UN High Commissioner for Refugees seeks assistance for the Balkans

11 June 2001
Ruud Lubbers speaking to the press

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers is visiting the Balkans, where more than 1 million people remain displaced from the conflicts of the 1990s, the UN refugee agency said today.

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the High Commissioner was heartened by a new generation of government officials determined to find solutions for the refugees and the displaced, said Peter Kessler, spokesman for the Geneva-based UNHCR.

The pace of returns to some areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina has begun to accelerate, Mr. Kessler said, with nearly 90,000 minority returns registered in the past 18 months - almost 22,000 of which in the first five months of this year, twice the figure for the same period a year ago. "Each and every one of these individual returnees is an investment in the future of this troubled region," Mr. Lubbers said.

Most returnees are in urgent need of reconstruction assistance, with many living in tents and other makeshift shelters next to their destroyed or damaged homes. Funds are needed for building some 15,000 houses, UNHCR said, and with the large numbers now returning, many could face real hardship this winter -- or perhaps again abandon their homes if they cannot get help. Their success or failure will have a major influence on thousands of others still considering return.

According to UNHCR, bureaucratic foot-dragging and the failure to enact property laws returning homes to their rightful owners constitute major obstacles. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, some 190,000 houses are still to be returned to their pre-war owners.

Mr. Lubbers flew from Sarajevo to Kosovo today. He will go next to Skopje, the capital of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and southern Serbia.


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