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Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting to Adopt the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, Cologne, 10 June 1999

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Remarks by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting to Adopt the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, Cologne, 10 June 1999

10 June 1999

Foreign Minister Fischer, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the German Presidency for inviting me here. In the last few years, UNHCR has been intensely involved in the Balkans, responding to countless crises of forced human displacement, and the plight of millions of refugees. We therefore warmly welcome your initiative.

The most immediate challenge is to put an end to the Kosovo refugee tragedy. Since the spring of last year, well over 850,000 people have fled the province. Developments in the last few days, in particular the welcome information of NATO Secretary-General Solana, indicate that their return may soon be possible. The deployment of an international civil and military presence and the effective maintenance of law and order, are essential pre-conditions for repatriation. I hope they will be fulfilled soon. In the meantime, all countries that have generously extended protection to refugees should continue to do so. Nobody is to be repatriated against his or her will. The voluntary character of return must therefore be respected by host governments. Let me assure you that UNHCR stands prepared to coordinate repatriation. A team of senior staff is ready to be deployed to the province as soon as security permits.

It is also essential to ensure the protection of the Serbian and other minorities in Kosovo. We must not create refugees by returning refugees. I am greatly concerned that the repatriation of ethnic Albanians may prompt the Serbs to leave the province, most of them to areas where infrastructure is severely damaged. We shall face, in that case, another, difficult refugee crisis.

The Kosovo crisis has had a very wide and deep impact in the region. You have been discussing its economic consequences. From my perspective, I shall ask you to focus also on how it has affected other situations of forced human displacement. About 1.7 million people from countries of the former Yugoslavia continue to live away from their homes. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, for example, still hosts over half a million ethnic Serbs refugees - conditions in the country, however, have deteriorated so much that some refugees have decided to return to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We must seize this opportunity and re-focus on displacement in the former Yugoslavia as a whole. I hope the Stability Pact will allow us to take a comprehensive regional approach, concerning both Serbia and countries where refugees return to. The main problem today is the lack of economic incentives for those who return. Any framework promoting stability in the Balkans should take this fundamental fact into account. There will be no stability in South-Eastern Europe without a solution for all refugees, and no sustainable solution without economic opportunities.

The potential for new displacement in the region continues to be very serious - I think with concern of situations such as Vojvodina and the Sandzjak. Also, the Kosovo crisis has dangerously affected the economic, social, ethnic and political environment in Albania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro. It is imperative to learn from the lessons of Bosnia and Croatia, and avoid the gap between the generous flow of humanitarian aid and longer-term development assistance, including bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and private investment.

Ladies and Gentlemen, what lies ahead is an immense challenge, and also a great opportunity. We thought the century would end with war in Europe. This tragic conclusion may have been averted. But although efforts to stop war may soon succeed, we must not stop there. We must continue to work towards a broader goal - to achieve a lasting peace. We therefore look forward to the adoption and implementation of the Stability Pact as a crucial step towards a peaceful South Eastern Europe, free of war and of refugees.