Dear Mr. Arduç!
Honorable Dean Mr. Puka!
Dear colleagues, professors, teachers!
Organizers of this forum!
It is a special pleasure to participate in this forum co-organized by UNHCR and the Faculty of Law of the University of Prishtina. Because, this forum raises one of the most sensitive issues for modern societies and it is an opportunity to create political and social cohesion on the issues of refugees. For this reason I do appreciate your invitation and the given opportunity to discuss both our experiences and our point of view on this issue. Around 23 years ago, each of us, over 1 million citizens of Kosovo experienced the sad and grave sense of being a refugee. One of the hardest feelings and experiences one can experience. Perhaps, I must mention this at the start of my address that this experience has taught us all that no one chooses to be a refugee, yet anyone can become a refugee.
Hence I must mention that while Kosovo has gone through various historical trials and tribulations, among the most severe being the facing with the painful experience of persecution, murder, numerous massacres and mass deportation of more than one million of its citizens, in the years 1998-1999. Therefore, returning to a table dealing with the protection of refugees, additionally revives our memories of the 1990s and fuels our spiritual pain, and pushes us to appreciate our role today in preventing such situations, or the support that each of us can give to each refugee wherever he or she is. Because, the issue of refugees and displaced persons constitutes a human dimension for us, and not just an international legal obligation.
I want to focus on this segment, taking into consideration our experience, which makes us extremely sensitive to the vulnerability of the human rights and freedoms of refugees, but also those of asylum seekers. As war refugees, the helping hand was extended to us from many peace-loving countries of the world who opened their doors to us, at a time when we were exposed as a population to extinction and when even hope seemed distant, almost impossible. But today we are here, free and determined to contribute that situations such as ours in 1999 are not repeated, aware that today we may be asked to extend our helping hand to refugees and other displaced persons, whose human rights may be violated often by their own state and when the only cover that they have is the sky. Therefore the least we can do now is to give our contribution to sheltering of those who have been forced to flee their homes and countries, whose hope for life today, as well as for their well-being tomorrow, depends on actions that we as society carry out.
But despite the extended hand and the help we can give at a given moment, we acknowledge that refugees require long-term treatment and permanent commitment, not only to improve their current situation and allay their fears, but also to help them recover. We in Kosovo are grateful to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees / UNHCR for the great support and assistance that it has given to Kosovo for over more than two decades.
People of Kosovo will always remember with the highest respect the dedication and passion of Mrs. Sadako Ogata (1927 – 2019), the first woman to serve as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She has visited Kosovo several times, thus showing her commitment to the issue of our refugees. We also greatly appreciate the continues assistance of the Japanese population and government, through the JAICA Agency, and the assistance provided by each peace and freedom loving country in order to open their doors to us, by not turn their backs in order to save our lives.
Today, we are consolidated as a democracy and we are acting as a responsible state by thanking also the role of our friends all over the globe, who were there for us during the most difficult moments of our history. From the time when we ourselves were refugees and forcibly displaced from our homes, until today when we in the Republic of Kosovo are doing everything to provide our contribution, we have demonstrated that dealing with refugee crises and related issues, such as asylum and migration, are permanent global challenges, to which the international community can respond only through spirit of human solidarity and by taking joint and coordinated action.
The 1951 Refugee Convention remains the foundation on which a sustainable platform for the protection of refugee rights can be established. The establishment of the UNHCR, meanwhile, is the most powerful example of what we can achieve as states, nations and as individuals if we work together and in partnership with each other, in the name of sublime human values, such as the protection of those who for various reasons are forced to leave their homes.
As we talk about the sensitive issue of refugees and we want to address it from a human rights perspective as well, let me underline another dimension: the protection of refugee’s touches upon not only the protection of life, but also protection of their dignity. As such, the protection of refugees is not only a matter of emergent provision of food and shelter, but also of legal guarantees for their rights and interests which have to be protected by each one of us, and by the international community at large – at times when they cannot enjoy protection from their governments which very often, are the main cause of crises and emigration and of human rights violations.
Therefore, the role of international legal instruments, initially the Refugee Convention but also of other international human rights acts, are prime and irreplaceable conditions for the protection of the rights of refugees. Therefore, the organization of professional forums and debates with valuable experts, such as this forum co-organized by UNHCR and the Faculty of Law, contributes to the advancement of international legal standards for the protection of refugees.
Although as the Republic of Kosovo are not yet a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, through the principle of automatism, on our Declaration of Independence and on the Constitution of Kosovo we have committed to apply all those conventions that have been applicable, in the former Yugoslavia and then after on the documents in which UNMIK had become a party on our behalf until 2008.But in addition to this convention we also have the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo which provides a wide range of human rights, for all individuals falling under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Kosovo. We have also promulgated the Law on Asylum in 2018, which was drafted respecting the highest standards for the protection of the status and rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
However, establishing legal basis is not the main aspect of our efforts in this regard. As very few countries in the world, have done, with our modest possibilities, we have opened our doors and hearts to refugees, placing Kosovo on the map of host countries for Afghan refugees.
As the President of the country, I feel proud that Kosovo has been able to make a small but important step, to turn its memory of its pain into helping others, at difficult moments for them.
Kosovo will work with all organizations and with all partners, and with the entire democratic world to protect the rights and freedoms of refugees, and foremost to ensure that their lives will not be endangered and to secure a better future for them. Once the democratic world was there for us, today we will be there for all those in need.