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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Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie met with forcibly displaced people on April 5, 2010 during her first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, called for steps to end the continued suffering of these victims of the Bosnian War after hearing their harrowing tales and seeing their grim living conditions.

Jolie was clearly moved by the spirit - and the ordeal - of the people she met and she pledged to highlight their case. Most of the people she talked to have been living in exile since the end of the 1992-1995 conflict. Jolie visited collective centres in the towns of Gorazde and Rogatica, where the inhabitants lack basic services such as running water.

The actress spent some time with a group of women who were raped or tortured during the war. Their tales left a deep impression on her. She also met a family of refugee returnees who were still waiting to move into their village home near the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad.

Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

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