Lubbers, Busek say fate of one million uprooted persons key to Balkan stability

Prospects for peace and stability in the Balkans are directly linked to the fate of the one million people who are still uprooted in the region as a result of the war, according to High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers and Erhard Busek, the new head of the Balkans 'Stability Pact.'

Bosnian returnees rebuilding their war-torn village. © UNHCR/R.Chalasani  © 

GENEVA, Jan. 30 (UNHCR) - Long-term stability in the Balkans is directly linked to the fate of an estimated one million people who remain uprooted as a result of the region's wars, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers and the newly appointed head of the Balkan Stability Pact, Erhard Busek, said Wednesday.

"Prospects for lasting peace and stability throughout the Balkans largely depend on whether we can offer a meaningful future to those displaced by war," said Busek, a former Austrian vice-chancellor and Balkan expert who took over the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe earlier this year.

The Stability Pact, an intergovernmental organisation created in the aftermath of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, works to establish democracy and to promote economic development and security in the region.

The situation in the Balkans and the people uprooted by the wars of the 1990s were the focus of the meeting between Busek and Lubbers, held at UNHCR's Geneva headquarters. Busek said he picked the U.N. refugee agency's Geneva office as one of his first foreign destinations to stress the importance of refugee returns for overall Balkan stability.

In a joint statement, the two officials said much had been achieved since the guns fell silent in Bosnia more than six years ago. They noted that an estimated two million people have since gone back to their homes. During 2001 alone, more refugees and internally displaced persons were able to go home to areas controlled by opposing ethnic factions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia than at any other time since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995.

Members of minority communities have been returning to difficult areas such as Srebrenica and Foca. This is seen as an indication that many of the legal, administrative and security obstacles have disappeared. But the two officials said continued financial and political support was essential to help some one million people still uprooted by the series of conflicts that left parts of former Yugoslavia in ruins.

"Humanitarian and development funds for this region are in increasingly short supply, just at the time when they are most needed," Lubbers said. "Young people will not return to areas where there are no houses, no employment and no opportunity to raise families."

Busek and Lubbers commended the nations of the former Yugoslavia on their efforts to encourage refugee returns. They cited a number of improvements, including new legislation making returns easier. But they also acknowledged that some uprooted people will never go back to their original place of residence and said they needed financial help to resettle where they are now living.

"If the wealthy nations fail to sustain the Balkan aid effort, the people will eventually vote with their feet and knock on the European Union's door," Werner Blatter, UNHCR's top official in the Balkans, told a news conference in Geneva.