Tuesday, 30 September 2014. PDF Print E-mail
Statement by Minister Dacic at the 65th session of the Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva
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Ivica DacicFirst Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic addressed today the 65th session of the Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.
The Head of Serbian diplomacy expressed his confidence that the first HCR's report on the implementation of the Recommendation concerning status cessation for refugees from Croatia displaced in 1992-1995, would impartially reflect the problems faced by Serbia, especially when it comes to conditions for return to Croatia.
Minister Dacic said that this would provide us all with another opportunity to alleviate the consequences of wrong decisions in a detailed monitoring process and reaffirm our true commitment to the interests of refugees.

"Mr. Chairman,
Mr. High Commissioner,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to address this body playing an extremely important role in the contemporary world, still burdened by crises.

I would also like to thank the High Commissioner for his in-depth presentation of UNHCR activities, which proves that displacement problems require joint response by all of us.

As a country with the largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in protracted displacement in Europe, Serbia understands well the needs of the most vulnerable ones, and as such is most interested in reaching durable and sustainable solutions as soon as possible, under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Mr. Chairman,

As you all know, throughout the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia the Republic of Serbia granted asylum to more than 500 000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the mid-1990s. Regrettably, despite the great efforts that the Republic of Serbia has invested for more than two decades, in cooperation with its partners from the international community and UNHCR, there are still approximately 58 000 people, out of which number as many as 42 000 are from Croatia, with the refugee status.

The Recommendation on status cessation for refugees from Croatia displaced in 1992-1995, which was made early in April 2014, shift an additional burden of resolving the refugee problem onto my country's shoulders. I wish to point out that the Recommendation was made with no adequate consultations and without taking into consideration the position of the country of asylum, i.e. Serbia. Moreover, this was done arbitrarily and unilaterally in a manner uncharacteristic of the decades-long cooperation between Serbia and UNHCR.

The fact that only 18% of refugees from Croatia have returned to that country, and that the number of the realistically sustainable returns has considerably dropped, is in no way an argument in favour of the UNHCR position that the fear of persecution of these persons is no longer "well-founded". This also goes for serious obstacles that these persons still face when it comes to the exercise of their housing rights and pensions, reconstruction of houses, return of the agricultural land, use of script, employment in government institutions, etc. Over the past few years the possibilities to exercise the constitutionally and legally guaranteed rights of the Serbian minority have even worsened in Croatia. The logical outcome is that the vast majority of refugees from Croatia choose local integration in Serbia, since the other form of a durable solution - voluntary return, is essentially not available to them.

Unfortunately, the Recommendation has in no way contributed to the improvement of the situation of refugees from Croatia, over the past six months. Such a conclusion may also be drawn on the basis of the information collected by the refugees' associations from Croatia, which, I believe, is known to you.

However, I am convinced that the first report on the implementation of the Recommendation that UNHCR, at its sole discretion, should submit these days, will point to these problems impartially, especially when it comes to conditions for return to Croatia. In this way, we would all get another chance to alleviate somewhat the consequences of mistaken decisions in the process of thorough monitoring and reaffirm the true commitment to the interests of refugees. Given the importance of this report, the Republic of Serbia therefore considers that there should be no delay, as announced, and that it is necessary to present it to the Member States of the Executive Committee.

Mr. Chairman,

As Chairman of the National Steering Committee of the Regional Housing Programme, I would like to briefly inform you about the activities undertaken for its implementation.

Serbia has so far submitted five project proposals to the Development Bank of the Council of Europe, worth about EUR 88 million, of which four projects have already been approved. The implementation of the first project is underway. The contract with the representatives of the local self-governments, where 200 apartments are to be built, will be signed in a few days along with the deliveries of building material packages.

However, I would like to remind you that the financing of the Regional Housing Programme has not been fully provided and that we are yet to raise together the needed funds. I hope that the long-lasting harmonization of complex administrative procedures is now complete and that all efforts in the future can be put into the actual implementation of projects for the families they are intended for.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the partners, without whom the RHP would be impossible to realize, especially the European Union, the United States, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Turkey, Luxembourg, Slovakia and other donors and international organizations that have provided their expert support.

Mr. Chairman,

The Republic of Serbia is faced with the necessity of solving the very difficult position of approximately 220,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija. During the 15-year presence of the international community, less than 5% of those displaced returned to Kosovo and Metohija, although according to Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999), to create the conditions for the safe and free return is one of the main tasks of the international presence in Kosovo and Metohija and especially UNHCR. Obstacles to sustainable return to Kosovo and Metohija, among other things, are poor security situation, lack of efficient protection of rights, inability to repossess property and use destroyed and usurped property, poor access to public services, inability to use one's mother tongue and the like.

Among the internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, more than 90,000 particularly vulnerable "persons in need" have been identified. I am convinced that by joint efforts we can shortly put an end to their wait for sustainable solutions which has lasted for a decade and a half already.

Mr. Chairman,

The Republic of Serbia, regardless of the difficult economic situation, makes every effort to provide assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons. In addition, in Serbia in the first half of this year, there has been an increased influx of asylum-seekers, mainly from conflict areas in the Middle East and in Africa.

Such a complex situation requires undiminished attention, efficiency and above all solidarity in finding durable solutions for this vulnerable segment of the population. UNHCR and other international partners can continue to count on the partnership of Serbia in realizing the interests of refugees and displaced persons.

Thank you for your attention."