UNHCR welcomes latest regional effort to end refugee displacement in Balkans

News Stories, 8 November 2011

UNHCR chief António Guterres addresses the ministerial meeting in Belgrade.

BELGRADE, Serbia, November 8 (UNHCR) Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia have pledged to step up efforts to resolve Europe's most protracted refugee situation and end the suffering of 74,000 uprooted civilians.

In a joint declaration signed in Belgrade on Monday, the foreign ministers of the four countries gave their firm support to a work plan that sets out concrete steps for removing the remaining obstacles to a durable solution for the remaining refugees from the conflict of 1991-1995 in south-east Europe. These include the accelerated provision of civil documentation allowing refugees and returnees to enjoy their rights and resume normal lives.

Donors will be asked at a meeting in early 2012 to support the Regional Programme and its goal over the next five years of finding solutions for people currently living in collective centres and other vulnerable refugee, including former tenancy rights holders.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres welcomed this latest regional effort to end the protracted refugee situation. "This represents enormous courage and wisdom from the four governments," Guterres said in an address to the ministerial gathering in the Serbian capital. "The solutions always require a political initiative to make them possible and economic and social development measures to make them sustainable," he stressed.

Monday's declaration of support for the programme is a result of intense efforts by the four countries and presents a firm commitment to cooperate at the regional and national level in dealing with the problem. Regional cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia is setting an example where political will and fruitful regional collaboration enabled resolution of a protracted displacement.

Finding a solution to the protracted displacement problem in the western Balkans is a priority for UNHCR, which led a major relief operation in the area during the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

With more than 2 million people uprooted within and beyond the region, it was Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II. A majority of the refugees have returned home over the past 16 years, or have integrated locally.

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, meanwhile, said refugees and displaced people constituted the most vulnerable part of the population. "Meeting their needs is a key step toward reconciliation between countries in the region," he told the Belgrade gathering.

UNHCR will remain engaged and committed to supporting the governments of the four countries in closing the refugee displacement chapter in the region. The refugee agency is also working with the national authorities to ensure development of asylum systems and practices in line with international and EU standards and the prevention of statelessness.




EU Asylum Law and Policy

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.

Working with the European Union

EU law and practice affects creation of refugee protection mechanisms in other countries.

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.