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Balkan governments seek to close refugee chapter in region

News Stories, 31 January 2005

© UNHCR Bosnia
The "3x3 Initiative" conference in Sarajevo was attended by ministers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro, and representatives of UNHCR, OSCE and the EU.

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jan 31 (UNHCR) The governments of three Balkan countries today agreed to bring a genuine and successful close to the refugee chapter in south-eastern Europe by the end of 2006, through either voluntary return or local integration.

On Monday, the ministers responsible for refugee issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro attended the "3x3 Initiative" conference in Sarajevo with representatives of three pivotal international organisations in the region UNHCR, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union.

The ministers were meeting a decade after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord in 1995 that ended hostilities in the former Yugoslavia, in order to identify individual and joint activities to be undertaken in the forthcoming period. UNHCR, OSCE and the EU will actively and systematically assist this process to ensure a just and durable solution to refugee problems in the three countries.

The conference was opened by the Chairman of the BiH Council of Ministers, Adnan Terzic, who underlined the importance of this initiative in the context of the three countries' strategic objectives and the process of their accession to the EU.

Leading the UNHCR delegation, Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane said in his keynote speech that the conference was taking place at an opportune moment, because "significant progress has been achieved by the concerned governments in their respective countries in this sphere and because any comprehensive solution to refugee situations requires extensive regional cooperation and renewed commitment."

Morjane reminded the participants that in November 1995, when the three countries met in Dayton, Ohio to sign the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, nearly half of the estimated population in Bosnia and Herzegovina had been forcibly displaced as refugees or internally displaced persons.

Since then, more than one million refugees and internally displaced persons have exercised their right to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Significant progress has also been achieved in returns to the neighbouring countries, with a third of all refugees originating from Croatia returning over the years. This leaves an estimated 300,000 or more refugees remaining in the three countries.

Ongoing efforts to re-register the remaining refugee population in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, fully supported by UNHCR, indicate at this stage that the refugee population still in need of a durable solution may be much smaller than assumed, perhaps half of current estimates.

The newly acquired data will allow better coordination of the joint efforts aimed at enabling all remaining refugees in the region to put an end to their plight. This will be achieved either through voluntarily return to their countries of origin, or through local integration in the host countries, while at the same time providing a much clearer picture of the outstanding needs of those who remain displaced in the region.

In his closing remarks, the Assistant High Commissioner stressed that it would be an illusion to believe that all refugees from the region will eventually return home, since many by now have acquired citizenship elsewhere and become productive members of their new countries.

Highlighting the two-fold character of the conference, Morjane noted that it is essential to identify the outstanding durable solution needs for refugees in the region, with an emphasis on allowing everyone who wishes to do so to exercise his or her right to return in safety and dignity. At the same time, it is also of utmost importance to consolidate the returns that have already taken place in the region in order to make them truly sustainable and to prevent renewed displacement within the region or further beyond.

Signing the eight-point Declaration on Refugee Returns, the three governments committed themselves to solve the remaining population displacement by the end of 2006, and to facilitate returns or local integration of refugees in cooperation with UNHCR, the EU and OSCE.

With that aim, the governments agreed to form a joint Task Force to implement the Declaration. The Declaration stipulates that meetings at the ministerial level will be held on an annual basis, while the Task Force will meet four times a year. Finally, the governments pledged to exchange data, as well as to develop and unite their individual action plans in a joint implementation framework.




Civil Registration and the Prevention of Statelessness: A Survey of Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians (RAE) in Montenegro

Results of a study carried out in 2008 by UNHCR, with support from the European Commission and UNICEF, May 2009.

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

Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie met with forcibly displaced people on April 5, 2010 during her first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, called for steps to end the continued suffering of these victims of the Bosnian War after hearing their harrowing tales and seeing their grim living conditions.

Jolie was clearly moved by the spirit - and the ordeal - of the people she met and she pledged to highlight their case. Most of the people she talked to have been living in exile since the end of the 1992-1995 conflict. Jolie visited collective centres in the towns of Gorazde and Rogatica, where the inhabitants lack basic services such as running water.

The actress spent some time with a group of women who were raped or tortured during the war. Their tales left a deep impression on her. She also met a family of refugee returnees who were still waiting to move into their village home near the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad.

Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

Prince Soniyiki, from Nigerian to "Croatian" in three years

Prince Wale Soniyiki, 29, is the poster boy for Croatia's refugee system. When Prince (that's his real name, not a royal title) arrived here from Nigeria three years ago, he felt like a "complete nobody." Today he has a good job, speaks the language fluently and is a well-known advocate for asylum-seekers, whose voices are rarely heard in Croatian society. Prince fled Nigeria in December 2011 after a bloody terrorist attack killed his brothers. A circuitous route through Libya and Italy eventually led him to Croatia.

Croatia, which joined the European Union in 2013, has a well-functioning asylum system. But it's rarely tested because nearly all asylum-seekers and refugees move on to other European countries, partly because integration into society is not easy. Prince, though, is making a life here. Two years ago he founded "Africans Living in Croatia" to help others like him integrate and to help Croatians better understand migrants. His passionate work grabbed the attention of the owner of a tuna farming company, who offered him a job on his boat on the Adriatic coast.

Prince Soniyiki, from Nigerian to "Croatian" in three years

Croatia: Tea and campfires to beat the chillPlay video

Croatia: Tea and campfires to beat the chill

Sipping tea and huddling around fires for warmth, some 2,000 refugees gathered a few paces inside Slovenia's border with Croatia on October 21 and 22 as they waited to board buses for an onward journey to Western Europe.
Croatia: Sunday Train ArrivalsPlay video

Croatia: Sunday Train Arrivals

On Sunday a train of 1800 refugees and migrants made their way north from the town of Tovarnik on Croatia's Serbian border. They disembarked at Cakovec just south of Slovenia. Most of the people are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi. Their route to Western Europe has been stalled due to the closing of Hungarian borders. Now the people have changed their path that takes through Slovenia. Croatia granted passage to over 10,000 refugees this weekend. Croatian authorities asked Slovenia to take 5000 refugees and migrants per day. Slovenia agreed to take half that number. More than a thousand of desperate people are being backed up as result, with more expected to arrive later Monday.
Serbia: Overstretched BordersPlay video

Serbia: Overstretched Borders

As Hungary builds a fence on its border with Serbia, the situation at the border between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece is increasingly precarious. Refugees in Serbia on their way to Hungry fear the tighter measures and say they wouldn't have fled home had they not been forced to do it by the war.