• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Top UNHCR official visits the Balkans

News Stories, 9 April 2003

© UNHCR/M.Ellena
Ms. Wyrsch talks with Zoran Stevanovic, Serb returnee in the village of Sredska, Prizren municipality.

SARAJEVO, April 9 (UNHCR) UN refugee agency Deputy High Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsch is visiting the Balkans a region that is still trying to come to terms with Europe's largest wave of displacement since World War II. UNHCR's number two official has met with local officials across the region, getting a first-hand impression of one of the agency's largest operations ever.

Speaking in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, Wyrsch said last week she was heartened by the amount of progress made since the Dayton peace agreement put an end to the war in Bosnia more than seven years ago. But she warned that the world should not walk away from the Balkans or risk squandering some of the achievements.

Nearly half of the two million people uprooted by the war have gone back to their homes in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the guns fell silent. Hundreds of thousands have returned to areas controlled by their former enemies, in at least a partial reversal of the policy of "ethnic cleansing" that became a grim feature of the Balkan wars. Wyrsch praised the courage of those going back and said they deserved continued support.

"I am afraid that unless additional assistance is made available, the impressive momentum may be stalled," she said.

During the Bosnia leg of her trip, Wyrsch visited some of the most war-scarred communities of the country, including the eastern town of Srebrenica the scene of the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

In Kosovo, the Deputy High Commissioner met with minority Serbs and Roma who have been slowly trickling back to their homes as stability gradually takes hold. She assured them that UNHCR would continue to support minority returns despite many difficulties.

"The path towards tolerance and reconciliation is long and difficult, indeed, a painful process, but we are highly committed to it," she said.

In Kosovo's main city, Pristina, Wyrsch also met with President Ibrahim Rugova and the head of the UN Mission there, Michael Steiner.

During her week-long trip, the Deputy High Commissioner also visited Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where she met with government officials and displaced communities. Later this week, she is scheduled to visit Croatia before returning to Geneva.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Serbia: Europe's forgotten refugees

A study of the lives of three Europeans who have been living as refugees in Serbia for more than 15 years.

Serbia is the only European country with a protracted refugee population. More than 90,000 refugees from Croatia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina remain there, victims of wars that erupted after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

These long-term refugees live under appalling conditions in dingy apartments and overcrowded collective centres – the nearest thing to refugee camps in modern Europe.

This set of pictures tells the story of three displaced people, the problems they face and their hopes for the future.

Serbia: Europe's forgotten refugees

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Siege of SarajevoPlay video

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Siege of Sarajevo

The siege of Sarajevo began 20 years ago. Lasting nearly four years, it became one of the most dramatic and emblematic events of the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
The Siege of Sarajevo - 20 years afterPlay video

The Siege of Sarajevo - 20 years after

The Siege of Sarajevo - 20 years after