Statement by First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the ceremony of laying the foundation stone for the construction of housing in Vrsac for refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, within the implementation of the Regional Housing Programme in the Republic of Serbia:
“Ladies and gentlemen,
Friends and participants of the Regional Housing Programme,
Allow me to address you and thank you for being here today in Vrsac, to formally mark the beginning of construction of 20 new housing units for refugees. As was the case with the recent foundation stone laying ceremonies in Paracin, Prokuplje, Krusevac and Sremska Mitrovica, the construction is also carried out under Subproject 2 of the Regional Housing Programme, amounting to EUR 13 million and providing for the construction of a total of 200 housing units in nine local self-government units. This sub-project envisages the purchase of 250 village houses, construction of 200 housing units, 120 prefabricated houses and the distribution of 330 packages of construction material – a total of 900 housing solutions. On previous occasions I already said that we expect to see construction of housing units in Bajina Basta, Kikinda, Sid and Sabac. What such statistics indicates in the first place is that the Programme has reached a stage of intensive implementation which I am glad to be able to note, as Chair of the Commission for coordinating the process of permanent refugee integration, and as President of the RHP Steering Board.
I would like to remind you that, although there are plenty of reasons to be pleased now, this was not always the case. In short, it will be five years since the Donors’ Conference in Sarajevo, and it has been three years since the signing of the agreement on the implementation of the first RHP sub-project. In this period, even though it may not be apparent at first glance, a lot of effort was invested starting with the preparation of the Programme, and followed by raising funds and developing mechanisms, in order to embark on its concrete realization. I am thankful to all the competent institutions 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 Republic of Serbia has been truly committed to resolving the refugee issue, by endeavouring to provide the refugees with the living conditions worthy of human beings, and now we are able to see the fruits of our work. I also express my gratitude to the numerous bilateral contributors to the Regional Housing Programme Fund, as well as to international organizations which have played a role in the realization of the Programme – the European Commission, UNHCR, OSCE and the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), which jointly contributed to the progress of the Programme.
I am proud to be able to present to you today such statistics with regard to the implementation of the Programme and to, with joy in my heart, note that we are on the path of success. The steps we are taking may seem small, but for many among us they symbolize a new beginning, after more than two decades of a refugee life of uncertainty. I want to thank you, end-users, for your patience and express my hope that you will find a true home in this municipality of great potential, offering you many opportunities to prosper.
Although we are on the verge of resolving the issue of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are new challenges ahead of us, because today, the issue of refugees is, unfortunately, a burning topic worldwide. There are over 7,500 refugees and migrants, mostly from the Middle East, staying in our country at the moment. In the situation of their prolonged stay in the Republic of Serbia, due to borders being all but entirely closed by many countries, we made sure to provide them with accommodation, food, shoes, clothes, health care and psychological and social assistance. To these people and their children we have also ensured a kind of education and preparation for the challenges they will be faced with in the future. We have taken a humane and responsible approach in addressing this issue, owing to no other than our previous experience with a protracted refugee situation – in the 1990s Serbia received over 600,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as over 200,000 internally displaced persons, who had been persecuted from Kosovo and Metohija. This is the reason that our approach to, and understanding for, this difficult situation in which these people have found themselves, is more humane than that of many other countries.
The success of the Regional Housing Programme and improving its visibility will contribute to this approach to resolving the refugee problem receiving general recognition, as an example of good practice which could encourage application of similar models to protracted displacement situations worldwide. Therefore, I want to underline that the Regional Housing Programme has demonstrated that, through dedicated work and cooperation between us, we are able to resolve open issues from the past, contribute to the reconciliation process and pave the way to the better and more substantial bilateral relations and cooperation in the region in the future”.