Dear Minister Alfano,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to address you on behalf of the Republic of Serbia on this important occasion. Let me thank our Italian hosts for organizing this year’s Mediterranean Conference on Large Movement of Migrants and Refugees, as well as for the high importance Italy attaches to this pressing issue. I would also like to thank Austria which, as OSCE Chair, continues to support the cooperation on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea.
The presence of so many ministers and other high-level representatives of governments and international organizations demonstrates the importance that participating States, Mediterranean Partners and other international organizations attach to the co-operation between the OSCE and the Mediterranean region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since its beginnings, OSCE has been a forum for dialogue and discussion for participating States as well as for our partners, offering a toolbox and a platform to decrease tensions, correct misperceptions, and promote a culture of tolerance across the OSCE area and beyond. Already the Helsinki Decalogue recognized the importance of the Mediterranean dimension and its relevance for the security and stability in Europe. This link has been obvious especially in these challenging times, when complex tensions and conflicts again highlight the increasing interdependence of our regions.
The OSCE is well-placed to contribute to the global response to the current migrant crisis and to complement the efforts of other international organizations. Due to its convening power, the OSCE is a useful regional platform for dialogue and cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination, including with its Partners for Co-operation. The Organization is already carrying out a wide range of activities in the field of migration. These include, for example, the protection of victims of trafficking in human beings as well as the exchange of best practices with regard to border management. Let me also remind you that at last year’s Ministerial Council in Hamburg we have agreed on a Ministerial Declaration on the OSCE’s role in the governance of large movements of migrants and refugees.
2017 OSCE Mediterranean Conference underscores the good potential for increasing cooperation between OSCE and Mediterranean Region. I believe this important event will provide us with a timely opportunity for exchange of views on issues that are highly relevant to the agenda of both sides of Mediterranean.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The current refugee and migrant situation 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.
There is no doubt that dealing with this major issue requires awareness of the root causes underlying the movement of population, such as the conflict in Syria and the overall fragile situation in the Middle East region, the series of conflicts in Africa, coupled with poverty, hopelessness and political instability in many developing countries across the globe.
I firmly believe that a comprehensive solution should 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-World War II period. We must not lose sight 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 in many countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since mid-2015, Serbia has been in the very centre of the so-called Western Balkans migration route transited by most migrants on their way from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other turbulent regions to the countries of Western and Northern Europe. 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.
Over the past two years more than 900,000 refugees and migrants transited through Serbia. We have demonstrated our solidarity and humanity, for which Serbia frequently receives praise from migrants themselves, but also from the international community.
Our empathy for refugees and migrants and essential understanding of their suffering and predicament stems from the fact that we have been faced with the problem of refugees and IDPs for more than two decades. According to the UNHCR data, our country is even today home to a total of 250,000 refugees and IDPs living in protracted displacement, the largest number in Europe.
The reduction in the number of refugees in the territory of the former Yugoslavia was largely the result of their integration in the Republic of Serbia, which bore the largest burden of a durable solution for the refugee problem. Regrettably, out of 200,000 IDPs from Kosovo and Metohija, only 4,000 of them or 1.9% have returned to their homes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I conclude, let me underline that there is absolutely no alternative to working together. Dealing with the complex challenges that we are facing will only be successful if we join our efforts and manage to act with full respect to the basic values, principles and commitments of the OSCE. The magnitude and complexity of the challenges faced by the Euro-Mediterranean region cannot be addressed by a single state or organization on its own.
We must jointly develop comprehensive, humane, and sustainable solutions thus providing for basic human dignity and protection needs of refugees and safeguarding the human rights of all, but at the same time, guaranteeing security of the recipient countries. It is of utmost importance to promote coherent regional approaches to the complex and divisive issue of migration, thus paving the way towards shared concepts, common policies and coordinated action.
In closing, I would like to emphasize once again that the Republic of Serbia remains committed to pursuing and strengthening cooperation with Mediterranean partners, including through the OSCE, wherever the Organisation can be of assistance with its comprehensive approach to security.
Thank you for your attention.