UNHCR welcomes regional efforts to end protracted refugee situation in western Balkans

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yesterday, in Belgrade, the ministers of foreign affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia signed a joint declaration aimed at speeding solutions for 74,000 remaining refugees from the crisis of 1991-95 in this part of Europe.

UNHCR welcomes this declaration. It has come about through intense efforts by the four countries, and is a firm commitment on the part of their respective governments to cooperate at regional and national level in dealing with an enduring problem for this part of Europe. Displacement in the western Balkans is one of the five priority protracted refugee situations worldwide for UNHCR. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres attended yesterday's ministerial gathering in Belgrade and witnessed the signing of the Declaration along with the representatives of the EU, US, OSCE and the Council of Europe.

Integral to the declaration are a Regional Programme, developed by the concerned governments, and an accompanying Work Plan that sets our concrete steps for removing remaining obstacles. Among these is the accelerated provision of civil documentation allowing refugees and returnees to fully and effectively enjoy their rights and resume normal lives. The Regional Programme will be presented at a donors' conference in early 2012 to seek international support for finding housing solutions for refugees in collective centres and other vulnerable people, including former tenancy-rights holders.

UNHCR believes the fulfillment of these commitments will also support the accession of these countries to the European Union. We will remain engaged and strongly committed to supporting the governments of these four countries in closing this refugee displacement chapter. Since early 2011, Mr. Anne-Willem Bijleveld, a Personal Envoy of the High Commissioner, has been supporting the four governments in the process.

UNHCR 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. UNHCR led a major relief operation during the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia in early '90s. With more than two million people uprooted within and beyond the region, it was the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. A majority of the refugees have returned home over the past 16 years or have integrated locally.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Belgrade: Vesna Petkovic on mobile: +381 63 245 526
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617