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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood
Finding durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons
International Donors Conference on Durable Solutions for Refugees and Displaced Persons
Sarajevo, 24 April 2012
Mr Chairman, Ministers, distinguished guests,
As you know, I have taken a great personal interest in the Sarajevo Process, which aims at finding durable solutions for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons from the 1991-1995 conflicts on the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
Let me begin by making three remarks about today's conference.
First, the timing is significant. 20 years after the start of hostilities on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, 20 years after despair and destruction, the Partner Countries and the International Community are gathered here together in a spirit of hope and construction. We are turning a page in the history book.
Second, the programme will transform people's lives. It means that 27,000 households or approximately 74,000 refugees and displaced persons can look forward to permanent solutions to their housing needs.
Third, when I look at what has been achieved and how it has been achieved by the four countries, supported by the international community, I can only say that this is a shining example of regional cooperation. Regional cooperation underpins and enhances reconciliation and is of huge significance in the enlargement process as a whole.
Last November, I witnessed the signing by the four Foreign Ministers of the Partner Countries of the "Joint Declaration agreeing on establishing a Regional Housing Programme." This marked a historic step towards a solution to issues born in the most painful of recent histories.
The Joint Declaration and the Joint regional programme demonstrate that good neighbourly relations exist among the countries in South Eastern Europe. They also show that the commitment to regional cooperation can yield very concrete and positive results for the people in the region.
This new impetus for regional cooperation in the countries of South East Europe is a clear step forward in the EU integration process. Regional cooperation is one of the key elements of our stabilisation and association process, and refugee returns is one of the pillars of regional cooperation.
I very much welcome the renewed commitment to the Sarajevo Process by all participating states. It is a clear sign that the region wishes to leave the past behind, without forgetting it, and move on towards the future – and I would say: "towards their European future" - as good neighbours.
Today's conference marks another historic step in the process, building on what was achieved in November 2011. The task ahead is huge and challenging and we can only succeed by joining forces and pooling our resources.
The European Union stands firmly behind the Regional Housing Programme of the four Partner Countries, and I would like to reconfirm our readiness to provide political, technical and, this is why we are here today, financial support, throughout the implementation of the Programme.
I am proud to confirm that the European Union intends devoting 230 million Euro over the next five years – subject, naturally, to the pending decision on the overall EU budget for the period 2014-2020. This amounts to almost half of the total amount requested from the donors.
It is already a success that we are all present here today to confirm our support for this very important and symbolic project.
I want to thank the international donor community for the pledges that they have made today. The pledges are concrete evidence of the political will to find long lasting solutions for the most vulnerable of the remaining refugees and displaced persons. The pledges will help to ensure that the regional programme is successfully implemented. Successful implementation of the programme will help to stabilise the region, boosting local economies and creating new job opportunities for many people.
Of course we would have liked to collect today an even higher contribution from the international donor community. But the amounts pledged today allow the project to turn from an idea to a reality. The door is not closed for further pledges and I would hope that today's conference will convince some of you to come forward with additional amounts in the near future.
I do not want to mention any individual countries and their pledges, but I want to than the ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ms Sadako Ogata, for her personal contribution.
Let me close with a broader observation:
In 2005, when we started this Sarajevo process, what linked the four countries of this region to the European Union was their common European Perspective. We have come a long way since!
- Today, Croatia is ready to join the EU.
- Montenegro is likely to start accession negotiations this year.
- Serbia is now a candidate country
- and Bosnia and Herzegovina knows clearly what needs to be done for a credible Membership application.
I am looking at the Partner Countries here today, and I am proud of what has been achieved.
The positive outcome of today's conference is thanks in no small way to the intense activities of the past two years and the strong commitment not only from the governments participating in the Sarajevo Process, but also the international organisations who have been involved all the way up until this day (UNHCR, OSCE and the European Commission). I have no doubt that there will be satisfactory results over time so that refugees and displaced persons can return to normal lives and so that all Partner Countries can enjoy a stable and prosperous future.