Guterres during the signature of Belgrade DeclarationOfficials from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro signed a joint declaration in Belgrade, Serbia (November 8), to close down refugee centers and provide housing for some 74,000 people displaced by the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Representatives from the UN, EU and US attending the event welcomed the declaration by the former warring parties and pledged international support at a donors’ conference to be held in 2012 to raise the 500 million euros needed to implement the five-year resettlement plan.  

“We are fully aware that in the current global economic crisis this is going to be an overwhelming task indeed,” said Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, warning that the effort would fail without these funds.

The 500 million euros will be needed to provide homes for tens of thousands of people displaced when their homes were destroyed in the Serb-directed ethnic conflicts that erupted in Croatia and later in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1991 and 1995.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres urged the international community to come forward and the US and EU representatives pledged technical expertise and financial support.

Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UNHCR, later told reporters in Geneva that the UN will remain “engaged and strongly committed to supporting the governments of these four countries in closing this refugee displacement chapter".

According to the UN at least two million people were uprooted by the violence which created the largest refugee crisis in Europe since WWII.  UNHCR said that most have either returned to their homes in the past 16 years or become integrated in countries of refuge.  There are concerns, however, that money may not resolve the problem for refugees reluctant to return to areas where they are now an ethnic and often unwelcome minority.

“In no other post-conflict country have resources been so generously channeled to facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes,” notes a recent report by the US Institute of Peace. “Tens of thousands of families have found it difficult, if not impossible, to go home and have not done so for both political and economic reasons,” due to hostile reception in once ethnically mixed communities, now divided by the war.

(Photo © DR)