All seven members of the refugee family of Slavica and Voin Radovanić from Kosovo gained civil documents through the UNHCR’s project aimed at providing assistance to refugees in acquiring documents necessary for applying for the status of foreigner.
Slavica and her husband Voin who arrived to Montenegro in 1999 with their two eldest children, later got three more children, who were registered in the birth registry in Podgorica. They all now live in a modest, two rooms flat in the refugee settlement Vrela Ribnička in Podgorica, after six years of living in private accommodation. Both Mrs. Radovanić and her husband had occasional employment for supporting their family.
In order to obtain passports, essential for applying for the foreigner status, members of the Radovanić family had to get a number of civil status documents, which were provided for them by the UNHCR’s partner NGO ”Legal Centre”.
Documents obtained will enable Mrs. Radovanić and her children to apply for the foreigner status, crucial for accessing basic rights such as employment, education, health care and social protection.
Members of Radovanić family are among 271 refugees who obtained civil documents through the project launched in mid 2011 which is planned to be realised by 15 October 2012.
The project is part of overall efforts of the UN System in Montenegro aimed at helping refugees to gain legal status as a prerequisite for integration in the country which will provide access to basic rights for refugees. The work of the UN System in this particular area is being conducted under the leadership of the UN Social Inclusion Pillar Working Group, composed of representatives of different UN entities.
The project agreed by the UN Country Team and funded from the DaO Expanded Funding Window, indicated high level of efficiency and added value support of the UN System working jointly under the Delivering as One reform.
* * *
In Montenegro, some 16,000 refugees from neighboring countries have lived for up to 20 years without a proper legal status. In 2009, the Government of Montenegro amended the legislation to give refugees a two-year period to apply for permanent residency. UNHCR offered assistance to refugees in acquiring necessary documents through the NGO Legal Centre. In the period from November 2009 until November 2011, 7,208 documents have been obtained for 4,193 persons.
In addition, 522 procedures for subsequent registration in the birth and citizenship registries in Serbia, Montenegro or Croatia have been initiated with 203 procedures successfully solved, while 300 persons were financially supported to obtain documents. In early 2011, the increased need for such support exhausted UNHCR’s funds for this work, leaving no possibility to help vulnerable refugees without means to pay for transport to their place of origin to get personal documents and to pay administrative fees to get the papers.
Since the deadline for submitting applications for residency expired on 7 November 2011, this put many refugees at risk of losing the chance to regularize their status. The situation was discussed in the Social Inclusion Pillar group in June 2011 and it was agreed that the UN Country Team under Delivering as One would continue the work, covered by funds from the UN Country Budget, through the DaO Expanded Funding Window funds. UN agencies’ framework supported the project unanimously.
UNDP took the responsibility for managing the project through the NGO Legal Centre with UNHCR’s expert guidance. Meanwhile, UNHCR advocated with the Government of Montenegro to extend the deadline for submitting application for residence permits, and on 1 November 2011 the Law on Foreigners was amended to extend the deadline until 31 December 2012.
Pending the grant from the Delivering as One Expanded Funding Window, the Legal Centre invited persons to file requests for support and prepare cases for follow up as soon the grant was given. Meanwhile, successful advocacy was done with the Government to extend the deadline for applications; otherwise the implementation of the project would have been jeopardized. Eight categories of vulnerable refugees with specific difficulties in acquiring documents had been identified, e.g., refugee children born in the country but who were never granted the status their parents hold, persons with disabilities and persons accommodated in specialized institutions (orphanages, elderly homes, psychiatric institutions), persons without basic identity documents.
The project started immediately when the first installment of the allocated funds were made available, and in the short period from 15 November to 31 December 2011 a total of 527 documents from Serbia and Croatia were obtained on behalf of 271 persons. In addition, 14 families, beneficiaries of UNHCR funded social welfare assistance, were financially supported to obtain documents needed for the new status in Montenegro