17 May 2007 Less than half of some 120,000 ethnic Serbs registered as returnees in Croatia actually live in the country, according to the findings of a just-released survey commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“We estimate that actual returnees account for about 43 percent of the total number of registered returnees,” said the report’s authors, Zagreb University academics Milan Mesic and Dragan Bagic, during a public presentation in the Croatian capital Tuesday attended by the country’s President, Stjepan Mesic, and other dignitaries.
The survey also found that 40 per cent of the registered Serb returnees had settled in the areas – mainly in Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina – where they had sought refuge during the war in the 1990s, but visit Croatia at least once a year. Some 6 per cent reside sporadically in Croatia, while about 11 per cent of the registered returnees have died.
Covering a representative selection of 1,450 registered returnees and conducted between September and December last year with the help of the Croatian Red Cross and the Serb Democratic Forum, the survey also found that some 43 per cent of returnees are aged over 60, while 46 percent are retired. The average age of all returnees is 51, compared to the Croatian average of 39 years.
About a third of returnee Serbs were unemployed, compared to a countrywide average of 17 percent for Croatia. Only 8 per cent were employed or self-employed, while 11 per cent were dependent on humanitarian assistance.
The authors concluded that the most effective way to ensure increased and sustainable return of the Serbs was to develop and implement programmes aimed at revitalizing the economy in areas of return and at tapping the labour and entrepreneurial resources of both the Serb returnees and the majority Croat population.
Wilfried Buchhorn, the UNHCR representative in Croatia, endorsed these conclusions. “Stronger, concerted effort on the national, but also international level is required in order to create better living and employment conditions for the returnees,” he said.
The country’s leadership, meanwhile, pledged to work for the continued return and reintegration of Croatia’s Serb community. “The creation of conditions for the return of all, including the Serbs, is in the best national interest in the full sense of the word,” President Mesic said at the presentation of the survey findings.
“There is no alternative to the process of return, and there should not be any. There is no alternative to coexistence, tolerance and equality of all citizens of this country,” he added.