31 January 2005 Three Balkan countries agreed today to bring a genuine and successful close to the refugee chapter in southeastern Europe by the end of 2006, through either voluntary return or local integration in a process that the United Nations refugee agency will actively assist.
In a bid to write the final epilogue to the worst violence in Europe since World War II, which displaced well over a million people, the ministers responsible for refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro attended the “3x3 Initiative” conference in Sarajevo with three key international organizations – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU).
“Significant progress has been achieved by the concerned governments in their respective countries,” UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane told the conference, held a decade after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord in 1995 that ended hostilities in the former Yugoslavia.
He recalled that in November 1995, when the three countries met in Dayton, Ohio, nearly half the estimated population in Bosnia and Herzegovina had been forcibly displaced as refugees or internally displaced persons. Since then, more than 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons have exercised their right to return.
Significant progress has also been achieved in returns to the neighbouring countries, with a third of all refugees originating from Croatia returning over the years. This leaves an estimated 300,000 or more refugees remaining in the three countries, he noted.
Ongoing efforts to re-register the remaining refugee population in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, fully supported by UNHCR, indicate at this stage that the refugee population still in need of a durable solution may be much smaller than assumed, perhaps half of current estimates.
Mr. Morjane stressed that it would be an illusion to believe that all refugees from the region will eventually return home, since many by now have acquired citizenship elsewhere and become productive members of their new countries.