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Brussels, 12 April 2002

The Commission grants EUR 36 million in humanitarian aid for Serbia

The European Commission has approved a €35.9 million global plan for Serbia. The aid, managed by the Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) under the direct responsibility of Commissioner Poul Nielson, will maintain assistance to refugees, displaced persons and other vulnerable groups for the rest of this year and the beginning of next year. The grant will pay for food and non-food products (e.g. hygiene products and coal) and health care, housing, repatriation and social integration schemes for the target groups. The aid addresses the immediate needs of about half a million people. When approving the grant, Mr Nielson said: "Though the worst is, thankfully, over, relief needs in Serbia remain great. This grant attests to our determination not to abandon or forget half a million refugees and displaced persons facing growing poverty and uncertainty."

Almost half the funding is earmarked for the basic needs of refugees, displaced persons and vulnerable groups: food, hygiene products, firewood and heating oil for the winter. ECHO's aim in the health sector is to facilitate universal access to primary health care, to continue the rehabilitation of health centres and to provide basic equipment. Particular attention will be given to the disabled and Roma, two of the most vulnerable groups. Projects are planned in the social integration and mental health spheres to foster the social integration of refugees, displaced persons and Roma.

In the spheres of housing and repatriation, long-term solutions will be offered to refugees choosing to remain in Serbia or preferring to return to Bosnia or Croatia. In the housing sector, planned measures include help for refugees building homes in Serbia or the rehabilitation of institutions accommodating elderly refugees. Refugees who may prefer not to stay in Serbia or who wish to return to Bosnia or Croatia will receive financial assistance for their return along with information and legal assistance from NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Since the conflict in the Balkans began the Commission has granted more than €2.33 billion through ECHO. Since the end of the fighting in Kosovo, humanitarian needs have increasingly been dealt with, and ECHO has therefore been able to reduce the volume of aid to the region. The way is now opening for longer-term aid, in which other donors and Commission departments and the European Agency for Reconstruction are actively involved.

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