The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed a joint declaration by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia to expedite the search for solutions for 74,000 remaining refugees from the Balkans conflict of the 1990s.
The declaration was signed by ministers of foreign affairs of the four countries in Belgrade yesterday, Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
“It has come about through intense efforts by the four countries and is a firm commitment on the part of their respective governments to cooperate at regional and national level in dealing with an enduring problem for this part of Europe,” said Mr. Edwards.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres attended yesterday’s ministerial meeting and witnessed the signing of the declaration, along with the representatives of the European Union, United States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe.
The declaration envisages accelerated provision of civil documentation allowing refugees and returnees to fully enjoy their rights and resume normal lives.
It also includes a regional programme, which will be presented to donors at a conference early next year to seek international support for housing solutions for refugees in collective centres and other vulnerable people, including former tenancy-rights holders.
“UNHCR believes the fulfilment of these commitments will also support the accession of these countries to the European Union,” said Mr. Edwards. “We will remain engaged and strongly committed to supporting the governments of these four countries in closing this refugee displacement chapter.”
The agency is also working with the national authorities on the development of asylum systems and practices that are in line with international and EU standards.
UNHCR led a major refugee assistance effort during the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia in early 1990s. 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. The majority of the refugees have returned to their homes over the past 16 years or have integrated in host communities.