulnerable among displaced.

Beside the fact that the national housing stock was destroyed by privatization, as in most of the eastern block (former socialist) countries, Serbian infrastructure was under additional pressure of the newcomers and the available housing and shelter capacities were not enough to accommodate all in need. Tens of thousands of people were accommodated in any vacant object, just for immediate shelter, also known as “collective centers”.

Intersos has purchased these village houses for refugees and displaced persons.

On the other hand, a large number of people stayed with friends, relatives and sometimes perfect strangers, hoping they would found something suitable in short time. Alas, this situation lasted much longer and the government, with the help of UNHCR and other international organizations providing development assistance, had to come up with various, sometimes innovative, housing solutions. Years after, although many displaced found their durable solution either through return or local integration, still there are some 70,550 refugees and 210,146 IDPs in Serbia (UNHCR performed an IDP Needs Assessment in 2010/11 which identified some 97,000 IDPs in need. The study is available at http://www.unhcr.rs/en/resources/research/idp-needs-assessment.html), out of which some 2,723 IDPs and refugees still reside in some 28 remaining Collective Centres.

The spectrum of housing solutions for displaced varies from social housing to distribution of building materials and prefab houses, but one of the most interesting solutions are the so-called Village Houses. UNHCR has paved the road for present government programs aimed at solving housing problems of the displaced (UNHCR was the driving force behind the Regional process which united governments of BiH, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia in preparing a regional Refugee Housing Project which will help ending the refugee chapter in tthe Balkans. The Donor Conference was held in Sarajevo on 24 April 2012 and it is expected that funds will be secured for almost 25,000 families that will find their new homes.), as it piloted many housing solutions in the past including the purchasing of the village houses.

These houses are usually in rural and pre-urban areas but also week-end houses with sufficient land for agriculture. The assistance consists of non-repayable/donated village houses with the land for provision of elementary living conditions, up to a fixed amount. The displaced family has the right to participate in the purchase of the village house with its own funds, for an amount corresponding to maximum 50% of the value. The beneficiary family cannot dispose of the property for a period of 5 years. In addition, the selected families receive a dependency reduction grant (building material, furniture, home appliances and/or agricultural inputs) to ensure more dignified and sustainable living conditions.

As a part of the regular programming cycle, UNHCR performs evaluation of its activities and it was the case with the Village House program. With the help of its partners, Italian NGO Intersos and the local NGO Vizija, an evaluation study “Village Houses – A Successful Strategy to Respond to Housing Needs of Refugees and IDPs in Serbia” was published in February 2012.

The electronic version is available at http://www.unhcr.rs/en/resources/relevant-documents/vh-final-evaluation-report.html.

By Milos Terzan
Assistant Programme Officer
UNHCR Representation in Serbia

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