Minister Dacic at the formal opening ceremony of awarding contracts for provision of construction material to refugee families

Address by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the formal opening ceremony of awarding contracts for provision of construction material to refugee families.

“Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We gathered here today to present contracts granting one-time non-refundable assistance in construction material to 302 refugee families, within Subproject 3 of the Regional Housing Programme.

Subproject 3, amounting to a total value of over EUR 13.5 million, comprises four components – construction of flats, delivery of construction material packages, providing financial assistance for purchasing village houses, and building prefabricated houses. The construction of 235 flats in Belgrade’s neighbourhood of Ovca is well underway and is planned to be finished by the end of the year. Thus far, 69 families were already provided housing in village houses, while project design development for 49 prefabricated houses, for which I already awarded contracts in March this year, is in progress. Today, additional 302 families will receive construction material to repair, adapt and finish construction of their unfinished houses.

Resolving the refugee issue is a long and complex process. I believe that we all agree that the refugees who had been forced to flee their homes throughout the former SFRY at the end of last century deserve at least some certainty in their lives and a renewed dignity, after over 20 years of refuge and conditions no human being deserves in the 21st century. This is why, the Government of the Republic of Serbia, together with its partners, remains strongly committed to and engaged in the realization of the Regional Housing Programme, which will secure a roof over head to 17,000 families in Serbia.

So far, a total of 1018 housing solutions has been delivered through the Regional Housing Programme – 485 packages of construction material, 439 village and 94 prefabricated houses. As I participate in ceremonies of awarding construction material and prefabricated houses, foundation stone laying, I am pleased to be able to proudly say that intensified work has been in progress throughout Serbia. I am glad this is so, for 12 years into the Programme and 5 years after the Donor Conference, we are witnessing the fruits of persistent labour and work done by the competent institutions and international organizations, including the wholehearted support of our collaborators on the ground. I am proud of the concrete results achieved in the implementation of the Programme because they will truly make a difference in the lives of families and individuals, our end-users, who will soon be in their new homes embarking on a new chapter in their lives. I would like to thank them for their patience and persistence and wish them the best of luck.

The Government of the Republic of Serbia has put in considerable funding and efforts to help all displaced persons. This is a complex task, seeing that in addition to refugees from the former SFRY, the Republic of Serbia is also host to over 200,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija. Even after 18 years, conditions for their sustainable return have not been met, while the perpetrators of crimes against the Serb population of Kosovo and Metohija have yet to be passed on sentences they deserve. Instead of convictions of the perpetrators, families of the victims and Serbian people are left wanting for justice as they remember their lost loved ones and ancestral homes burned down.

We must not forget that the provision of housing solutions itself is not enough – the aim is to ensure sustainability of the Programme. This primarily implies social and economic conditions being met for sustainable return or integration of refugees in the society. Therefore I find that full implementation of the Sarajevo Process by all the participants in the Programme is very important. A successful implementation of the Programme and good cooperation between the countries of the region only add to the significance of the Regional Housing Programme. This is why particular concerns are raised by the fact that an increasingly anti-Serb climate, rising number of incidents against the Serb national minority, evident marginalization of minority rights, and the lack of condemnation of the said phenomena by top officials of the Republic of Croatia, as well as the international community, have been noted in Croatia over the past several years. This is a strong impediment to the return and so is the lack of Croatia’s readiness to address the issues such as the acquired rights and pensions earned by yet unpaid to Serb refugees from Croatia as well as the issue of their property. Instead of a constructive approach and solutions, the Croatian side has, through the newest, proposed amendments to the Law on Real Estate Tax, even indicated possible taxation of the Serbs’ empty houses and burned plots, their weekend cottages and facilities for rest and recreation.

The Regional Housing Programme must serve as an example of a good practice for resolving the issue of displaced persons and overcoming conflicts and open issues of the past in all countries, also contributing to the reconciliation process and regional stability and prosperity.

We are all aware that we are dealing with limited resources while the needs of the refugees affected are extensive. The number of applications submitted vastly surpasses the number of available housing solutions. For this reason we need to invest joint efforts to ensure sufficient funding for the settlement of housing issue for those affected the most.

I would like to reiterate the enormous significance of the Programme and the Sarajevo Process. It goes beyond state borders and demonstrates that cooperation and joint efforts, if there is good will, can yield sustainable and durable solutions to cater for refugee needs. It shows the power of solidarity and understanding, but also the importance of being flexible. In this context, I take this occasion to thank again all those who have recognized its importance and contributed to its development and progress – the European Union, the United States of America, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Turkey, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and all other donors, hoping I have left no-one out. We see as particularly important the support extended by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the OSCE in the implementation of the Programme, while the Council of Europe Development Bank played an instrumental role in managing the Trust Fund.

I have to reiterate that the narrative about the Great Serbian aggression on Croatia is a big lie. The film about refugees we have seen shows the magnitude of the fabrication concerning the alleged Great Serbian aggression. None of you had gone from Serbia to wreak havoc in Benkovac, Zagreb or elsewhere. This is a flat lie the international community must not turn a blind eye to. In the early 1990s more than half a million Serbs lived in Croatia, and today, some twenty years later, there are a mere 180,000 of them left there. You were persecuted and forced out of your ancestral homes and the international community must not remain blind to this fact.

I am proud of all the end users and participants in the implementation of the Regional Housing Programme and I hope that the period to come will see us taking part in many similar events.

Thank you.”