Better late than never as displaced woman finds a home in Croatia

News Stories, 4 March 2009

© UNHCR/K.B.Belavic
Ljubica Mihajlovic feels quite at home in her new apartment.

OSIJEK, Croatia, March 4 (UNHCR) It's taken almost two decades, but Ljubica Mihajlovic is finally back home and living in her own apartment thanks to a Croatian government programme that has found housing for thousands of people displaced in the 1991-95 armed conflict in Croatia.

The 78-year-old grandmother, a Croatian of Serb ethnicity, was forced to flee her home in the town of Osijek in 1991 to escape the fighting and found shelter with her late husband in Beli Manastir, some 30 kilometres away. She has lived in the small town in eastern Croatia ever since.

Five years ago, Mihajlovic applied for housing under a new government programme set up to help internally displaced people and refugees who before the war had lived in housing provided either by the state or large enterprises. These people did not own their homes, but held occupancy or tenancy rights.

However, those people who were absent from their apartments for more than six months regardless of the fact that it might not have been possible for them to return lost these rights. Moreover, they were not given the opportunity to buy their old apartments and many could not even retrieve their personal belongings.

Some 13,500 families have signed up to the Housing Care Programme since its launch, of whom around 5,500 have been provided with accommodation, according to government figures. The UN refugee agency supported and assisted the process.

Mihajlovic had to deal with a lot of red tape over the years, but she persisted with her application and achieved her dream in October last year, when she moved back to Osijek and into her home in a brand new apartment block.

"I am very satisfied with this apartment. Although I had to wait almost five years, it was worth it," she told UNHCR. "It meets all my needs. Also, I am now much closer to my children and grandchildren in Osijek.... This is all I need in my old days."

The housing programme was slow to take off, but it has gathered pace in the past two years as the government strived to help people who had, in some cases, been waiting for homes for more than 15 years. In the past 12 months, some 2,000 families have been provided within homes.

UNHCR, meanwhile, is advocating that the government accept applications to the housing programme to uprooted people who formerly held occupancy or tenancy rights and who want to return home, but failed to apply for housing assistance within the deadlines.

"Some 14 years after the conflict in Croatia ended, it is high time that the remaining refugees and displaced persons who have lost their flats or whose homes were destroyed have access to adequate housing solutions and can rebuild their lives," Udo Janz, deputy director of UNHCR's Europe Bureau, said during a visit to Croatia last month.

There are still some 80,000 registered refugees from Croatia in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, part of Europe's most prominent protracted refugee situation. The speedy provision of housing is an important part of the quest for durable solutions for the displaced.

By Nikolina Balija in Osijek, Croatia




UNHCR country pages

How UNHCR Helps Women

By ensuring participation in decision-making and strengthening their self-reliance.

UNHCR's Dialogues with Refugee Women

Progress report on implementation of recommendations.


Women and girls can be especially vulnerable to abuse in mass displacement situations.

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Women in Exile

In any displaced population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and sometimes their family structure, females are particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse, even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Women must cope with these threats while being nurse, teacher, breadwinner and physical protector of their families. In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

On International Women's Day UNHCR highlights, through images from around the world, the difficulties faced by displaced women, along with their strength and resilience.

Women in Exile

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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

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.
2015 World Day against Trafficking in Persons: ICAT Video StatementPlay video

2015 World Day against Trafficking in Persons: ICAT Video Statement

The second annual World Day against Trafficking in Persons is being marked on 30 July 2015. To mark this special day, the Principals of eight of the world's key organizations working to tackle this crime have come together to issue a special statement. Together, these eight heads of organizations are urging more to be done to help the millions of women, men and children who fall victim to one of today's most brutal crimes, and to join forces to improve trafficked persons' access to remedies that respond to their individual needs. This video includes statements from the following members of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT): ILO, INTERPOL, IOM, OHCHR, UN Women, UNHCR, UNICRI and UNODC.