Statement by Acting Assistant Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the 10th meeting of the Regional Housing Programme Steering Board:
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my honour and pleasure to open the 10th meeting of the Regional Housing Programme Steering Committee.
This year we are marking an anniversary of sorts, namely, the 5th anniversary of the Donors’ Conference held in Sarajevo, which announced the allocation of grants for the implementation of the Programme. The funding collected at both regional and national levels, albeit significant, are but a part of the estimated total required for the full realization of the Programme and ensuring permanent housing solutions for 27,000 most adversely affected refugee families, of whom more than a half are residing in the Republic of Serbia. So far, over EUR 100 million was earmarked for our country for the purpose of meeting housing needs of almost 5,000 refugee families. New challenges are ahead of us, seeing that it is estimated that approximately 7,000 refugee families remain in need of permanent housing solutions, which should be carried out in the following four years, through both the RHP funding and the national budget.
Allow me to share with you the information that this afternoon the RHP Fund Assembly of Donors approved a new sub-project to Serbia, eighth in a row, amounting to EUR 19.9 million. This sub-project will be largely financed through the Regional Housing Programme Fund, and the Republic of Serbia will make an in-kind contribution amounting to EUR 1.9 million, by providing land and facilities. The 8th sub-project will be used to finance 358 housing units, 30 prefabricated houses, 250 packages of construction material and 300 village houses, which totals 938 housing solutions for those who had fled the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as refugees. This is excellent news, encouraging us further to continue the implementation of the Programme, and I would like to thank the Assembly of Donors, which demonstrated that it recognized the needs of refugees by approving another sub-project.
Time will be the best judge of what we have accomplished so far: a lot of effort was put in, from the preparation of the Programme, collecting the funding and developing mechanisms, in order to embark on concrete realization which has been in full swing. A major contribution to this was made by Serbia’s two-decade long experience in addressing refugee problems as well as the implementation of good practices developed in cooperation with the European Union, UNHCR, OSCE and the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, to which I express my gratitude, them being instrumental in achievements accomplished so far in the implementation of the Programme. I would like to thank the other donors as well, significant contributors to the Regional Housing Programme Fund and to the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), which manages the RHP Fund, as reliable partners making sure that the RHP achieves optimum results. It is our hope that financial resources from regional IPA funds will continue to be earmarked for the Regional Housing Programme, considering the significance of the process regional character, its political and humanitarian dimension and the necessity that the involved parties carry out a continuous cooperation as the Programme is being implemented.
I would also like to thank the competent institutions of the Republic of Serbia, the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, including the relevant local authorities, for successfully overcoming all major and minor problems, owing to their selfless efforts, cooperation and non-red-tape thinking, as well as for demonstrating the power of teamwork.
The Regional Housing Programme currently represents one of the biggest construction sites in the Republic of Serbia and the region. In order give additional impetus to the Programme, aware of the importance of enhancing the visibility of Programme realization, only this year I have attended seven events that the media covered to mark various housing solutions being realized in different manners. I will make my best effort to respond to every invitation in the future as well, for we must not forget the fact by which we are bound – that several thousand families in the region, the majority of whom in Serbia, need to be delivered homes through the Regional Housing Programme.
I believe no one has any doubt as to whether we will carry out the Programme successfully. Furthermore, bearing in mind the complexity of the realization of the Programme in Serbia, from geographic as well as programming aspects, let me recall that it is important to honour the set formal deadlines for the execution of the Programme, but also be realistic in defining these deadlines, in the context of the complexity of its implementation. We owe this to the future end-users who are not able to choose when to enter their new homes.
Provision of housing units as such certainly cannot be a permanent solution, unless the viability of the Programme is ensured, i.e., the infrastructure, social and economic conditions for a sustainable return or integration of the refugees. This is a significant issue to which we attach great importance, working on it for many years. Therefore, aiming to reach a comprehensive solution, we believe that it is important that all participants in the Programme consistently implement all aspects of the Programme itself as well as of the Sarajevo Process. A successful implementation of the Programme and a quality cooperation between the countries in the region add more weight to the importance of the Regional Housing Programme. There were moments when worrying messages could be heard, but I hope that this period is behind us and that we will manage to jointly demonstrate that we can, through dedicated work and cooperation, successfully resolve open issues of the past, contribute to the reconciliation process, the stability and prosperity of the region. I hope that we will persevere in consistently implementing the Sarajevo Process and the Programme, which also include full realization of acquired rights, including the right to a pension. This is an important integral part of the Programme’s sustainability, also reflected in the report prepared by the UNHCR and the OSCE concerning this meeting of the Steering Board.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia sets aside significant funds and makes efforts to provide assistance to all of these persons, but there is no simple solution for the problem of displacement. However, the example of the Regional Housing Programme shows us that it is possible to find a path to the solution, if there is a good will. This is a very important message, because, in addition to refugees from the former SFRY, staying in the Republic of Serbia are also over 200,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, and the conditions for their sustainable return have not been met even after 18 years have passed. It is our hope that the coming period will bring about positive developments concerning this issue, and that we will be able to offer solutions to the internally displaced persons, while exercising their rights which they must not be deprived of. A successful implementation of the Regional Housing Programme gives us all hope that solutions do exist.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Although there is a concern that the global migrant and refugee crisis could divert the donors’ attention away from the current humanitarian needs, I am deeply convinced that the resolution of the protracted displacement should be worked on in parallel with the response to the ongoing crisis. We live in tumultuous times, being exposed to numerous global challenges and we have a moral obligation to be humane and never forget to offer help to all those who were forced to leave their homes. This applies to both the refugees from the former SFRY, internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija, and to the current situation of migrants and refugees, to whom we endeavour to make the temporary stay in our country easier. Even though their status is different, all of them are, for the most part, facing similar challenges on their often dangerous and unsafe way to security and better living opportunities. I am particularly proud of the humane approach showed by the citizens and the Government, who did their best to ease to the refugees and migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East their difficult situation which has not even once been used for daily political ends. Such a humane approach is a result of the experiences with displacement in the previous two decades, which left a permanent mark on the countries in the region. The consequences of these events can still be felt today, and the Regional Housing Programme has an important role to play in alleviating them.
As a country with a long-term experience and hundreds of thousands of refugees who found shelter in Serbia during conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as well as over 200000 internally displaced persons from the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, we stand ready to contribute to global efforts in addressing these issues. The Republic of Serbia also supported the adoption of the New York Declaration in the United Nations General Assembly in September 2016, which represents a crucial step forward, along with other global agreements dealing with refugees and migration, the adoption of which is expected in 2018. The consultations that are underway in New York and Geneva are initial concrete steps towards their achievement. We believe that the Regional Housing Programme can serve as a good example of cooperation between host countries and refugees’ countries of origin, together with international partners and donors, both through the sharing our experiences concerning protracted displacement challenges, and also in the context of the best practices in the resolution of displacement problems.
Finally, I would like to thank all the participants of the meeting, wishing us at the same time success in the future work on the full implementation of the Regional Housing Programme.”