Montenegro is a mixed parliamentary and presidential republic with a multiparty political system. Voters choose both the president and the unicameral parliament through popular elections. The president nominates, and the parliament approves, the prime minister. The observation mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) stated that the 2016 parliamentary elections were conducted in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. The opposition coalition did not accept the election results and began a continuing boycott of parliament, although all but two parties have since returned. On April 15, Milo Djukanovic, president of the Democratic Party of Socialists, was elected president of the country, winning approximately 54 percent of the vote in the first round. This is his second term as president, having additionally served six terms as prime minister. The OSCE/ODIHR, the European Parliament delegation, and the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly noted the April 15 election proceeded in an orderly manner but had a few minor irregularities that did not affect the outcome. Despite opposition protests, elections were generally considered free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included corruption; trafficking in persons; attacks on journalists; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
Impunity remained a problem, since the government did not punish officials who committed human rights abuses.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to displaced persons, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The Ministry of Interior significantly reduced the number of pending applications for resolving residency status in the country. As of September a total of 15,131 displaced persons (DPs) had applied to resolve their residency status. While authorities completed 14,828 of those requests, 303 were still pending. Of those completed, 12,242 received permanent or temporary resident status.
Persons whose applications for “foreigner with permanent residence” status were pending with the Ministry of Interior continued to hold the legal status of DPs or IDPs. Some persons who were entitled to apply faced difficulties in obtaining the required documentation, particularly in regularizing previously unregistered births or paying the fees required to procure documents.
With UNHCR and OSCE support, the government, together with the government of Kosovo, continued to assist displaced Romani persons and Balkan Egyptians in obtaining personal identification documents under the Montenegro-Kosovo agreement on late registration of births of persons born outside the hospital system. The process facilitated the registration of births of persons born in Montenegro or Kosovo, especially Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children.
Conditions for IDPs and DPs from the Yugoslav wars varied. Access to employment, health care, and social services was sometimes limited due to language barriers, insufficient integration programs, lack of documentation, or unclear or inconsistent administrative procedures. According to UNHCR, many remained vulnerable and in need of assistance.
Together with Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country was a party to the Regional Housing Program, facilitated by international donors, to provide durable solutions for up to 6,000 DPs and IDPs in the country. During the year, the construction or purchase of apartments progressed well through eight projects which were in different stages of implementation.
A number of IDPs continued to live in substandard dwellings, struggled to pay rent for private accommodation, or feared eviction from illegally occupied facilities known as informal collective centers. Approximately 600 Roma from Kosovo remained split between a settlement in Berane and a container camp in Podgorica, while approximately 250 displaced Serbs continued to live in substandard collective housing in Berane. The government and international donors continued to assist camp residents while constructing multiple apartment buildings under the Regional Housing Program.
To assist both refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and IDPs from Kosovo, the government continued to implement its 2017-19 national strategy for finding durable solutions for DPs and IDPs during the year.
Restricted access to employment pushed many DPs into gray-market activities. Poor economic prospects particularly affected Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians from Kosovo as well as the aging Kosovo-Serb population in the Berane area, who continued to form a large segment of the marginalized and vulnerable DP and refugee population by virtue of their size, time in country, and access to resources. Romani DPs were the most vulnerable and marginalized displaced population in the country due to their low social status and level of integration, high levels of unemployment, and low levels of schooling and literacy.
Although the law gives foreigners with permanent residence the same rights as citizens, with the exception of the right to vote, IDP’s from the former Yugoslavia sometimes had limited access to employment, education, property ownership, and specialized medical care due to the difficulty of obtaining official documents.
The government continued to encourage DPs and IDPs to return to their places of origin, but repatriation slowed to a trickle due to the preference of many IDPs and DPs to remain in the country due to fear of reprisals in their countries of origin or a lack of resources. The availability of housing solutions in the country through the Regional Housing Program also affected the interest in returning. During the first eight months of 2017, only 53 IDPs voluntarily returned to Kosovo and Serbia.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government allows individuals to apply for asylum within a few days of entering the country. However, those caught illegally crossing the border who do not apply for asylum are placed into a detention center for criminal processing and deported. In January parliament adopted the Law on International Assistance and Temporary Protection of Foreigners, under which the Ministry of Interior took over management of the asylum center in Spuz, thus centralizing the main functions of the asylum system (i.e., initial determination of international protection and reception of services).
Unlike 2017, when 90 percent of asylum seekers were men, the year saw a substantial increase in the number of families applying for asylum. The government made efforts to strengthen its capacity to cope with sudden or large influxes of migrants by improving reception capacity. In July, in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, UNHCR set up four refugee housing units at asylum centers to accommodate additional asylum seekers. The government has a contingency plan in place to ensure preparedness in case of a mass influx, but it was under revision at year’s end. On August 16, the government deployed the army to the Bozaj border crossing area of the border with Albania to prevent irregular entry into the country.
Of 2,346 asylum applications, 2,079 interviews were scheduled, and 44 were held. Observers noted that attention and readiness to address the increased mixed flow of migrants remained focused on border control aspects, as evidenced by the sharp rise in the number of migrants pushed back from the Montenegrin boarder during the year. The Ministry of Interior confirmed it attempted to deter migrants from entering by using patrols and noted that young men who saw the patrols often lost their nerve and went back to the other side of the border from which they had come.
Access to Basic Services: Once the asylum procedure is initiated, asylum seekers are granted access to free health care and education services in line with international standards, although barriers, including language and cultural differences, sometimes limited practical access.
In April, UNHCR and the Red Cross opened a community center near the asylum center to provide information, psychosocial support, counselling, legal support, language classes, and sports activities.
Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship was available but requires evidence that the applicant had renounced citizenship in his or her country of origin. The government provided support for the voluntary return or reintegration of refugees from countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed access to the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services and naturalization in the country, but they did not have the right to vote.
Under the new Law on International Assistance and Temporary Protection of Foreigners, the integration of refugees and persons who receive subsidiary protection remains under the purview of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.