News 20 Jun 13

Serbia’s Wartime Refugees Still Awaiting New Homes

Eighteen years after the war, there are still more than 50,000 refugees without permanent homes in Serbia, while money to solve their problems is running out, the UN says.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

In a speech to mark World Refugee Day on Thursday, Eduardo Arboleda, head of the UN refugee agency in Serbia, said that the biggest problem that remains to be solved in the country is finding homes for up to 5,000 refugees who are still living in ‘collective centres’ – rundown temporary accommodation with poor facilities.

“There are too many problems and [too] little money. There are over 45 million refugees in the world. We are now facing donor fatigue, limited aid and much bigger refugee crises [elsewhere in the world],” Arboleda said.

There are currently 54,247 refugees in Serbia who fled the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and who still need to be found new homes, according to the Serbian deputy commissioner for refugees, Svetlana Velimirovic.

“If we resolve the issues of refugees at this pace, it will take 17 years to permanently take care of this problem,” Velimirovic said.

The EU is working to help resolve the situation, said Luca Bianconi, head of the political section at the EU delegation to Serbia.

“Since the year 2000, we have donated over 64 million euro for refugee and IDP [internally displaced people] projects in Serbia and we have committed another 230 million euro for the Regional Housing Programme to solve the refugee question in the region,” Bianconi said.

The Regional Housing Project is aiming to find homes for 27,000 refuge families across the ex-Yugoslav region.

It is backed by 583 million euro of donations raised last year at a conference in Sarajevo organised jointly by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia.

During the 1990s wars, more than half the population of Bosnia - around 2.2 million people - was displaced or become refugees. In Croatia, the number of displaced people was 550,000, and in Serbia, 540,000.

“In the next five years, with the Regional Housing Programme, we will resolve housing for 16,700 refugees… but the issue of internally displaced people from Kosovo remains the biggest concern,” Velimirovic added.

According to the Serbian commission, 250,000 people fled from Kosovo following the war in 1999. 

The UN refugee agency’s data says that in 2009, 700 people returned to Kosovo, while in 2010, the number was 800.

“Since then, the number of those who want to return seriously dropped. This year 54 people returned, while last month, for the first time we didn’t have anyone who returned to Kosovo,” Arboleda said.

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