UNHCR, EC and OSCE urge full implementation of Sarajevo Declaration

The three key international actors in south-east Europe urge governments in the region to promptly and fully implement a declaration signed in January 2005 and respect self-imposed deadlines.

Refugees from wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.   © UNHCR/R.Chalasan

ZAGREB, Croatia, September 19 (UNHCR) - UNHCR on Tuesday joined the European Commission (EC) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in calling on governments in the Balkans to speedily implement a pact signed last year on refugee returns.

Following a meeting in Zagreb, the three organisations issued a statement saying that Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia had made some progress in implementing the Sarajevo Declaration, under which the four countries agreed to resolve the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) by the end of this year.

But they added that much work remained to be done to achieve genuine closure of the refugee returns issue by the deadline agreed at in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in January last year.

Representatives of UNHCR, the EC and the OSCE urged the four countries to honour their commitments and get the process moving much faster. They added that failure to seriously address the problem of displacement would send a negative message to the remaining refugees and IDPs.

Under the Sarajevo Declaration, the four governments should have finalised a comprehensive road map for returns and contributed to a joint implementation matrix by the end of the year. These documents should detail implementation mechanisms and spell out financial commitments.

More than half a million people - almost 120,000 refugees and some 407,000 IDPs - remain uprooted in the region. They fled their homes to escape fighting in the Balkans in the 1990s.

UNHCR was designated the lead humanitarian agency in the emergency that followed the 1991 break-up of Yugoslavia and subsequent wars between former member states. The Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 gave UNHCR the pivotal role in helping some 2.2 million uprooted people return to their homes and rebuild their lives.

The Sarajevo Declaration was the first refugee-related initiative adopted by the governments of the region. They agreed to try and end the outstanding humanitarian challenges by allowing voluntary returns or local integration.