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UNHCR, EC and OSCE urge full implementation of Sarajevo Declaration

News Stories, 19 September 2006

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

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.

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As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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