UNHCR welcomes Serbia-Croatia agreement on refugee and return issues

Briefing Notes, 26 November 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 November 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes yesterday's announcement by the presidents of Croatia and Serbia of an agreement on resolving their two countries' mutual refugee and return issues. Successful resolution of these issues would be an important step towards solving one of the longest protracted refugee situations in Europe a legacy of the wars in this region of the 1990s.

Over the years, Serbia has been host to one of the largest populations of refugees and internally displaced persons in Europe. Of approximately 65,000 remaining Croatian refugees in Serbia, most live in private accommodation, but some 5,500, including a significant number of vulnerable people, have been housed in collective centres where conditions are poor.

In Croatia's case, there have been substantial refugee returns in recent years, although some returnees have faced difficulties in obtaining housing and taking advantage of socio-economic reintegration programmes. UNHCR has been working with the Government and the international community to resolve legal, social, and technical problems regarding return and reintegration.

While UNHCR has yet to see details of the Croatia-Serbia agreement, we hope that steps will be taken rapidly to translate this into concrete action that will enable the resolution of this long-standing situation, with the support of interested donors. UNHCR looks forward to working with partners toward this end.

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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

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

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Serbia: Dreams Of A Better Life

The story of Miljo Miljic, a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Miljo Miljic wants to go home, but he can't. He lives a day to day existence, hoping the future will be better for his children.
Serbia: Far From HopePlay video

Serbia: Far From Hope

Thousands of refugee families uprooted by war are living a day-to-day existence in Serbia. They cannot return home, and they have few means of support in Serbia.