Norwegian Refugee Council
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent humanitarian organization that works to promote the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), regardless of their race, religion, nationality or political affiliation. In accordance with its mandate NRC acts as an independent and courageous advocate for refugee rights nationally and internationally, by providing humanitarian assistance in emergency situations, and by strengthening the capacity of UN organizations to offer and coordinate international aid and protection. NRC in all ways seeks to provide viable, durable solutions with regard to both its advocacy activities and its emergency relief efforts.
INFORMATION, COUNSELING AND LEGAL ASSISTANCE
Within the return facilitation, one of its core activities, NRC started a Civil Rights Project (CRP) in the former Yugoslavia (in Eastern Slavonia, Croatia) in 1996 in the context of the Erdut Agreement, formally ending hostilities in Croatia. The Project was intended to ensure protection of the rights of the population through legal aid. Through the work of the Eastern Slavonian CRP offices, similar needs became apparent among refugees and IDPs elsewhere in the region. A Serbia office was opened in Novi Sad in 1997. By the end of 2003, the CRP had a total of 13 offices located in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, including the United Nations administered province of Kosovo.
The chief objective of the CRP has been to enhance the protection of the civil rights of refugees and IDPs, both in their places of origin and of temporary residence/exile. It has entailed strengthening judicial systems and ensuring equal treatment of all ethnic groups. A further objective concerns rendering assistance for voluntary repatriation and reintegration in persons' places of origin or for integration in the place of temporary residence.
CRP has received more than half of its funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has also been funded by other international donors, including ECHO, UNHCR, USAID and OSCE.
Upon the request of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the evaluation of the NRC's Civil Rights Project in the former Yugoslavia was carried out between August and November 2002 by the Danish Center for Human Rights and the T&B Consult. The Evaluation Team analyzed CRP's performance since its inception in 1996, CRP's relevance, efficiency, quality, cost effectiveness, administration and management, and human resource enhancement.
The Evaluation Team's findings were very positive regarding the assistance which the CRP has given to tens of thousands of persons displaced or threatened by conflict, to obtain vital documents essential to the protection of their civil rights, and the legal information, advice, assistance and representation to enable the protection of those rights.
CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT IN SERBIA
The implementation of the Civil Rights Project in Serbia started in 1997 when the office in Novi Sad was opened for the purpose of assisting refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. In the subsequent years the offices in Subotica, Kraljevo, Belgrade, and Nis were opened.
By the end of 2003 CRP offices employed 35 national staff members who received about 34,000 clients (refugees from Croatia and BH and IDPs from Kosovo).
CRP offices have given legal aid on the issues of access to the place of origin, on property and tenancy claims as well as other legal matters hampering the reestablishment of life in the place of return.
The new outlook – the old zeal
In June 2003 NRC Oslo adopted the Exit Strategy related to the scaling down and withdrawing from the former Yugoslavia. Accordingly, as of January 2004 NRC closed down one CRP office in Serbia (Subotica office) and reduced the number of staff to 20.
With the guiding determination to duly carry on with the NRC Civil Rights Project, Praxis was registered as an association of citizens in June 2004 and in September 2004 it started working as a national non-governmental organization. As an NRC/CRP spin-off, Praxis has continued implementing the CRP activities with the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Apart from the funds from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Praxis activities are funded by various donors.