Statement of Mr. Amin Awad, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the Launch of the United Nations Consolidated Inter-agency Appeals for 2002 (Brussels)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to be here with you to launch the 2002 Cap: "Reaching the Vulnerable". A principle focus of the South East Europe appeal is the continuing impact of the conflict in FYROM, in which some 150,000 people were displaced and more than 100 villages damaged or destroyed. And, with the continuing political and socio-economic instability in the country, the risk of a return to violence, displacement and large-scale humanitarian crisis remains.
UN agencies in FYROM are requesting just under US$ 44 million ($43,988,083) for programmes in 2002 to address humanitarian needs and assist in rebuilding a divided society that has emerged out of the inter-ethnic conflict. Assistance will focus on support for vulnerable individuals, including those who continue to be displaced or have recently returned, as well as for the remaining four and a half thousand refugees from the Kosovo crisis.
While the focus of this appeal is on FYROM, it is important not to forget the nearly three million people who were uprooted from their homes during more than a decade of turmoil and war in the Balkans. Despite relative peace and stability now in BiH and Croatia, more than 930,000 people have not been able to go home. Most of these displaced come from areas where they formed an ethnic minority and so, still do not feel safe to return.
Both BiH and Croatia are at an important crossroads on the route to recovery. The Government of Croatia has removed discriminatory laws and has taken positive steps in relation to property rights, financing of house reconstruction, socio-economic integration and amnesty issues. These measures have removed many obstacles, resulting in nearly 11,000 registered returns from January to mid-November, bringing the total so far to over 102,000.
BiH also has had encouraging levels of return. Over 43,000 minority and 10,000 cross-border returns were registered between January and July of this year, with the true total much higher than this. But, unfortunately, most of these families now face severe difficulties in finding jobs, accessing health care and other social services.
In BiH, profound political, economic and social problems coupled with decreasing support from the international community continue to frustrate the transition from relief to development. Since the end of the war in 1995, economic progress has been slow and the unemployment rate now stands at between 40 and 80% depending on the region. Security is still a major concern and the security umbrella provided by SFOR and IPTF will be needed for some time to come. The presence of more than one million mines is another obstacle to return and economic recovery. At the same time, the continued needs of over a half a million displaced people within BiH are enormous.
While the humanitarian situation has improved dramatically in Croatia, large-scale socio-economic problems remain. Nationally the unemployment rate is 22% but this can be as high as 90% in areas of return. In many rural areas, the presence of mines is preventing farmers from planting and moving away from food assistance. In addition, Croatia still has some 44,000 IDPs and refugees for whom durable solutions are needed.
Other issues, such as human trafficking and irregular migration have arisen largely as a result of the conflicts in the region. In Croatia, as in BiH, the impacts in terms of loss of life, sexual exploitation, and other human rights violations are devastating.
UN agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina are requesting just under 47 million US$ ($46,826,786) for humanitarian programmes. In Croatia, a little more than $12 million US$ ($12,130,476) is needed to address urgent humanitarian needs for the country's most vulnerable. In both countries, the focus of the appeal is on humanitarian assistance to permit sustainable return, including reconstruction assistance and property restitution. In Bosnia, substantial resources are also needed to address the basic needs of the significant remaining IDP and refugee populations.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)
In FYROM, six months of accelerating conflict has resulted in widespread population displacement and devastated communities. This was followed by three months of stop - start political debate, which has been marred by ceasefire violations, social tensions and growing ethnic division. With the recent ratification by Parliament of the Framework Agreement, optimism has finally emerged that fighting will cease, greater minority rights will be granted and the country will return to normality.
The situation in FYROM does remain volatile. The events of November 11th, including the tragic death of three police officers and the arrest of seven former NLA soldiers, highlight the continued instability and tensions in the country.
Since the signing of the Framework Agreement in August, some 80,000 people have returned to their homes, but over 60,000 wait in Kosovo, southern Serbia and FYROM until it is safe and practical to return. Further progress on the road to peace and stability depends on four major factors. One: Continued political commitment; Two: Security; Three: Human Rights and Freedom of Movement and Four: Continued humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to rebuild fractured communities.
In terms of POLITICAL COMMITMENT, the FYROM government has agreed to greater minority rights, beginning with the signing of the Framework Agreement on August 13th. Implementation has taken time, but just over a week ago, the Parliament reinforced this commitment to peace and co-existence by adopting the significant constitutional changes outlined in the Ohrid Agreement.
However, a lot of work remains to be done, both to translate the Framework Agreement into law and to put the Presidential declaration of amnesty into practice. At this critical juncture, the continuing commitment of the international humanitarian community is essential to provide the necessary guidance and support to keep the political process on track.
The second issue is SECURITY. Many people still do not feel safe to return to villages where they would be an ethnic minority or where they fear being caught up in the middle of renewed conflict. Others are unwilling to return until clear amnesty legislation is in place.
The OSCE and EUMM monitoring missions, protected by NATO's Taskforce Fox, have made a tremendous contribution to providing a sense of security in the conflict areas. However, the mandate for all of these missions will expire at the end of the year and there is an urgent need to prolong their presence as well as to review the scope of their mandates, to ensure that a security vacuum does not emerge.
Also, the majority of the 102 conflict affected villages are thought to be affected by the presence of unexploded ordnance and mines which hampers both return and delivery of humanitarian assistance, and restricts many everyday activities. Through its field presence and work on mine clearance and education, the UN, together with the ICRC is making a vital contribution to restoring basic security in conflict affected areas.
The third key issue is HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT, since one of the most profound impacts of the conflict has been increased mistrust and polarisation and restriction of movement across ethnic lines. This affects access to work, health care, education and other basic services. Education and health care have a double problem when teachers and doctors are unable to travel to jobs, while students and clients are sometimes unable to access these services. A particular concern of the UN is to address this problem rather than see parallel structures develop along ethnic lines.
The removal of many police checkpoints, a decrease in the number of armed groups, and progress on restoring normal policing has resulted in increased freedom of movement over the past few months. This is however, an area where the United Nations together with the International Community must continue to work with the Government, to maintain a field presence and to offer practical assistance such as bus services in problematic areas of return.
The fourth and final point is the importance of continued HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE. People returning must have a roof over their heads and the means to begin to rebuild their lives. As such, one of the core elements of the UN programme is helping to repair homes, schools and clinics that have been damaged by fighting and to restore basic facilities such as water supply. At the human level, there is also important work with children and their families who have been traumatised by the conflict.
Basic support to restart economic activities is also needed. In particular, agricultural and livestock production was seriously disrupted as the majority of the fighting took place in agricultural areas. Farmers are now returning to find their machinery destroyed, livestock killed, fields unplanted - and possibly mined - all of which comes on top of three years of drought.
In conclusion, the humanitarian community remains cautiously optimistic that FYROM will not return to war. We are hopeful that the cycle of violence, ethnic polarisation and human suffering will be broken. However, this can only happen with continued political commitment, with improved security conditions, with respect for human rights and freedom of movement and with substantial humanitarian assistance. The United Nations is playing an essential role in each of these four areas and with the necessary financial contributions will go on to make a real contribution to peace and stability.