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Closing Remarks by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the Peace Implementation Council, Geneva, 27 June 2002

Speeches and statements

Closing Remarks by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the Peace Implementation Council, Geneva, 27 June 2002

27 June 2002
Humanitarian Issues Working Group

(Check against delivery)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Tomorrow is 28 June. Exactly ten years ago, on 28 June 1992, President Mitterrand of France made the famous first flight into the besieged city of Sarajevo in the early days of the Bosnian war. Looking back over the last ten years, it is clear that the international community's record in the former Yugoslavia has been a mixed one. But no one should under-estimate the significance of the event that took place on 28 June 1992. It was a signal that the international community was not going to allow the unfolding tragedy in the region to be ignored. A week after this first flight, UNHCR began flying food and other emergency relief into Sarajevo, in what became the longest running humanitarian airlift in history.

We have come a long way since then. Today's meeting - the last meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group - has demonstrated how much progress has been made in building peace and enabling those who were uprooted to return. Large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people have gone home, and many more will do so within the next two years. The key message to be taken from this meeting is that we must do everything possible to see this process through. We must persevere to ensure that the international community honours the goals to which it committed itself under the Dayton Peace Agreement, Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Framework Agreement for fYROM.

During our discussions, several delegations echoed my assessment of the meaningful progress on minority returns, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to a lesser extent in Croatia, as well as the progress on returns to fYROM. At the same time, many of you noted that we continue to face a many challenges in the region.

Many speakers welcomed the renewed political commitment to facilitate returns, as illustrated by the undertakings made by the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia in the second phase of the Stability Pact's Agenda for Regional Action. As some delegates emphasized, commitment at the local or municipal level is particularly important. I join many delegations in highlighting again that the success of the property restitution process in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia will be a crucial test. In fYROM, I share the view of many of you that continued progress on improving security and in building up trust between the different ethnic groups is essential.

There was broad acceptance of UNHCR's assessment that the time has come to initiate a scaling back of humanitarian relief activities across the region. I welcome the general endorsement of UNHCR's approach to phase-out its humanitarian assistance programmes over the coming two years. By then, UNHCR will have discharged most of its responsibilities to co-ordinate the return of refugees under Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement and Annex C of the Framework Agreement for fYROM. I also join some delegations in signalling that, while we talk of phasing out, the door to return must stay open.

We heard many times today that sustainable return will depend fundamentally upon speeding up economic and social integration. Many speakers welcomed the National Strategy of the Government of Serbia to find solutions for refugees and the internally displaced. With support from the donor community, UNHCR can continue to help refugees and returnees with targeted humanitarian assistance and quick impact projects. However, for returns to be sustainable, our efforts must be complemented by much larger interventions to re-build houses, re-start the economy and create jobs.

I join many delegations in acknowledging the efforts of the Stability Pact, which are crucial in ensuring a smooth transition from humanitarian assistance to economic development and recovery. The Agenda for Regional Action provides an excellent road map for future action.

Turning to the situation in Kosovo, there was universal agreement that efforts to enable displaced minorities to return must continue to be given priority. There was general recognition that inter-ethnic tensions and violence continue to pose obstacles to the return of displaced minorities, requiring continued efforts by the international community to address this. I welcomed the endorsement of many speakers of UNHCR's ongoing efforts, together with UNMIK, to promote conditions for return. But I can only reiterate Michael Steiner's plea: if you want minority returns to happen, then you must provide the necessary financial and political support.

Let me reiterate that UNHCR urgently need US$ 4 million to avoid the suspension of our operations in Croatia and Kosovo at the end of July this year. We heard from a number of delegations that the suspension of our operations in Croatia and Kosovo would be premature and would leave a major gap. To prevent this from this happening, I would urge you to discuss this issue with your Governments to see if more funds can be made available.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I bring this last meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group to a close, I would like to express sincere appreciation for the generous support that Governments have provided for UNHCR's humanitarian programmes in the region over the years. I would also like to thank the many partners - both national and international - with whom we have worked and continue to work in the region.

The successful reintegration of returning refugees and internally displaced people will inevitably take time after so much bitter conflict. It is clear, however, from the many positive developments in the region, that there is hope. Much has been achieved, and there is much to build on. It is vital now that the international community maintains its support - both financial and political - to see the process through.

Thank you.