03 Nov 14
Refugees Struggle to Get Montenegro Passports
Only around 1,000 refugees living in Montenegro have been able to acquire citizenship since the 1990s because of the country’s rigorous legal requirements.
Refugees at the Konik camp on the outskirts of Podgorica.
A new report from Montenegro’s interior ministry said that of the 16,000 refugees and displaced people who have been living in the country since the 1990s conflicts, only 1,038 have managed to obtain citizenship.
The country has one of the strictest citizenship regimes in the region and it also prohibits dual citizenship.
The report offers no data about how many displaced people from Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo requested Montenegrin passports, nor the reasons for the rejection of citizenship requests.
But it does indicate that again, few applicants will receive citizenship in 2014.
“Fifty-eight new guarantees were issued this year to displaced persons who will gain Montenegrin citizenship if they provide a release from the state of origin,” it says.
The president of the Kosovo refugees association, Milenko Jovanovic, suggested that the authorities believe that refugees, if given passports, might vote for the pro-Serbian opposition.
“In essence, it is a political decision that they think could affect the vote. But voting rights do not matter to us, we just want what we are legally entitled to,” Jovanovic told BIRN.
The refugees are entitled to citizenship under Montenegrin law, he added, because the majority of them have already lived in the country non-stop for between 15 to 23 years.
Refugees’ children who were born in Montenegro, some of whom are already university students, were also not able to obtain citizenship, he said.
Montenegro’s Strategy for Resolving the Status of Refugees, adopted in 2012, defines the two possible arrangements for refugees – local integration and voluntary return. So far, most refugees from the 1990s conflicts have decided to stay in Montenegro; only 12 families returned to their country of origin this year.
But refugees will only be allowed to stay in Montenegro if they apply for permanent residence status by the end of this year.
According to government official figures, from 2009 until October 1 this year, more than 10,000 have been granted permanent or temporary stays of up to three years. For about 1,500 more, the process of resolving their legal status is still under way.
Montenegro’s government has warned that 4,800 of them must still apply for permanent residence status by the end of 2014 in order to secure the right to work, education, welfare and healthcare.
Jovanovic said that among them are about 1,500 displaced Serbs and Montenegrins from Kosovo who will not submit such request although they risk being classified as illegal immigrants.
He explained that Serbs from Kosovo do not want the status of foreigners in Montenegro.
“We ask for nothing but respect for natural and generally-accepted international standards. We do not want to be foreigners in a country where most of us have family roots,” he said.
Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)