Minister Dacic attending the 68th session of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva

Statement by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the 68th Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees held today in Geneva:

“Mr. Chairman,
Mr. High Commissioner,
Honourable Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the past two years, the Executive Committee sessions have been unfolding in specific circumstances. The current refugee and migrant situation is complex and calls for unabated attention, efficiency and, above all, solidarity of all relevant actors, not only in providing emergency humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants in the current crisis, but also in seeking and finding durable solutions for persons in protracted displacement.

I believe that we have all made our contribution by supporting the “New York Declaration”, adopted last September, as an essential step towards the resolution of this issue. Faced with the most massive movement of population ever since the Second World War, the United Nations Member States adopted, at this meeting, a political declaration on refugees and migrants, envisaging a number of steps to be taken in the period ahead, to the effect of finding sustainable solutions for a large number of displaced persons across the world and mitigating the current refugee and migrant crisis, as well as negotiating and adopting by 2018, separate agreements concerning refugees and migrants. I am confident that the International Organization for Migration will give the UN system a new quality in the global perception of the complex issue of mixed migratory movements.

Both of these agreements are equally important, since refugees and migrants – despite the difference in their status, usually face similar challenges along their, more often than not, dangerous and unpredictable journey to better living opportunities. One of the biggest challenges is how to prevent smuggling and trafficking in human beings and explore ways and means of establishing regular migration flows, beneficial to both the countries of origin, as well as those of destination. This task should be seen within the framework of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The Republic of Serbia has supported and welcomed the adoption of the New York Declaration by the United Nations General Assembly and the signing of the Agreement between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, because it believes that only coordinated action and joint efforts, both on the part of international organizations and all UN Member States, can bring about essential progress in addressing the refugee and migrant crisis, as it is not a geographically confined but a global phenomenon. The ongoing consultations on reaching a Global Compact on refugees and migrants are initial concrete steps towards this end.

There is no doubt that in dealing with this major issue it is necessary to be aware of the root causes underlying the movement of population, such as the conflict in Syria, fragile situation in the Middle East region, series of conflicts in Africa, coupled with poverty, hopelessness and political instability in many developing countries across the globe. Therefore, we believe that putting an end to the current conflicts, and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda are crucial to finding a solution to global displacement.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since mid-2015, Serbia has been in the very centre of the so-called Western Balkans migration route transited by all migrants on their way from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other turbulent regions to the countries of Western and Northern Europe, totalling more than 900,000 people. The Western Balkans route was officially closed in March 2016, after an agreement had been reached at the EU – Turkey Summit. The number of persons in transit was significantly reduced, resulting in their lengthier stays in the territory of transiting countries, including Serbia – thus acting as a significant burden on the available capacities. Serbia actively urges that a single solution be found both on the European, as well as the global level, since this is not a problem within geographic confines but a phenomenon of global scale, unprecedented in the post-WWII period. Sight should not be lost of the fact that the huge influx of refugees and migrants to the countries of Europe, within a short space of time, has made the local communities along the migration route incapable of quickly absorbing this inflow, giving at the same time rise to increased xenophobia and resentment of migrants, and invigorating the right-wing supporters in many European countries.

As a transit country, Serbia has put a lot of effort into both human and financial resources to manage the refugee and migrant crisis. The Government of the Republic of Serbia has demonstrated its responsibility when providing adequate reception, temporary accommodation, healthcare, as well as when assisting these people with meals and medicines, or when providing them with all information relevant to the asylum procedure, while fully observing their human rights and respecting international standards. In addition to meeting bare assistance needs, reception centres also have on their premises kindergartens, rooms for mothers and children, and free internet corners. The centres host and organize numerous creative and practical workshops, foreign language classes, while primary schoolchildren have been enabled to attend school regularly all across Serbia, starting from September this year. I would like to thank international organizations, primarily UNHCR, UNICEF and IOM, for their unreserved assistance and for their great contribution to finding the best possible solutions for refugees and migrants, on a daily basis.

Mr. Chairman,

The fact that the human and positive attitude of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia towards the migrants and refugees coming from conflict areas, sympathizing with the misery they are going through, is the result of Serbia’s first-hand experience with a large number of displaced persons in the 1990s, who found sanctuary in Serbia. The Government and the citizens of the Republic of Serbia have shown a high level of humaneness, empathy and awareness that it is necessary to provide assistance to those in need, as recognized both by the refugees and migrants themselves, and by the international community.

