The Legal Center was founded in 2007 as the first non-governmental organization specialized in provision of free legal aid, counseling and representation before courts and other administrative bodies for displaced persons, foreigners seeking or granted international protection, persons at risk of statelessness in Montenegro, returnees under readmission agreements, victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable categories.
The Legal Center was founded at the time when Montenegro, together with partners from the international organizations, was seeking a solution for a large number of displaced persons from the former Yugoslavia and the very beginning of the establishment of an asylum and migration management system.
Legal Center actively participated in the process of building up the migration management system, i.e., creation of the institutional, legislative and strategic framework, through participation in working groups, by amending legal solutions and consultations with relevant institutions, for example: our representative is a member of the Working body for drafting and monitoring of the implementation of Strategy for Integrated Migration Management in Montenegro 2021-2025 and Reintegration Strategy for Persons Returned under the Readmission Agreement 2021-2025. The legal expertise in the field of refugee law has been built over the past thirteen years, through a number of seminars, trainings and other professional capacity building in the country and region.
Additionally, in order to regularize the legal status of displaced persons from the former Yugoslavia, Legal center has in the previous period significantly influenced development of practice in administrative and court proceedings, initiating the first procedures of subsequent registration in birth registers and determining the time and place of birth through non-contentious procedure, as well as the filiation and denial of motherhood or fatherhood procedures before the competent courts. Through subsequent proceedings – through administrative and non-contentious procedure 1,514 persons were registered in the birth and registry of Montenegrin citizens.
Until 2011, when the Law on Free Legal Aid passed and entered into force, the Legal Center provided legal services and representation before the court of a significant number of victims of domestic and sexual violence among displaced and domicile population. At the time, Legal center lawyers represented some of the most serious cases of domestic violence – serious crimes against life and body, as well as a large number of marital disputes, division of marital property and custody of the children.
Within the campaign 16 days of activisms against gender-based violence, some 160 workshops were organized in several Montenegrin municipalities, with adolescents from population of displaced (aged 13-18) aimed at raising awareness of the causes and consequences of domestic violence.
So far, more than 14,000 different users have passed through the four offices of the Legal Center and 150,000 different legal services have been provided for them. With the direct assistance of the Legal Center, the vast majority of displaced persons were granted the status of foreigners with permanent/ temporary residence in Montenegro, which enabled preconditions for their full integration. In order to resolve their legal status, 13,142 different documents were provided and 7,058 administrative fees for ID cards and passports issuance were paid. In this way, the issue of displaced persons is slowly coming to closure.
The Legal center represented the first persons granted international protection in Montenegro and provided the first work permits for them, enabling full exercise of the right to work. Among the persons granted international protection in Montenegro since the establishment of the asylum system, most of them received protection with the assistance provided by Legal Center (67 persons out of a total of 78 who received the status since the establishment of the asylum system).
The first travel document issued to a stateless person in the region was issued in Montenegro upon a five years long legal dispute led by the Legal Center before the institutions. In the field of prevention and reduction of statelessness, in 2008 the Legal Center conducted the first comprehensive survey on the scale of statelessness among the RAE population, the first and largest of its kind in Montenegro, which laid down the basis for further development of Roma social integration policies.
Besides the support in solving legal status issues, significant activities were implemented with support of licensed experts aimed at educational empowerment, language learning, and psychotherapeutic support for foreigners seeking or granted international protection in overcoming various psychosocial challenges caused by refugee, long-term migration and social integration challenges.
The experience of the Legal Center also includes numerous projects related to the economic empowerment of vulnerable categories and support for private initiative and entrepreneurship of the Regional Housing Program (RHP) beneficiaries. During the previous period, the legal center has, in line with the tailor made methodology of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), supported 94 families in Berane, Nikšić and Herceg Novi by awarding of mini-grants for their self-employment. All the municipalities co-financed the projects in the percentage of 5-10% of their total value. The app. amount of the individual grant was up to $ 1,200.
In cooperation with the Housing Agency Ltd. Podgorica, guidelines for the management of social housing facilities have been prepared. The main purpose and goal of this document is to assist the municipalities in establishing a sustainable social housing system at the local level. The document provides clear guidelines for creating a local legal framework that will regulate the relationship between property owners and tenants, and rules and procedures for calculating the amount of rent, management and maintenance, as well as establishing a system of rental subsidies for the most vulnerable tenants.
The importance of the Legal center activities was recognized by the Government (Memoranda of cooperation were signed with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Interior) and other competent institutions, and the achievements of the organizations were involved in key strategic documents.
The work of the Legal Center has been supported by numerous donors (European Union, UN agencies, US embassy funds and numerous US government/CRS funds, etc.). The organization activities have been marked by intensive and successful cooperation with numerous institutions, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, courts, local governments, civil society organizations at the local and regional level. Membership in various regional and international networks, such as ECRA, the largest pan-European alliance of organizations providing assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, WEBLAN, the European Network for Combating Statelessness (ENS), the Balkan Council for Refugees and Migration at the OSCE, etc., are also an important resource of the Legal center for the implementation of numerous projects.
Legal center team