Remarks by Minister Dacic at the ceremony of laying the foundation stone for the construction of refugee housing units in Sremska Mitrovica

Address by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic at the ceremony of laying the foundation stone for the construction of 40 refugee housing units in Sremska Mitrovica, within the framework of the second subproject of the Regional Housing Programme in the Republic of Serbia.


Friends of the Regional Housing Programme,

Distinguished guests,

It is my honour and pleasure to address you today. May I recall that it has been almost three years since the signing of the agreement on the implementation of the first RHP sub-project. Now that there is long road behind us, I would like to thank all of you, both donors and international organizations, as well as the people on the ground, for their engagement and assistance thus far. I am pleased to note that the Programme implementation is in full swing, since more than 2,200 refugee families have been selected thus far, while beneficiaries of the remaining accommodation units will be identified this March. More than 700 housing units have been allocated, while the Programme has been implemented by 117 local self-government units. Let the results achieved so be the wind at our back, prompting us to continue to progress.

Ever since mid-2015 we have been witnessing, on a daily basis, the transiting through our country by more than a million people from Asia and Africa, heading for Western Europe to seek refuge there. The trend is continuing, though of a smaller scale. With the assistance of international partners, we have been able to provide everyone with accommodation, medical assistance, clothing, and even education. This is a very challenging task, particularly bearing in mind that the Republic of Serbia is a country affected by protracted displacement, a country which has received, in the 1990s, more than 600,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and more than 200,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija. This may be the underlying 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.

It is necessary to underline, that the fact that we are providing assistance to those who are currently without shelter, coming from areas affected by conflicts, terrorism and extremism, increases our obligation not to forget the people in protracted displacement, who were forced out of their homes more than two decades ago and who are still waiting for sustainable solutions.

The importance of the RHP and the Sarajevo process goes beyond state borders, demonstrating that, if there is a will, cooperation and joint efforts can bring about solutions meeting the needs of refugees.

And the needs are immense. On average, three refugee families apply for an available accommodation, while the ratio is 5 to 1 regarding allocation of housing units. The fact is that Serbia is home today to some 29,000 persons with a refugee status (20,334 from the Republic of Croatia and 9,080 from Bosnia and Herzegovina), while only some 150,000 have returned to their countries of origin. The vast majority of these persons have opted for permanent integration in the Republic of Serbia, as it is not possible for them to fully exercise their rights, including the rights acquired in their states of origin. For this reason, full implementation of the Sarajevo process – whose vital part is the Regional Housing Programme, is of particular importance. I trust and believe that through joint efforts and committed endeavours we will be able to instil confidence in a safer future to all those who left their homes more than two decades ago and found refuge in Serbia, and to show them that they have not been forgotten.

Therefore, we are here today to lay the foundation stone marking the beginning of the construction of housing units within the framework of the second sub-project of the Regional Housing Programme in the Republic of Serbia. Within this sub-project, a total of 200 flats will be built in nine local self-government units. Nevertheless, I would like to point out the particular significance of the ongoing construction of flats in Sremska Mitrovica. To flee one’s own home is very difficult and painful, while living as refugees in sometimes very difficult and almost inhuman conditions for so many years, calls for special attention and assistance of the society. These flats are designated for social housing of the most seriously affected category of refugees, elderly persons, single-parent families and those with a sick family member, and I hope they will instil in their beneficiaries a sense of confidence and protection, confirming that the state cares for them, that they have not been sidestepped and have been provided a home.

Although this cornerstone is the beginning of providing housing within the second sub-project worth over 13 million euros, we must not forget that the construction of housing units has already started within the third sub-project in the Ovca district and is progressing very well. The second 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. I am very pleased that the implementation of sub-projects will proceed right away. So, I would like to take this opportunity to announce the simultaneous construction of housing units in Sremska Mitrovica with those in Krusevac and Paracin, as well as 20 housing units in late May in two more cities, Vrsac and Prokuplje, and afterwards in Bajina Basta, Sid, Sabac and Kikinda. This is a clear indication of the political will and commitment on the part of Serbia to provide solutions for the refugee problem, because mind you, for more than two decades, the Government of Serbia has been making tremendous efforts to provide refugees with the living conditions worthy of human beings. A large contribution to this end were the experiences gained over the past two decades in dealing with refugee problems and with the successful practices developed in cooperation with the European Union, U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, UNHCR and the OSCE. I would particularly like to thank all the families, who have been going through the nightmare of exile for more than twenty years, for their patience and understanding. 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.

Dear friends,

The Government of the Republic of Serbia has put in place all the structures necessary for the RHP successful implementation. With the active participation of the local network of institutions at central and local levels that are on a daily basis coordinated by the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, the realization of the Programme in the Republic of Serbia, as the biggest beneficiary, is a kind of endeavour, which I am sure, we will be eventually proud of. I believe that we will continue to have an understanding of donors and international partners for the RHP implementation dynamic, particularly bearing in mind that the scope and challenges of its implementation are most complex for the Republic of Serbia, being the largest beneficiary. Therefore, I thank everyone for their persistence and dedication and wish us every success in our future efforts.”