I would like to thank Mr. Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for his stand on behalf of the displaced people around the world and the UNHCR staff for their dedicated work, often in very difficult circumstances, in this important field.
A country on the so-called Western-Balkans Route, Serbia has made a significant contribution to mitigating the plight of more than 700 000 refugees and migrants transiting through or seeking refuge in the country in the past year and a half. The Route, Mr. Chairman, may be considered closed since last March, yet the number of refugees and migrants in, as well as their impact on, the countries along it speak otherwise. 5 000 of them are in my country alone, most of them living in reception and asylum centres. And that number will not decrease any time soon as smuggler groups continue to be active and crossings are increasingly being made along less trodden paths, away from regular border crossings. The capacities of the country to receive all those in need are being strained and international assistance is not forthcoming, which is of particular concern at the time of the approaching winter. And while it will not build walls and fence itself off, my country cannot afford to provide shelter to stranded men, women and children forever: a comprehensive solution should be sought to share the burden in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Serbia had accepted and accommodated the people forced to leave their homes much before the current wave of migrants and refugees flooded its roads: hundreds of thousands were expelled from certain parts of the former Yugoslavia or were internally displaced from Serbia’s southern Province of Kosovo and Metohija. Sometimes for a quarter of a century, they have experienced a hard and difficult life in protracted displacement. And although my country has rendered generous help and assistance to alleviate their situation, efforts should continue to be made to find permanent solutions.
The situation of over 200 000 internally displaced persons from or in Kosovo and Metohija has not improved since 1999. After 17 years, only less than 5 per cent of them have returned to the Province, a half of which in sustainable returns. Dr. Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, who recently made a follow-up visit to Serbia, said in his press statement after the visit that ”All durable solutions for IDPs should remain as options open to them, and must be de-linked from political processes”. We hope that these messages will reach those responsible, just as we believe that better cooperation and coordination between the UNHCR presences in Belgrade and Priština, as well as with the relevant local authorities will help keep these options alive and facilitate both return and local integration.
The Regional Housing Programme, part of the 2005 Sarajevo process of finding durable solutions for refugees, is a positive example of cooperation in our region. Four countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, alongside their international partners and bilateral donors, endorsed it in 2012 with the aim of providing housing and durable solutions to refugees. After a period of complex preparations that lasted for almost two years, the Programme was implemented in 2014 and has begun to bear fruit. I take this opportunity to thank the donors of the Programme and call on the international donor community to help us reach the aim of providing 27 000 housing solutions to 75 000 people in the four countries of the region. As a country with the largest number of refugees and the most complex implementation of the Programme, Serbia is fully committed to the success of the Programme and believes that there should be no formal deadlines for its implementation.
There is no purely administrative solution for the refugee problem. That is why Serbia did not endorse the UNHCR Recommendation of April 2014 on the refugee status cessation for refugees from Croatia who fled that country during the 1991-1995 conflict. The latest UNHCR Third Progress Report of August this year gives us cause to believe that we were right. We shall continue to do our part, as we did years before the UNHCR Recommendation was issued and decide on the cessation of the refugee status on an individual basis, providing in that way for the possibility of the refugees’ local integration in Serbia. We expect that the country of origin that endorsed the 2014 UNHCR Recommendation wholeheartedly will take note of the Third Progress Report, follow up on its findings and recommendations and provide a secure environment for sustainable returns and respect the rights of its citizens displaced during 1991-1995, including their pension and property rights.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and his staff once again for the tireless efforts they continue to invest in addressing the current refugee crisis. I would also like to re-iterate the commitment of my country to cooperating, continually and constructively, with them in the quest for solutions to the difficult situation of the refugees and IDPs in my country in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding.