Donors gather in Sarajevo to support regional efforts to end displacement

Briefing Notes, 24 April 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 April 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is in Sarajevo this morning where he is attending an international donor conference aimed at generating funds to support the housing needs of the regions 74,000 highly vulnerable refugees, returnees and displaced people.

The conference is expected to raise up to 500 million Euros to be put into use over a five year period. If successful, the conference will be a turning point for thousands of people in protracted displacement in the four countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia nearly 16 years after the end of the conflict. The needs outlined in the regional housing plan have been identified by the respective governments through a consultative process supported by UNHCR, EU, the OSCE and the US. Our teams played a specific role in setting out the vulnerability criteria to ensure that the neediest get help. Part of the funding will come from the concerned countries.

The break-up of former Yugoslavia cost the lives of some 200,000 people and widespread destruction in many cities and villages. 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. However, those who remain in displacement, often in abject poverty and in dire living conditions, are some of the most vulnerable and socially deprived people.

The donor conference in Sarajevo is the next step in the process of finding solutions. Following the Sarajevo declaration in January 2005, the situation was given a new impetus when the High Commissioner identified it as one of the five priority protracted refugee situations globally in 2008.

In November last year UNHCR welcomed the joint declaration of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia. A result of intense efforts by the four countries, this declaration is a firm political, legal and socio-economic commitment on the part of the respective governments to cooperate at regional and national level in dealing with an enduring refugee problem for this part of Europe. The regional housing programme and its work plan were integral parts of this important declaration.

Following the donor conference, the proposed housing solutions should be implemented in the next three to five years. UNHCR, and in some countries OSCE, will monitor this crucial stage of the process and will remain fully engaged and committed to support the governments of the four countries in closing this refugee displacement chapter. We hope that todays donor conference will yield adequate support for this humanitarian effort.

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