The issue of unfolding migratory movements in Serbia must be viewed in a broader context, having in mind the fact that, unlike the other countries along the refugee and migrant routes in Europe, Serbia continues to face the problem of protracted displacement dating back to the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the territories of the former Yugoslavia found shelter in Serbia, including the two hundred thousand IDPs driven out of Kosovo and Metohija in 1999.

Experience has taught us that there is no such a thing as a simple administrative remedy to fix the problem of refugees. Therefore, we stand ready to contribute to the Global Compact on Refugees, both by sharing our experiences relevant to the challenges of protracted displacement, and with regard to the best practice examples in dealing with the displacement-related problems. In this context, I believe that the Regional Housing Programme, implemented by four countries from our region, in cooperation with the European Commission, UNHCR, OSCE, CoE Development Bank and other partners and donors, can serve as a good example of cooperation between the host country and the refugees’ country of origin. Serbia attaches great importance to the regional process of addressing the refugee problem, including their needs and full respect of their rights, just as it attaches importance to the full implementation of the Regional Housing Programme. This process is important both in terms of settlement of the refugee problem, and of the regional reconciliation process.

So far, the Regional Housing Programme in Serbia has provided 1,018 housing solutions: 485 construction material packages, 439 village and 94 prefabricated houses. Recently, on 1 September 2017, we provided one-off grant aid in the form of construction material to 302 refugee families within the RHP Sub-project 3. I am glad to see twelve years after the launching of the RHP and five years after the Donor’s Conference, the fruits of the pain-staking work and efforts of the competent institutions and international organizations, with the wholehearted support of field staff. I am really proud of the concrete results in the RHP implementation, because they will surely bring changes into the lives of families and individuals who are RHP end-users and who will soon live in their new homes and begin a completely new chapter of their existence. Of particular importance to us was the support of the UNHCR and the OSCE in the RHP implementation, while the role played by the Council of Europe Development Bank was irreplaceable in the management of the Trust Fund.

In this context, Serbia did not follow the UNHCR Recommendation of April 2014 concerning status cessation for refugees from Croatia displaced in 1992-1995. The fact that the refugees from Croatia, to this day, continue to face serious obstacles in the exercise of their housing rights and pensions, reconstruction of homes, return of their agricultural land, use of script, employment in governmental institutions, etc. supports our position that the Recommendation was made before time and without consultation with all concerned. We are further concerned about an increasing number of incidents, discrimination and hate speech against persons belonging to the Serbian minority in Croatia, including the returnees. Seeing that the Recommendation will become effective in early 2018, there is a justified concern that its implementation at this particular moment could jeopardize the implementation of the Regional Housing Programme itself, and I would like to believe that this is not in anyone’s interest. Nevertheless, it is our hope that the period ahead, with the readiness for cooperation shown by all, will see this issue resolved, as we believe that the sustainability and realization of the Regional Housing Programme and of the Sarajevo Process are important not only for the states of the region, but globally as well.

Mr. Chairman,

Finally, I recall once again that after as many as 18 years of the international community’s presence in Kosovo Metohija, out of 200,000 internally displaced persons fewer than 5% of them have returned, of these only a half realized sustainable returns. I also recall that under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, creating conditions for a safe and sustainable return of the displaced persons is one of the main tasks of the international presences in Kosovo and Metohija. Among other things, obstacles to sustainable return include bad economic and security conditions; lack of effective protection of rights; impossibility to ensure restitution of their property or to use property due to its previous usurpation or destruction; hindered access to public agencies; impossibility to use mother tongue. I expect that, by joint efforts and in cooperation with UNHCR and other relevant actors, we can do more to reach fair and durable solutions for these persons.

Allow me to thank the High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees itself, for their commitment and tireless efforts made in addressing the current, highly challenging global migrant and refugee crisis, but also for their persistence in resolving the issue of protracted displacement that is very important to us. The UNHCR and other international partners can also count on Serbia’s cooperation in the achievement of this goal in the future.

Thank you for your attention.”